The Vision Behind Savage x Fenty
Updated: May 6
Y’all heard it, Y’all seen it.
Rihanna’s much hyped-about lingerie brand Savage x Fenty shut down New York Fashion Week in September with a fashion show, and the internet was SHOOK to the core. The show, also popularly known as Victoria’s Secret funeral, as the media-and the internet called it, is turning Rihanna into an actual queen of savage.
[Normani performed at the Savage x Fenty show]
It is always much more complex to compare Savage x Fenty to Victoria’s Secret. There are things in common that spark the natural comparison; both are fashion shows in a form of entertainment for a lingerie brand, both are pre-recorded for public viewing, and both involved high-profile names from musical artists to top models.
History-wise, there was no doubt that Victoria’ s Secret has reigned supreme as the fashion show of all fashion shows since the 90s, defining how entertainment and fashion could merged as a true TV-worthy spectacle, and even placing models on the map as household names (you are welcome to read a bit of VS history and how it went down written by yours truly right here).
But inclusivity is one obvious thing that people seem to be excited about in this era, and that’s what puts Savage x Fenty ahead of Victoria’s Secret. With this brand, she promised to cater to all body shapes and sizes and skin tones, served with a brand image that embodies the sexy, badass character, much like Rihanna herself. For the show, of course, this message also became a part of the narrative. For this year's show, which happened to be her second one, around 41 dancers and 30 models were a part of the diverse cast with a range of body shapes and sizes, skin color and even body disabilities.
[Savage x Fenty Spring 2019 campaign]
The show had no short of musical performances. Rihanna sent in Migos, Big Sean, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, Tierra Whack, and Halsey also graced the lineup. (Another VS connection: Halsey publicly slammed VS for their lack of inclusivity, right after collecting the check from them as one of the performers. Nice one!). The Hip-hop part of the show is already represented by generations of artists. I mean, the fact that she went from Fat Joe to Thierra Wack shows quite some range. The addition of Halsey seems to me as a way to diversify the lineup, but she fits right in with the rest of performances, so I can't be mad at that.
As an artist herself, perhaps Rihanna knows too well on how the music should be curated, and presented in a way to ensure every element of the show to shine flawlessly. Perhaps this is one thing that truly stands out and has successfully glued my eyes to the screen for the whole 50 minutes of the show. With dancers slaying choreography after choreography, the elaborate set and cameras that went in and around the stage, Savage x Fenty truly masters something, and that is an artistic direction that is relevant, effective, yet truly entertaining.
And it all thanks to the visionaries behind it.
Willo Perron was one of them. The guy who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Drake, and of course, Rihanna herself, was the creative director and set designer behind the Savage x Fenty show. It’s obvious, music has been the core of his work, but he certainly has more tricks up his sleeve. He was behind the Spanish pop sensation Rosalia’s performance at the VMAs, and to add to his fashion portfolio, he also did Alexander Wang’s SS 2020 show at the Rockefeller Center. Not too bad!
[Willo Perron - GQ]
[Alexander Wang Spring Summer 2020 at the Rockefeller Center]
[Kanye West performing at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, visuals by Willo Perron]
[The Savage x Fenty set, designed by Willo Perron and team]
Quoting from an interview with WWD, he explained his vision about treating it as an entertainment and not a fashion show. Well, judging by how he turned one of New York’s most iconic squares into fashion runway or making Ferrari flies for Drake’s tour, the guy CAN put on one heck of a show. Starting with the set, he took a direct reference from Savage x Fenty’s campaigns that are mainly shot in Morocco, and created a minimalist take on Mediterranean and North African architecture as the set of the show. He also explained how he wanted to put as many performers as possible on the stage, treating it like some kind of lingerie Superbowl, instead of a fashion presentation. The execution was not at all disappointing.
Then, our eyes were also treated by the amount of choreographies served by 70 models and dancers. Instead of being thrown randomly, the dancers become part of the whole presentation, interacting and moving along with the models and performers. One performer who stood out and obviously become one of the most talked-about was, of course, Normani. Girl did not even have to sing, she could perform as a dancer and left the stage on fire. Trans actress Laverne Cox also surprised us with her own performance that got me thinking “who knew she could dance like that????”. As a dancer myself, I have to say that it was definitely impressive from start to finish.
From the beginning of the show that started with a mini behind-the-scenes documentary, we could see the process, including how the performers and choreography were put together. One person I was excited to see there was Parris Goebel.
