Today is Rihanna‘s day. Hell, it might be Rihanna’s century.
The singer-model will be in New York tonight to receive the Fashion Icon award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, an honor bestowed upon people who change the fashion landscape without actually sewing clothes. It’s usually a career-capping recognition for a megawatt celebrity, in recent years going to Johnny Depp, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss and Iman.
Rihanna took all of 26 years to get hers, and it still feels overdue.
And while the fashion industry has countless reasons to celebrate Rihanna’s style, the lingerie industry in particular owes her an incalculable debt of gratitude. In the past few years, the Bajan beauty has morphed into a one-woman billboard for fashionable skivvies, turning couture undergarments into all-occasion wear whether she’s at home, on stage or posing for fashion photographers.
Rihanna is what the lingerie industry has been craving for a long time: a celeb who is comfortable in her own skin and who embraces underwear-as-streetwear with a kind of unapologetic nonchalance. We should all be sending her royalties.
RiRi’s sense of occasion, like so much else about her, apparently knows no boundaries. She’s worn luxury pajamas on the red carpet and see-through Versace on the runway. She thoroughly upstaged the world’s most dazzling lingerie models during the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in her own custom ensemble, and when she discovered onesies last year she shared it with her millions of social media followers.
And it’s no act, folks. Rihanna’s street style seems composed mostly of bras, bodysuits and leggings and little else. She’s sent out innumerable revealing selfies to go along with the endless ‘candids’ snapped by leering paparazzi.
Where she’s made the biggest impact on fashion, though, is in her go-to wardrobe essential: the bra top, which is typically the starting point (and often the end) of her daily ensemble. What Madonna did for the corset — revealing its possibilities as a fashion staple for all occasions, not just a boudoir underthing — Rihanna has done for bras, bandeaus and bra tops.
While other celebrity sisters like Lady Gaga, Cher, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have also moved the needle in redefining what’s acceptable in fashion, their custom looks don’t always work their way down to main street or high street or wherever real girls buy their clothes. Rihanna is different: whether you’re browsing a luxury European couture house or a mass-market vendor like Nasty Gal or Cheap Monday, you can find ways to ape Rihanna’s look.
It goes without saying that countless lingerie brands have benefited from all this exposure, whether it’s for paid modeling work like her much-seen campaigns for Armani underwear, her numerous magazine editorials, or simply styles pulled from her inexhaustible wardrobe to be worn on stage or the street. During her exhausting 777 Tour in 2012 — seven shows in seven cities in seven nights — she seemed to slow down only long enough to change her bra or bodysuit — and boost sales for some unsuspecting lingerie brand.
We lost track a long time ago of the number of lingerie “brand sightings” involving Rihanna, but her impact on smaller lingerie brands can be profound. Last year, I asked Dani Read of the the New York indie label Fuck You Intimates about that impact, after one of Dani’s pieces showed up in the groundbreaking Rihanna-Kate Moss editorial shot by Mario Testino for V Magazine (above).
“We’re a really young brand and the first time being featured on a major celebrity in a major publication was a huge thing for FYI,” said Dani, who had no prior knowledge that a stylist had picked up a pair of her open-back chap leggings at Coco De Mer for the Rihanna photoshoot. “Regardless of what you think of her, she has an incredible influence in the fashion industry.”
And she spreads that influence generously. The same V Mag photoshoot saw Rihanna in lingerie pieces from Versace, Carine Gilson, Kiki De Montparnasse and Belgian design duo AF Vandevorst. (There’s a photo below from Elle magazine that shows a multi-national lingerie ensemble that includes pieces from Only Hearts, Fleur of England and Maison Close.)
A lot of Rihanna’s fearless exhibitionism, like so much about her, can be traced back to her roots in the tiny island nation of Barbados, which has a peculiar fashion ethos. Both Bajan women and men are known for their very conservative and proper approach to dressing in public. Bajans are exceptionally well groomed and well dressed, regardless of their economic status, and the country as a whole sometimes has the character of a gigantic private school.
But all of that changes 100 yards from the seashore. In the broad beaches that line the country’s southern and western shores, Bajans let their hair down and the clothes behind, especially on Sundays when most of the country heads for the water.
Nowhere is this paradox more evident than during Kadooment Day, a national holiday each August that marks the end of Crop Over, a hard-partying festival to celebrate the end of sugar cane harvesting. On that one day, the entire population parades from one end of the island to the other, often in extremely suggestive and revealing outfits. The bejeweled arrangement that Rihanna is wearing in the main photo (above) from last year’s Kadooment isn’t a costume, per se, it is, for that one day of the year, the way everyone dresses.
Rihanna has brought that Kadooment sensibility to the world (it’s evident in her ‘Pour It Up’ video and recent Vogue Brazil photoshoot), and the fashion industry has good reason to celebrate her. The debate over whether such relentless immodesty makes Rihanna a suitable role model for young women can be left for another time. Today is RiRi’s day.
To celebrate, and in lieu of royalties, we’ve assembled the gallery below of Rihanna’s best lingerie moments … so far.