Streetwear is a boys' club and the girls who take part in it get, at most, a print lobbed onto a poorly thought-out women's Gildan cut and *maybe* some puffer jackets if weather permits. That is until Rihanna approached the curb with her PUMA collab.
With a wardrobe rammed with a mix of streetwear and what technically should be strictly editorial looks (for instance those boots she designed for Manolo Blahnik, which are both necessary for life but also completely impossible), it's absolutely not shocking that Rihanna has the talent to produce streetwear for women.
RiRi's PUMA collab is so much more than appropriated prints and "girl versions" of existing guys' stuff that caters in no way to the feminine figure, let alone perspective. For this, and for the creative freedom PUMA has allowed her, we've got to be thankful. More so, Rihanna's capacity to keep her vision in line with solid fashion and trend references, rather than produce a collection of watered-down looks she's been spotted in and frothed over, should be saluted. Hard.
It'd be easy for Rihanna to send some 3/4-length tracksuits, lazy camo prints, and fairy floss faux-fur down the runway; some activewear with her name on it and just about any kind of footwear would still sell alright for PUMA. Any collab a celebrity of her calibre touches generally turns to a commercial success; take A$AP Rocky's Guess tap, which was exciting for its nostalgic stripes but lacked any kind of true reference to his personal style or attitude.
Bieber's high-end Barney's merch could also be mentioned, if we weren't busy yawning to death. Kate Moss is out here making $58 sushi boxes, and Kanye — while theoretically doing some pretty ~punk~ stuff within the industry — is essentially recycling his own worn-out wardrobe and cutting holes in the crotch of pantyhose like a cold ballerina and calling it luxury.
But Rihanna is continually dodging this indolent approach and as a result, she's contributed to a 92.2% jump in the company's profits. It's Rihanna's fearless style risks, mirrored in her day-to-day aesthetic, in combination with an actual understanding of her fans and customers, that's pivotal in the label's success and substance.
It's evident in the way she can one day be dressing like Elaine Benes and the next be in creepers and XXL black sweats with a Louis Vuitton x Frank Gehry bag. And glaring in the fact that she was one of very few celebrities who wore an actual Chinese designer, Guo Pei, to the Met's China-themed gala after "researching Chinese couture on the internet."
Since the first Fenty x PUMA collection, for FW16, it's been evident that Rihanna is aware of what's bubbling in streetwear and the surrounding scenes — turning out mad health goth references and largely pulling the perforated neoprene right over Alexander Wang x adidas's eyes.
SS17 took on a whole new spirit, that of Marie Antoinette pre-gym and post-blunt. Styling tricks were off the hook with corsetry under brocade boiler suits, lilac lace du-rags, oversized bows and silk slips hung off the front of hoodies. It's much more involved than a printed long-sleeve and a pair of utility pants, but there's a certain attitude that keeps it grounded within the realm of "street."
FW17 took no steps backward. Rihanna took queues from school kid subcultures with team colors and plaid as the foundation of uncompromising looks, which allowed further exploration into the footwear part of the collaboration that is now so successful. Massive puffers arrived just in time, with cropped versions that are so crucial to female styling. Pants were JNCO-baggy and snap versions got a feminine reboot with front and center seams. Toward the end of the show, FW16's goths were back and more developed than before.
Her most recent collection, SS18, just cruised down the runway at NYFW. Showing no signs of slowing down, Rihanna closed the show on a goddamn motorbike. But what she did with the clothes was more important.
Again, she gave some breathing room to the traditional take on streetwear, creating a bit of distance from hip-hop's version of streetwear: exclusively oversized silhouettes, rap spray and metal graphics, hoodies, etc. Rihanna instead took references from X Games-related gear and strapped them to surfwear. The collection was mad for speed-dealer sunglasses and nods to Town and Country, while managing to create corsetry out of nylon straps and turning surfboard leashes and flip flops into this year's most coveted heel.
Fenty PUMA by Rihanna produces, time after time, collections that stand on their own even without RiRi's name on the tag. Stuff that has its own place next to other forward-thinking women's streetwear brands like Aries, MadeMe and MISBHV, and contributes, in the same way that those labels do, to a bold reinterpretation of streetwear rather than a sloppy rehashing that leaves women on the perimeter of the scene.
Its pieces aren't just interesting, they're challenging in the way her wardrobe is — similar to labels she wears like Y/Project, Vetements and Demna's Balenciaga. You need a certain attitude to pull these pieces off, and the collections allow for — and encourage — that attitude, which is a vital-but-tricky part of designing clothes since it isn't a visible, tangible thing.
Basically, Rihanna makes me want to dress like a staunch bitch instead of someone who tripped and fell into their boyfriend's closet and I am 100% here for that.