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With Savage, Rihanna Proves She Doesn’t Need an Album to Generate Hype

Rihanna earned the following mention in Variety’s Music Mogul of the Year special. For more, including the cover story on Sean Combs, click here

On May 11, at exactly midnight, Rihanna launched lingerie line Savage x Fenty. Within minutes, its website nearly crashed. The demand from fans wanting to make a purchase was so monumental that customers were forced to wait upwards of an hour just to access SavageX.com. The blow-by-blow commentary of their ordeal even became a trending topic on Twitter.

Why the breathless anticipation? Rihanna (née Robyn Rihanna Fenty) is one of entertainment’s most formidable brands. She’s the best-selling digital artist of all time, according to the RIAA, and the most streamed female artist on Spotify. That said, Savage — in which the singer served as principal model in the ad campaign that was streamed to her 63.1 million Instagram followers — proves she no longer needs an album to promote in order to generate hype.

The debut of Savage eclipsed Rihanna’s other big project, a role in the ensemble heist comedy “Ocean’s 8.” If anything, the film’s producers probably benefited more from the Savage-spawned buzz than Rihanna could reap from promos for the Warner Bros. picture.

The branding trajectory that brought her to this moment is brilliant, if methodical. After a long string of endorsements as her star was rising, the success in 2011 of her perfume line, Reb’l Fleur, which grossed $80 million by year’s end, was a jumping-off point. Rihanna would go on to leverage her authentic, bad-grrrl image through co-branded partnerships with Manolo Blahnik, Dior, Chopard and, notably, her wildly popular Puma shoe line.

The singer’s entrée into the fashion world proved so compelling that she would go on to earn a CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2014. Two years ago, on the strength of her multi-demographic appeal, she inked a $25 million deal with Samsung. It footed the bill for her tour and free downloads of her album, “Anti,” helping it move a million units in less than 15 hours. Forbes estimated her income that year to be $75 million.

Rihanna
CREDIT: Jody Hewgill

Last year, she dramatically upped her game upon entering the lucrative cosmetics market with Fenty Beauty. The company was shrewdly created with Kendo, the respected beauty-brand incubator owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy that’s behind products for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Kat Von D and Sephora. Fenty earned $100 million in 40 days.

One critical differentiator for Fenty Beauty was its 40 multiethnic-friendly shades of foundation, earning it accolades as one of Time’s Best Innovations of 2017: Rihanna had effortlessly translated the idea of inclusivity from activism aim to marketing actuality. Savage x Fenty — which is partnered with TechStyle, the retailer behind Fabletics and JustFab — operates on that same body-positive principle: It offers a wide range of sizes and continues to diversify. Some predict the brand could dethrone Victoria’s Secret in sales dominance.

Savage’s launch party, which took place in Brooklyn in May, was the hottest ticket in town. It didn’t disappoint: One stage even boasted slo-mo holograms of the singer modeling her creations. According to WWD, Rihanna — who intoned “All I see is signs, all I see is dolla’ signs” in her 2013 single “Pour It Up” — gazed at the images, smiling.

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