The Land of Fenty: The Rihanna Masterclass in Brand-Building


Rihanna x Sephora Fenty Beauty

The measure of any pop star’s career is not gold records or downloads but brand extensions. And Rihanna is proving to be as powerful an on-the-shelf brand collaborator as she is in music, where she is the #1 artist in the pop category of Billboard’s music charts not just this year, but for the past 25 years.

“Before she was BadGalRiRi: music, fashion and beauty icon, Robyn Rihanna Fenty was a little girl in Barbados transfixed by her mother’s lipstick. The first time she experienced makeup for herself, she never looked back. Makeup became her weapon of choice for self-expression.”

That’s the pitch from Fenty Beauty, the new line of beauty products at Sephora designed by Rihanna, which succinctly explains the brand name’s origin and its brand mission—an origin story that helps Fenty Beauty stand out from the dozens of other branded makeup lines by pop stars, actresses and celebs.

In a brilliant PR move, Fenty Beauty line launched last month at Sephora with Rihanna herself working the registers. The launch sparked mob scenes around the world that were more like Black Friday than the typical Sephora door opening. It even inspired a proposal that went viral.

The launch event has since generated a whopping 1.1 billion impressions on social media. In Spain, for instance, the launch inspired what’s being billed as the world’s first live-created fan film. Fenty’s Playground invited Rihanna’s legion of fans and influencers to join her in an electrifying live immersive experience to produce the beauty film together, in real-time.

The film of the Spain launch experience shows a complete takeover of Madrid’s central Callao Square (orchestrated by experiential design agency Wildbytes) for what’s described as an “unforgettable multisensorial experience and an instantaneous, high-end fashion film.”

The Fenty brand’s popularity is indisputable and is driving Sephora store visits—still a great predictor of sales overall. Fenty is itself a partnership with global beauty conglomerate LVMH, which knows a thing or two about savvy branding.

#GALAXYCOLLECTION. LIMITED EDITION. Get the intergalactic fam while you still can! @fentybeauty

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Then there’s her Fenty x Puma collaboration, which has made wearing fur-lined slippers in public acceptable and brought the German athleticwear brand a little edge; “F. U.” slippers anyone?

#FENTYxPUMA F.U. suede slides are out now! …

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Beyond street cred and edge, it also brought Puma booming sales. After the Rihanna-inspired “Creeper” Puma shoes were named “Shoe of the Year” last year, Puma saw supply shortages at stores. Puma just reported that sales were up last quarter, crediting Rihanna for lifting its bottom line even as it boasts other powerhouse musician tie-ins with Selena Gomez and her Canadian beau, The Weeknd.

Trick or cleat . #FENTYxPUMA

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Footwear brand extensions are no longer the prominence of athletes, and music stars are the hot new name in sneakers.

Ruffled high top sneakers bearing the name of Black Eyed Pea Fergie have been available at retailers under her Fergalicious brand. You can shod yourself in shoes by Jessica Simpson. And Kayne West’s “Yeezy” collaboration with adidas has inspired entire Yeezy knock-off stores in China.

While there is evidence that Rihanna can instantly boost sales of product lines and individual items, it’s still to be determined whether Rihanna—or any star, for that matter—can boost sales sustainably, with significant margins, in the long term.

For now, more important to her brand collaborators, having Rihanna on your team brings the benefit of her massive social media exposure. With more than 57 million Instagram followers, anything @badgirlriri posts is instantly a global phenomenon, whether that’s her beauty line’s hashtag #fentyface or a promo of her new #FentyxPuma Cleated Creepers.

For example, the latter was liked over 580,000 times in less than a week. That post also had 4,000 comments, a like:share ratio that is excellent by standards of the all important social media metric “The Ratio.” So while sales are hard to suss out, the brand can benefit greatly by association. “Rihanna’s relationship with us makes the brand actual and hot again with young consumers,” Puma’s CEO said on its most recent earnings call.

Cleated Creepers are available now in NEW COLORS!! get em out here: #FENTYxPUMA

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Rihanna is not new to brand collaborations. Her many previous partnerships include Armani, Stella McCartney, Balmain, Dior, Gucci, and Chanel. She has also collaborated on shoe designs with Manolo Blahnik.

But Rihanna’s drive to create her own brand, Fenty, means she’s now in control of her brand destiny and with that base and LVMH and Puma’s experience, expect to see more brands consider a Fenty collaboration. As Rihanna strategizes her business brand with her career as a musician and entertainer, her recent net worth estimate of nearly $230 million is just a milestone on her path to being a billion-dollar brand.

One new area she is considering, as she told an interviewer at the Fenty Beauty launch party—furniture. So watch out, IKEA—Fenty Furniture may be coming your way.