Why Rihanna’s Fenty Clothing Line Has Been Put To An End Leave a comment


The pandemic proved to be good for panties and not so good for pants. At least that is the case for Rihanna’s Fenty clothing line, the LVMH-owned brand and only the second start-up brand the French luxury conglomerate has backed. In a mutual agreement, the parties have decided to cease the line launched less than two years ago. The pressure to make it or break it has never been higher in luxury.

Meanwhile, Savage X Fenty, the disruptive lingerie line launched in 2018, secured $115 million in Series B funding led by L Catterton’s Growth Fund. Clearly expressing opposite paths begs the question of what led to Savage X Fenty succeeding over Fenty?

Fenty Maison’s Unique Beginnings

It’s important to look at the stakes involved launching a ground-up brand by LVMH. The luxury behemoth is known mainly for acquiring and reviving existing luxury brands. The last time they launched a new brand was Christian Lacroix in 1987. It also marked the first female of color to lead a brand for the French group. Beyond adding to her beauty and lingerie enterprises, the concept was to build upon Rihanna’s creative director and guest designing gigs at Puma and Manolo Blahnik, both commercial successes. In these cases, the singer harnessed an existing aesthetic with production support built in.

The debut collection for Fenty, in May of 2019, represented the “greatest hits” of the singer’s wardrobe and was executed with Fenty’s number 2 creative Jahleel Weaver, her longtime stylist. In a video press conference at the time, Rihanna, aka Robyn Fenty, the CEO and Creative Director of Fenty, noted the experience by saying, “It’s a meticulous process. You don’t get bored when deciding what a new collection can be. LVMH is a monster of a machine; you can only expect the best.”

The aim was to eschew typical four times yearly collections by adding drops when the inspiration and mojo to churn the machine for merch beckoned. Fenty rolled out in tandem with events with several retail partners versus costly fashion shows. The collection priced in the entry designer category: Jogger pants cost $280, T-shirts started at $180, hoodies at $300, an oversized padded denim jacket for $940 and dresses between $600-700. Initially, the drops were averaging every six to eight weeks, with seven deliveries in 2019 and six in 2020. The philosophy was to build on essential wardrobe items to be evergreen in the line.

Unforeseeable Challenges

Aside from the fact that a global pandemic put many fashion brands in peril, Fenty didn’t gain the traction its initial hype promised. Signs of its trouble were evident in the fall of 2020, when a new managing director Bastien Renard was appointed to replace ready-to-wear executive Veronique Gebel.  Next, LVMH chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony said the line was a “work in progress,” to WWD. As Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin, also LVMH owned, are performing exceptionally, it’s clear the singer is bankable. 

But designing clothing collections is entirely different. Especially when Covid-19 made traveling to Europe for design meetings and production visits difficult. The singer and her stylist and (company brass) may have been overly ambitious about just how much unique merch could be pumped out in a year. Accessories such as sunglasses and fashion jewelry performed better overall, often selling out or having waitlists. But most styles remained the same since the May 2019 launch. Aside from signature hip-cut out on skirts, dresses and even hoodies, the merch wasn’t that distinctive. The shoe offering didn’t appear to evolve.

An effort to remedy that, perhaps, was the collaborators joining forces with buzzy cobbler Amina Muaddi. The collaboration added a covered toe elastic vamp style slingback stiletto and garnered them a footwear award. But the shoes offered in drop 11-20 were the last. Some industry voices on Twitter, such as Pierre M’ Pele of Perfect Magazine, proclaimed the line was simply not good.

The Industry View

Luxury brand consultant Robert Burke, of Robert Burke and Associates, surmises that the clothing line positioned at collection prices wasn’t the best place to reach her customer. He noted luxury buyers stuck with tried-and-true names like Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes.

Burke also felt that for the launch’s fanfare, the drop method was not the right approach. “They left out the fashion show hype which would have reached millions more online, but her power is in her notoriety,” said Burke.

The lingerie and beauty lines, on the other hand, appeal to her demographic with their body positivity outlook and accessible price points. Plus, they have garnered a bigger social media following. While Fenty has just 1 million followers, Savage X Fenty has 3.9 million and Fenty Beauty has a whopping 10.5 million followers.

There is also a lower threshold in luxury today to weather loss and unprofitability. “I don’t know if there are five and ten-year plans anymore; there is so much at stake. And investors look to brands that grow organically,” said Burke.

