At the Bel-Air, a hostess shows me to a small courtyard table tucked behind the trunk of a century-old sycamore. I’m sitting under its dappled canopy when Rihanna arrives. She sweeps in quietly, enveloping the area and probably the swans outside in an invisible cloud of her famous scent—an intoxicating olfactory assault that, in the words of Lil Nas X, “literally smells like heaven.” (The internet has decided it’s a Kilian fragrance called Love, Don’t Be Shy, which contains notes of neroli, orange blossom, and marshmallow.) We order Champagne.
It’s safe to assume Rihanna is wearing makeup—her own Killawatt highlighter and Stunna lip paint, perhaps—but I can’t say for sure, because her face is a radiant palette of natural tones. Her hair, dark and long, is pulled back in a half ponytail. I know from experience that a regular person can effectively black out in Rihanna’s presence, so insanely disarming is her charisma. (Even Seth Meyers runs this risk. “The two days I wish I could remember everything about are my wedding day,” he tells me. “And the day I spent day-drinking with Rihanna.”) So I make a point to write down what she’s wearing: denim blazer (Fenty), green slacks, strappy sandals (Bottega Veneta). In her right hand, the one with the henna-style tattoo, she is clutching futuristic masklike sunglasses whose lenses are glacier-blue (also Fenty).
Normally I bring a list of questions, but I didn’t have time to prepare one, which I make a split-second decision to confess. “I’m winging it, so you have to help me,” I say nervously. Rihanna flashes a grin that is somehow both reassuring and mischievous. “Aren’t we all?” she says.
RIHANNA’S VISION OF LUXURY fashion is something like Rihanna—aesthetically capricious, casually category-busting, impossibly cool. This is because she made a rule from the outset that she had to love and want to wear all of Fenty maison herself. The fashion, as she puts it, had to be honest. “I’m not the face of my brand, but I am the muse, and my DNA has to run all the way through it,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to pull up my website and think, Rihanna would never wear that.”
Most of the time, her website is the only place you can buy Fenty maison. (She has occasional pop-ups.) Rihanna decided to abandon the old luxury distribution model in favor of a Supreme-like “drop” strategy and direct-to-consumer online sales. This is because when Rihanna sees something she likes—which at the moment includes a lot of Balenciaga, which is getting on her nerves and giving her designer envy—she wants it now. Not in six months. Rihanna does not want to buy winter coats in August.
Fenty was different out of the gate. Its first collection, released in May, offered sculptural suits and minidresses with power shoulders and snatched waists—the work of a sure hand, rendered with Caribbean flair. But the clothes told a larger story, one that linked Afrocentric fashion, black nationalism, and the Caribbean diaspora—paying homage, in particular, to Kwame Brathwaite, the documentary photographer and pillar of midcentury Harlem’s Black Is Beautiful movement. Fenty posted original Brathwaite images on its website and social feeds—one showed three Grandassa models in front of a banner that said, buy black—and noted that the documentarian, born in Brooklyn to Bajan parents, shares a similar surname with Rihanna’s maternal family. (Brathwaite, now 81, gave Rihanna his blessing.)