Picture the most unremarkable suburban mall you ever went to growing up, buzzing with Saturday shoppers hitting up Claire's, Zales, Macy's and Mrs. Field's for last-minute Valentine's Day gifts. Now imagine Rihanna shows up in a custom Alaïa leather robe coat, A$AP Rocky by her side in a sparkly suit and Prada sneakers. You think you can't — but that's precisely what happened on Saturday night, when the billionaire entrepreneur and singer opened Savage X Fenty's first Los Angeles store at Westfield Culver City.
In a town where Caruso-fied outdoor shopping experiences resembling luxury resorts have all but replaced traditional malls, Westfield Culver City is like a windowless, concrete time capsule that's somehow still thriving in 2022. It's not the first place I'd expect to find Rihanna, but it's probably more representative of Savage X Fenty's inclusive ethos than L.A.'s tonier retail destinations. In fact, co-President Christiane Pendarvis told Forbes that the brand is intentionally targeting "mainstream malls rather than high-end shopping areas" as it expands into physical retail.
Savage X Fenty also doesn't seem to be too worried about competitors: Nothing but an astroturfed children's play area separates the new store from a large Victoria's Secret; a standalone Pink store is also just a few feet away. Rihanna all but said: Let the lingerie retail wars begin.
She didn't say that exactly, but when we chatted in the store's spacious fitting-room area, it was clear she felt strongly about evolving and improving the traditional lingerie-shopping experience.
"As a customer, I've had my own experiences before where I walked into a lingerie store and I left feeling less confident because I didn't feel like I belonged," Rihanna told me. "If I didn't fit into what they had there, or I didn't look like the models on the wall, in the photos, then I felt like I was wrong for being there. And I didn't want that."
In stark contrast to the dated normalcy surrounding it, the Savage X Fenty store is unlike anywhere I've ever shopped. Designed to be as immersive, modern, bold and inclusive as the brand's runway shows and advertising, it features five distinct rooms filled with Instagram-worthy vignettes, proprietary heterogeneous mannequins representative of real bodies and, of course, a lot of sexy lingerie — for all sizes, gender identities and expressions.
Each fitting room has a digital kiosk where you can scan products to get more info about them and browse other options. And the brand's answer to the awkward measuring tape bra-fitting experience is a slightly less awkward digital one where a sales associate slowly walks around you scanning your torso (while wearing only a bra) with an iPhone; the "Fit Xperience" app then provides exact measurements and recommends products and sizes.
Like a true supportive boyfriend, A$AP Rocky waited patiently outside the fitting rooms as Rihanna prepared to try the Fit Xperience out for herself. But first, I had the pleasure of talking to the icon about her unconventional maternity style, why Valentine's Day is her favorite holiday to dress up for and her plans for lingerie retail domination. (And yes, she does smell good.)
In planning these first retail stores, what were your priorities as far as how you wanted them to look, feel, operate and represent the Savage X Fenty brand IRL?
For me, I wanted to create an experience. I wanted you to walk away with a feeling, I want [shoppers] to feel confident, I wanted them to feel represented... We're huge on inclusivity, so I wanted to carry over that commitment into this.
From the fashion shows to the advertising to the product, the brand has been a trailblazer in terms of inclusivity and diverse representation. How does that carry over into the in-store shopping experience?
For one, the mannequins were actually cast from real bodies — people that you can walk in and relate to. When you see a mannequin, you feel like that's your body type because it's a real body type. And even the Fit Xperience, that's something that's exclusive to us right now. Eighty percent of people don't even know their bra size.
I tried it — it's pretty cool.
You did it?! I'm about to do it right now because my boobs keep growing. Right now, my bra's a little tight, so I was like, 'You know what, let's just knock this out.'
Also, representation is huge. So even the sales clerks, the people that are going to be helping you, I wanted them to feel like a reflection of the customers, not like you're walking into a space where you feel like it's out of your league. I wanted women and men to feel represented. And I think we did a great job starting that.
Obviously, Valentine's Day is in a couple days. You're wearing red. Are you big on dressing up in lingerie for Valentine's Day?
I'm huge on that — even more so than Halloween. I don't care if I have a man or not. I always dress up on Valentine's Day. I always make myself feel special, and it's an excuse to go shopping for lingerie, really, whether someone's going to see or whether it's just you, the mirror or your social media. I enjoy it. It's fun. It makes me feel sexy.
What would be your go-to lingerie look this year?
The entire V-day collection. Right now, I'm trying to challenge myself because it's a challenge getting dressed and feeling sexy [while pregnant]. So I'm pushing myself to just go for it, and I'm having fun. So the stuff that's more strappy or more revealing or that's not for maternity, I want that.
You're a pro when it comes to lingerie, but what would you suggest for someone just starting to dip their toes into the category?
I feel like a teddy is always super safe but sexy. It's easy. It's like you're in a one-piece swimsuit, but it's sexy. That way you can feel flirty, you can feel sexy, you can feel confident, you can feel a little more covered up if you want that, and then you can explore more from there.
Aside from having a child, what else are you focusing on this year?
This year is a big, big year. Obviously making a baby, having a baby, preparing for that. But outside of that, for sure the show — Volume 4 — that's going to be huge for us. And we're going to be opening 10 locations by the end of this year.
What's your ultimate goal for Savage X Fenty retail? How big do you see it getting in five or even 10 years?
I mean, I'd love to dominate the space. I would love to dominate this space of lingerie retail, but I also want to keep expanding on what that means. Us as a brand, we've always been so focused on inclusivity, so I want to be able to expand that; the best way to do that is to have a retail space where we get to experience that one-on-one with the customers and hear that feedback on things they wish they had experienced.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. See more of the first Savage X Fenty Los Angeles store (now open at Westfield Culver City) in the gallery below.