Rihanna revealed in an interview earlier this year that she gets style ideas from Middle Eastern girls’ Instagram accounts. Her own has now gone ofﬂine, but did @badgalriri ever follow you on the photo sharing site? It’s hard to imagine a more signiﬁcant sartorial high ﬁve than digital devotion from the woman recently crowned Fashion Icon of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Afﬁrming her admiration for this region, Rihanna agreed to be photographed for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s summer edition in a Middle Eastern-inﬂuenced editorial; a far cry from the nearly-naked look she opted for at the CFDA Fashion Awards. “I wanted to do something high-fashion but still traditional to the culture,” Rihanna said on the shoot, which took place in Los Angeles last month, “and that’s what we’re doing; we’re having fun with it!” For Bazaar’s fashion team, blending high style with a Middle Eastern inﬂuence immediately conjured visions of RiRi, as she is known to her legions of fans, wearing Atelier Versace’s spring/summer beaded couture hood – a styling trick echoed in Dolce & Gabbana’s autumn/winter ready-to-wear collection. Known for her love of sportswear, Rihanna was more than willing to take the street inﬂuence of a hoodie and elevate it to high fashion proportions.
Hood, dress and jacket, Atelier Versace. Panthère de Cartier collection earrings in white gold, onyx, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires, Cartier
Cue Dubai-based couturier Michael Cinco’s entirely beaded second-skin dress, which wraps its way around the singer’s sinuous dancer’s body, or a classic Ralph Lauren gown, transposed to the orient with the addition of a dramatic golden face mask. Cartier’s new Panthère pieces glitter against the exotic wardrobe for an added dose of Arabian excess. Rihanna’s fascination with the region was sparked last year when her Diamonds World Tour took her to Abu Dhabi, where she adapted her stage wardrobe to reﬂect local dress codes. One memorable look included a covered-up all white ensemble, topped with a desert cap and veil. During her trip to the Middle East she also became interested in the multitude of ways women wear their abayas. As a result, she began appropriating hoodies as her own fashion statement, one that recalls earlier style icons such as Grace Jones and Bianca Jagger. “Women in the Middle East ﬁnd her fashion sexy, risky and adventurous,” says Michael Cinco. “She encourages them to be different and to cultivate their own style, but always on their terms. She gives them ideas on how to dress for themselves and the attitude to embrace fashion, trying something daring and new, while at the same time respecting customs.” So how did a young girl from Barbados named Robyn Rihanna Fenty grow up to become a cross-cultural fashion icon? There is no denying her star power and the catalogue of hits that have garnered her six Grammys.
But for a singer who began her career in 2005, her ascent to fashion stardom has been a relatively recent phenomenon. What is certain is that Rihanna loves fashion, having cultivated a chameleon-like approach to dressing. Daring and fearless in her sartorial choices, clothing has become as much a part of her creative expression as her songs... and that has decidedly set her apart from her equally famous peers. It would be remiss to speak of Rihanna within the context of the fashion industry without mentioning her stylist Mel Ottenberg, whose résumé includes stints at i-D, The Face, and dressing John Galliano. Then there is the designer Adam Selman, who has not only crafted custom tour costumes for her since 2011, but also co-designed a capsule collection with the singer for the high-street British label River Island. Far from casting Rihanna as a clotheshorse, both men are quick to credit her sense of style and stress that above all else she is both a muse and collaborator. This was apparent while designing the River Island capsule with Adam, where the pair bounced ideas off each other and weighed in on every look. At ﬁttings she was known to be very particular about fabrics and ﬁnishes, requesting that the hem of a skirt be shortened by a quarter of an inch. The result of her keen eye and her design partner’s technical expertise was a tough yet feminine collection that captured the pop icon’s signature style with overall inspired maxi dresses, ﬂoaty satin pyjama bottoms and slouchy spaghetti-strap slip dresses.
Dress, Dhs16,730, Ralph Lauren Collection. Shoes, Dhs8,350, Christian Louboutin. Mask, stylist’s own
Rihanna’s ubiquitous front row presence during the last round of Paris shows also helped raise her fashion proﬁle; where she appeared in head-turning ensembles at Lanvin, Dior, Comme des Garçons, Miu Miu, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Stella McCartney. At Chanel, which dressed her in a lavender tweed couture dress, Karl Lagerfeld sent his models out to her hits Diamonds and S.O.S. echoing from the sound system. The singer also appeared at a number of fashion week parties, the most coveted invitation being Natalie Massenet’s launch for Porter magazine at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Attracting a who’s who of the fashion world, the entrepreneur wanted to bring together, “everyone who inspires us.” Not surprisingly the Barbadian songstress has been inspiring a number of fashion’s key players. Her distinctive look has inﬁltrated the collections of designers as varied as Tom Ford, Alexander Wang, Peter Dundas at Pucci and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. Backstage after his show, Olivier listed Rihanna as a major inﬂuence, casting her as the face of the label’s spring/summer ’14 ad campaign. Styled by Mel Ottenberg and lensed by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Olivier observed that the singer was very much involved throughout the shoot, selecting and tweaking the looks she wanted to wear with a clear vision in mind. It is a talent that has marked her as a hit-maker among record producers and fashion designers alike.
Dress, Dhs37,050, Elie Saab. Shoes, Dhs3,490, Christian Louboutin. Opposite: Top, Dhs37,250, Balenciaga. Head scarf, stylist’s own
An accomplished dresser, she has the ability to make a look instantly desirable, so much so that designers such as Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Dior’s Raf Simons, and Alber Elbaz of Lanvin will line up to create custom pieces for her tours. Noticing her potential impact as a spokesperson, MAC Cosmetics recently enlisted her as the face of its Viva Glam lipstick, whose mission is to raise funds for HIV research. The culmination of Rihanna’s fashion ascent came at the aforementioned CFDA Awards in June, where she joined previous recipients of the Fashion Icon award such as Kate Moss and Iman. It was a marked departure from Lady Gaga, who received the accolade in 2011. While the latter takes a more conceptual approach to fashion, Rihanna has become known for a glamorous laid-back style that is instantly accessible to her fans. Her penchant for cool often includes a combination of oversized men’s jackets, slouchy hoods, bodysuits, sweatpants and leotards that have been adopted by fans and fashion insiders across the world. As she went up to receive her award, teetering onto the stage in a custom mesh gown sprinkled with some 230,000 Swarovski crystals, it was apparent she had created yet another fashion moment through her daring and bold choice of dress. During her acceptance speech she recalled her early years, making the point that fashion is a universal experience. “I grew up on a small island and didn’t have a lot of access to fashion, but as far as I can remember... fashion has been an outlet for me to express myself, to speak up and say who I am.” It is a reminder that Rihanna is considered a style icon today precisely because of her ability to communicate to her fans through clothes, in a way few celebrities have been able to do thus far.
Watch our behind-the scenes video of Rihanna's cover shoot here
Fashion and beauty director: Sally Matthews. Contributing fashion editor: Ise White. Hair stylist: Yusef Williams. Hair assistant: Naphia White. Make-up artist: Lora Arellano. Nail technician: Kimmie Keys. Creative director: Ciarra Pardo. Producer: Cezar Greif. Produced by: Cool Hunt, inc. Assistant producer: Jessica DeFino. Wardrobe assistant: Janelle Gutierrez. Fashion assistants: Julia Maile and Charlotte Blair. Shot on location at The Mountain Mermaid, Los Angeles, Themountainmermaid.com