Why Rihanna’s luxury collaboration with LVMH failed

LVMH and Rihanna say Fenty is on pause.
LVMH and Rihanna say Fenty is on pause.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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It was big news in 2019 when LVMH announced it was teaming with Rihanna to create a full-fledged fashion line called Fenty. A clear sign of the times, it was the first instance of the luxury powerhouse partnering with a celebrity, or a woman of color, to launch a brand from scratch. Rihanna, of course, would bring her megawatt style and stardom. LVMH would provide the know-how it accumulated from decades of building brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior.

Not quite two years later, LVMH and Rihanna told trade outlet WWD (paywall) they’re putting the clothing line on pause “pending better conditions.” LVMH confirmed the news in a statement to Quartz.

Despite the success of Rihanna’s previous forays into makeup and lingerie, the fashion line never generated the same excitement or quite found its place in the market. Fenty Beauty, her cosmetics brand, attracted customers by catering to a wide range of skin tones. Savage x Fenty, her lingerie line, created body-positive spectacles that celebrated women of all shapes with its bras and underwear while market leader Victoria’s Secret was still pushing its narrow, skinny ideal. But the fashion line, rather than trying to rewrite the rules of luxury, struggled to distinguish itself with a clear identity. The attempts by Rihanna and her design team have spanned items such as a $700 satin shirt dress, $300 hoodies, a padded denim jacket for nearly $1,000, and footwear like $910 hot pink heels.

Jean Jacques Guiony, LVMH’s CFO, acknowledged the problem on an earnings call in October. “I would say it’s still work in progress when it comes to really defining what the offer would be,” he said. “We have success. We have things that have worked less well. So we have to sort in between the two and really decide what should be the core strengths of the offer in the years to come.”

The prices have evidently been an issue too. Business of Fashion reports (paywall) that even before the line’s launch, Rihanna was concerned the price tags might put off fans, who have otherwise happily lined up to buy items like her $22 Fenty Beauty lipstick. Though priced lower than other LVMH brands, the clothing was still expensive. Fashion lines centered on a celebrity tend to perform better at accessible prices in the mass market, often with the help of large partners such as department stores or big-box retailers like Target. When celebrity-founded luxury companies have succeeded, as in the case of The Row by Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, it’s been through a focus on product and not so much the fame of the founders.

The pandemic has not been an ideal moment to build a new brand either. Leading names such as Louis Vuitton and Dior have proved resilient, but smaller companies without so large and loyal an audience have suffered.

It’s possible the Fenty line could return. In its statement, LVMH didn’t elaborate on what “better conditions” might mean, but it’s likely they would entail Covid-19 being better contained.

In the meantime, LVMH is signaling its confidence in Rihanna’s lingerie line. L Catterton, the private-equity firm in which LVMH is a partner, led a $115 million funding round that will help Savage x Fenty continue its growth and expand into retail. In a statement, it touted the line’s “remarkable success by disrupting the intimates category.”