If you haven’t heard about her, then I'm sure you must have seen her work. The New Zealander has worked with tons of celebrities. From J.Lo, Janet Jackson, Ciara, to K-pop sensations Blackpink and BTS. She was also notable for being on Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” music video which shows her dancing with his crew and what now is one of the most viewed music videos on YouTube history. Did i also mention that she has been appointed by Jacinda Arden, New Zealand's Prime Minister, as the art and visual curator of New Zealand's pavillion in the upcoming World Expo 2020? Yes, girl is legit.
She first caught my attention when a video of her dancing crew, Royal Family, went viral. They were performing a Beyonce medley, so yes, one can imagine how much of a fabulousness one dance crew could bring to the stage with that theme. I was also struck by the diversity in that dance crew. You almost can see girls in different body shapes and sizes, colors, and styles. Same goes with the boys; how many times can you see hip-hop dancing boys and Voguers in the same dance team?
[Parris Goebel and dancers for "Sorry" by Justin Bieber dance-only music video]
Diversity, as what Savage x Fenty was pitched as, definitely resonated with Parris. She revealed in an interview with WWD about growing up not feeling like she fits the mold in Hip-Hop. She never had the body and appearance like the girls we tend to see on music videos (girl, i feel you!). Not to mention her ethnicity as a Polynesian girl was never truly represented in music nor fashion industry. However, on that Savage x Fenty stage, her, and so many other girls who are under-represented, were the champions.
The girls were dancing and prancing to a mix of tunes that were carefully put together. Obviously hip-hop and rap took a huge part of it, but they seem to be blended well with other kinds of tunes, we heard 2000 bangers like Sean Paul’s Get Busy and even Brazilian funk like MC Lan’s Malokera. It was almost like an invitation to get down to the floor.
[Rihanna, Parris Goebel, and dancers opened the Savage x Fenty show]
When it comes to the comparison with Victoria’s Secret, both Parris and Willo have one thing in common; they don’t feel like there are anything to compare. They believe that they have created something completely new and Parris herself didn’t even look at other things as a ‘reference’ or inspiration as she thinks she truly sets a new bar. However, i do think the show was a huge success, and the team behind it truly sets the bar high. A well put together creative direction that was fresh and authentic definitely plays a huge part in it.
What I think Rihanna could improve lies on the garments.
The whole show i kept looking at lacey undergarments in various pop of colors. There are some other kinds of bras and panties but they don’t seem to focus on that much and they appear somewhat as secondary. I am no lingerie experts but I do not even remember the collection right after the streaming stopped. Was ‘diversity’ only found in the models and not the collection's range?
That makes me question if the show was truly an effective way to lure customers into the Savage x Fenty shop or it’s just purely an expensive marketing gimmick. It would be the same question I would ask to Victoria’s Secret, but the way VS market the brand has been proven successful for years, until recently. So, if Savage x Fenty’s aim was to create something different and incomparable to nothing else, then perhaps their reality doesn’t reflect that 100%, as their marketing steps aren’t actually that much different than VS.
But again, even if it’s a marketing gimmick, it was clearly a good one. Not to mention that Rihanna is ahead of everyone else by streaming the show to Amazon Prime. When you can pull off an expensive and complicated event, while making people pay to watch it, you might be winning already, and Rihanna did just that.
When commenting on the buzz of Victoria’s Secret ending their iconic fashion shows, i did make a suggestion for VS to refresh the concept of the show, and to take it to streaming service instead of TV. Well, Rihanna did exactly what i suggested Victoria’s Secret to do, so not only I was right, but so is Rihanna who puts herself steps ahead of the lingerie giant.
But from that comes the real homework, and that is how the brand can sustain itself in the long run. That needs to involve a smart commercial strategy, product selection and quality, as well as branding consistency that Savage x Fenty has to improve and maintain. But hey, maybe Rihanna’s magic isn’t truly going anywhere, and will help her thrive even more.
Because at the end of the day the brand has Rihanna’s name on it. She might not do everything on her own, but she clearly is smart enough to get the right people on her projects. They are people with the right vision and skills that are relevant for the time, and helped the brand to shine.
There is no doubt that Rihanna is a fashion powerhouse at this point. She owns a super successful beauty brand; Fenty Beauty, a luxury ready-to-wear label under luxury conglomerate the LVMH group, and Savage x Fenty. She must not forget the potential that all her brands have, and to take smart steps going forward in order to continue to thrive in this cutthroat business.
For that, Savage x Fenty brand could do a bit of polishing once in a while, and it sure will shine bright like diamonds in the sky.