Sucharita Kodali, VP, Principal Analyst with Forrester, agreed. “I think like any smart business decision, this is about investing in what is working–i.e., beauty and undergarments–and failing fast at anything that isn’t,” she said. “In this case, Fenty fashion clothing wasn’t working, so it’s not a priority now.”

A Lust for Lingerie

Like Rihanna’s beauty brands, Savage X Fenty lingerie is experiencing great success, thanks largely to its ability to attract Gen Z and Millennial customers. Relative to the clothing line, Fenty lingerie is quite affordable, with skimpy thongs selling for less than $10, bras selling for $17 to $22, and full-body teddies under $30.

It has also promoted the inclusivity factor. Sizes range from XS to 3X and Savage X Fenty promoted all shapes, colors and sizes in their branding campaigns, website and social media. It checks all boxes for authenticity, which is vital to the demographic. The line was extra buzzy for its ever-present influencer stable with names such as Aeysha Perry-Iqbal (489K followers), Corie Rayvon (974K followers), Denise Bidot (794K followers), Jazzmyne Jay (586K followers) and Symphani Soto (434K followers) among others.

Marie Driscoll, CFA and Managing Director, Luxury & Fashion at Coresight Research Inc. notes the surge of demand for intimates, casual and comfort apparel benefitted from the same trend that stymied fashion apparel during Covid-19, the lack of anywhere to wear tailored and dressy RTW. “To pivot to intimates is a wise move and does leverage Rihanna’s brand DNA of inclusivity, which is a value consumers seek when choosing brands, along with demand for comfort clothing in a Covid-19 environment, “ said Driscoll noting the longer-term secular trend of casualization to benefit a focus on intimates and sports apparel.

Market Standing

In a press release about the new injection of funding into Savage X Fenty, co-Presidents Natalie Guzman and Christiane Pendarvis said: “As we continue to grow the brand at a remarkable pace, it is imperative we move forward with partners who not only have a deep understanding of our business and customer base but share our ambitious vision for Savage X Fenty and have the operational know-how to work with us to achieve it.” 

That ambitious vision includes retail. Branded brick and mortar stores are important to this brand that destigmatized racy lingerie. Many of the styles are reminiscent of intimate apparel previously only sold in adult entertainment stores—another visible aspect of Rihanna’s overall acceptance and inclusion M-O.

According to the press release, the Series B financing follows “an exceptional year for Savage X Fenty in which it experienced explosive revenue growth of over 200%, while increasing its active VIP member base by over 150%.” Stats shared by a representative for L. Catterton noted that Savage By Fenty holds a 3-5% market share in intimates. A notable stat for a brand that is only in the market for two years and hasn’t entered retail yet. Its core demo – women ages 18-35 — is expected to gain a much higher market share. By comparison, Aerie, which launched 14 years ago, report intimates make up just 31% of their total revenue which is estimated at $1 billion. 

“The brand strikes a unique balance between affordability, fashion, and comfort, stands deeply for inclusivity and diversity, and has differentiated itself by building an extraordinary level of affinity and unmatched customer loyalty,” said Jon Owsley, co-Managing Partner of L Catterton’s Growth Fund in the release. “We believe the opportunities ahead for Savage X Fenty are enormous.” LVMH partnered with the investment firm in 2016, thus rebranding at L Catterton. So, what’s good for L Catterton is good for Bernard Arnault’s luxury group.

Move Over Victoria’s Secret

Additionally, Savage X Fenty is hitting its stride when sector leader Victoria’s Secret succumbed to its woes that began even pre-pandemic. In May of 2020, they announced they would be closing 250 stores in the US. According to Euromonitor’s research firm, Victoria’s Secret share of the women’s underwear market has declined from 34% in 2016 to 25.7% in 2019. 

The intimates playing field has been heating up due to consumers trends as well. “We have seen the blurring of categories as intimates expands beyond underwear to outerwear (loungewear and casual wear), giving rise to a lifestyle intimates category, as we can see with American Eagles’

AEO
aerie and Kim Kardashian West’s SKIMS. Rihanna and Savage X Fenty is better positioned to capitalize on market and consumer trends than Fenty RTW,” observes Driscoll.

LVMH has their eye on the prize in this regard. “They are looking at where the customer and opportunity are now,” said Burke, “Rihanna is a great brand and spokesperson for it. I think this is a process of taping into how to use her talent best to reach the younger, forward-thinking audience that knows her best.”



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