Only in its first year, we have celebrated how the brand Fenty is successfully bridging the codes of street-style with luxury fashion. Yet this is not new territory for the designer, fashion icon and CFDA award recipient Rihanna. She has always taken charge of her wardrobe, transcribing trends from the high-fashion runways to her personal style. Her understanding of techniques are noticeable and include corseted denim dresses with immaculate stitching, desired by any instagram influencer. Also her oversized blazers with sharp tailoring could smoothly transition day time to night time. Her use of boxy silhouettes, flamboyant prints, fabrics like satin and Denim, capture what dressing “For the Culture” is about: familiarity with a subtle flair, inspiration with aspiration.
But let’s rewind a little. The brand FUBU which stands for “For Us By Us” was launched in 1992 by Daymon John as a way of merging hip-hop culture and fashion, making it more affordable for its consumers. Ski-wool hats tied off at the top, baseball jackets, basketball jerseys and denim were the many offerings at the time. Arguably, these ideas were the blueprints that inspired the crossover from dressing “For the culture” to mainstream luxury fashion from your favourites likes Off-White™ and Fenty.
Not always celebrated, street-style has come a long way into the fashion sphere. In the 90’s African American communities who wore their FUBU classics were finally allowed to feel empowered. This is because the heavy influence of hip-hop culture gave people of colour a sense of ownership from the clothes often associated with negative labels such as, crime and working-class. Yet, time has seen the flipping of scripts where brands like Phat Farm, Rocawear and SeanJohn helped elevate street-style to a higher standard. However, blaxploitation as it is popularly coined is one of the reasons why FUBU has come under recent scrutiny after the founder Daymon John revealed that FUBU was in fact “for everyone”. This is ironic, considering the people he made profit from when he first sold his t-shirts in Queens (New York) had served their purpose once FUBU grew internationally and started grossing millions.
As class and race continue to collide, it is vital that people of colour become gatekeepers in the upper echelons of the fashion world. The absence of people of colour in the big fashion houses deprives fashion of rich and authentic stories. From the get-go, we need more positive representations: Virgil Abloh is slowly breaking down luxury fashion and what it means in our current socio-political landscape. His debut spring 2019 show for Louis Vuitton was a rainbow celebration of the power of inclusion, when it is done right.
The last decade has seen the tide change with street-style and its home in luxury fashion which has bred more hope for inclusivity. In 2019, the first releases or “Drops” from Fenty included t-shirts with the slogans “Immigrant”, colourful accessories and dresses that nodded to Rihanna’s Barbadian roots. Similarly, Virgil Abloh’s Off-white™ spring 2019 show, titled “Track and Field”, incorporated sportswear with formal sensibilities to create a powerful spectacle. What makes Virgil Abloh so beloved is that he invited a selection of athletes to walk in his show. Too often designers and brands take inspiration but fail to pay a true homage. It is important to give credit where it is due because after a while creating aspirational clothing without honouring its inspiration becomes lack-lustre.
Paying homage is at the heart of street-style as dressing “For the Culture” is symptomatic of our history, attitudes and changing lifestyles. By pushing the envelope into luxury fashion, designers will continue to draw inspiration from their personal experiences. These experiences may stem from cultural backgrounds. The good thing is, on the business side, the people responsible with executing these ideas and products are fast becoming more diverse: with race as well as class. For example Tyler Mitchell was the first photographer of colour to shoot the cover for the ultimate luxury bible we know as Vogue. He’s only 25 so perhaps we have time to shift focus on “Dressing for the future”.
The significance of Rihanna being a woman of colour at LVMH should never be disputed. She has truly mastered the holy business trifecta, creating three fashion-beauty brands under her unique umbrella USP, Fenty. Unsurprisingly, the launch of FentyBeauty in 2017 racked up an impressive $100 million in its first 40 days demonstrating how inclusivity can be so rewarding. Also, Fenty fashion campaigns mostly feature an array of models further cementing her full vision for inclusion not just at the top, but all the way through to the people who wear her clothes. Here, transparency is what has set aside Rihanna from every other brand because she really is trying to empower her black consumers.
Credit featured photo: Fenty, by Glen Luchford