Rihanna’s LVMH Deal Is the Perfect Marriage for Luxury and Hip-Hop Culture
Today, WWD broke the news that LVMH is building a luxury fashion house for and with Rihanna. It is truly remarkable news on many levels: It will be the first fashion brand Bernard Arnault has launched from scratch since Christian Lacroix in 1987, led, for the first time in luxury fashion’s history, by a black woman who has crossed over from the music industry.
Rihanna has already proved the power of inclusion and diversity in fashion with her headline-making Fashion Week presentations for Savage x Fenty and collections for Fenty Beauty—but this announcement pushes her potential influence on fashion and popular culture into stratospheric levels. Why? Because it represents ownership, entrepreneurship, and the possibility of change at the highest levels in a way that, to me, is more powerful than seeing someone who looks like you on a runway.
To illustrate, I’ll take you through a little example: Remember when Jay-Z boycotted Cristal? Back in 2006, Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of Cristal’s parent company, was asked by The Economist if the champagne’s association with the “bling lifestyle” was detrimental to its image. Rouzaud replied, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”
Up until that point, Cristal had been the bubbly of choice in hip-hop—from Biggie to Jay to 50 Cent to Lil Kim, they all rapped about it (tk lyric) and flaunted bottles of the champagne in their music videos. But in reaction to Rouzaud, Jay-Z declared the end of an era. “It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud, views the ‘hip-hop’ culture as ‘unwelcome attention,”’ Jay-Z said. “I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including the 40/40 Club nor in my personal life.” True to his word, Jay-Z launched his own champagne, Ace of Spades, in 2014. Now, glistening, golden bottles of Ace of Spades decorate his club on 25th Street.
Much like the entertainment industry’s failure of vision to embrace streaming technologies like Netflix and Spotify, the luxury goods industry had been similarly short-sided in embracing hip-hop culture (which today drives much of pop culture itself)—until recently.
It is only within the last four years that rappers and R&B singers have been able to wrangle front-row seats at Fashion Week and coveted invitations to the Met Gala. But fashion with a capital F—that is flashy, fly fashions that announce your presence before you’ve even entered the room—has always been integral to hip-hop and hip-hop adjacent cultures.
Labels and logos are part of hip-hop culture. In the 1980s and ’90s, Dapper Dan fulfilled a need within black culture that luxury labels like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Fendi weren’t capable of meeting at the time: the vision to usher in a concept of logomania, as he printed luxury logos on everything from leather to furs to cars. We all know about Biggie’s obsession with Coogi, which put that small Australian brand on the map. In 2013, Migos created a whole song about Versace, which the brand played at its runway show in Milan. And I often wonder how many Gucci flip flops were sold after Future’s 2015 song “Thought It Was a Drought” took over music streams and radio airwaves. But despite all of the free press the music industry has created for some of the most esteemed fashion houses, these brands offer no love in return. (At the time, Migos said they were waiting on free clothes from Versace in exchange for the hit.) I’d argue that up until it became clear that hip-hop was the new driving force in pop culture, many brands still shunned the rappers and musicians who flaunted their labels.
But that all began to change. Last March, Virgil Abloh, who earned a Grammy nomination for his artwork for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne, was named the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear. His impact, already, on the industry is immense. I’ve spoken to or read about countless young, creative black men who cite Abloh as an influence, from the rapper Playboi Carti to the model and ASAP mob acolyte Cozy.
Earlier this month, graphic designer Magnus Juliano created the first viral fashion moment of 2019 when he posted to Instagram photos of himself, head cocked, with massive Louis Vuitton logo charms hanging from his box braids. His images were picked up by Vogue, Interview, BET, Paper. On the image, Juliano joked, “Hey @VirgilAbloh, can I earn an internship? I have ideas!” He told Vogue, “I chose [to pay tribute to] Louis Vuitton because of the impact [the brand has] had on art and design, but from the perspective of designers like Dapper Dan, who didn’t have access to [luxury brands] yet still made hip-hop couture using their likeness.” His images made the connection between luxury house Louis Vuitton and black culture inseparable, which is not surprising given what the brand now represents, in a way: black success.
And Rihanna’s partnership with LVMH will mean even more. According to WWD, LVMH has hand-picked employees from Louis Vuitton and Celine to join her team. She will assumably be deeply involved in the label, from design to social responsibility, if her Diamond Ball and other philanthropic efforts are any indication. She will probably employ a diverse team behind the scenes, and no doubt insure her runway and collections are inclusive. Most of all, as a beautiful, successful, and empowering black woman, she will inspire countless young creatives, just as Abloh already has, to create space for themselves in an industry that may have previously been denied to them, opening a world of possibilities for innovation and newness in the fashion industry. In an industry that has no problem with recycling tired ideas, that, to me, is more valuable than any luxury brand’s bottom line.
A version of this story, by Amirah Mercer, originally appeared on GARAGE.