With the launch of Fenty Maison in partnership with pop icon and fashion and beauty entrepreneur Rihanna, LVMH is breaking the mold of how luxury brands are built. It signals dramatic changes coming in the luxury market led by the undisputed market leader.
Recently Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, announced that it was creating a new luxury Maison under creative direction of Robyn Rihanna Fenty.
The new line launched in a Paris popup shop last week and will debut online May 29. It is more affordably priced than typical LVMH brands with offerings available immediately rather than using the traditional seasonal preview model common to luxury brands.
Maisons are how LVMH organizes its family of 70-plus brands within its six reporting segments. Leading a Maison is the pinnacle in LVMH’s hierarchy.
Rihanna got her start in 2017 working with LVMH in its Perfume and Cosmetics segment launching the Fenty Beauty brand. It was developed by LVMH’s Kendo division, described as a cosmetics “incubator” company, and debuted at LVMH’s Sephora subsidiary, as well as distributed elsewhere.
Business of Fashion reports that Fenty Beauty brought in €500 million, or $562 million, in its first full year. Famed for its inclusive 40 shades of foundation, Fenty Beauty’s success is amazing and gives Arnault confidence that Rihanna can do it again in LVMH’s much more important Fashion and Leather Goods segment, which includes 15 houses and generated €18.1 billion in 2018 as compared with €6.1 billion and 12 houses in Perfumes and Cosmetics.
Fenty Maison marks a number of firsts for LVMH. It is its first fashion brand built from scratch since 1987’s Christian Lacroix brand. It is also LVMH’s first original woman-created brand. And the first time a woman of color will lead an LVMH maison.
But most especially, this is the first time LVMH has turned to a celebrity to create a fashion brand, rather than hired one to endorse it.
“While LVMH and fellow competitors have invested and partnered with fashion designers such as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Jonathan Anderson, where the Fenty deal differs is its an alliance with an entertainer,” says Mickey Alam Kahn, editor-in-chief of Luxury Daily.
“If done with class, the Fenty brand is but the first for LVMH to strike similar relationships with other celebrities boasting huge followings,” he continues.
Intersection of fame and fashion
Designers get famous through fashion. Now Rihanna brings fame to fashion, to the tune of €30 million by LVMH’s calculation. Rihanna is contributing that sum in “her time, her name and what she represents” to the venture, while LVMH is putting up the equivalent €30 million in cash, according to BoF.
But Rihanna is more than just a pop singer with impeccable makeup, fashion styling and 70 million young Instagram followers. She has the chops. “LVMH is hiring an entrepreneur and a leader to head up the new fashion brand, not just a highly successful entertainer and singer,” contends Shelley E. Kohan, assistant professor at Fashion Institute of Technology.
This isn’t her first foray into fashion. Rihanna collaborated with Puma as creative director for a sportswear fashion line in 2014, which ended in 2018 when Kering-owned Puma was spun off. And her lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, with its body- and color-inclusive appeal, made waves at this past September’s New York Fashion Week runway show, following its launch in May 2018.
“Delivering relevant, cutting-edge fashion to the young customer base at LVMH definitely fits the model of the company and the future direction that LVMH seems to be heading,” Kohan continues. “Mr. Arnault sees in Rihanna the creative and fashion business skill set necessary to create a long-term venture .”
More than just an aspirational brand
Aspiration is a term popular in luxury circles, as in “aspirational brand.” It translates into a luxury brand designed to appeal to status-conscious young people. An aspirational brand is often a lower-priced gateway to true luxury. Beauty products, such as Chanel lipsticks or Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, frequently fill the aspirational role.
With Fenty Maison I see aspiration coming from the other direction. It’s not so much an aspirational brand for LVMH’s customers, but an aspirational brand for the company itself. Rihanna’s Fenty Maison is the gateway for LVMH to the future of luxury .
“LVMH is intertwined with the fashion zeitgeist of the moment,” says Alam Kahn, who points to the choice of Virgil Abloh as design director for Louis Vuitton as another sign of the future direction of LVMH.
“This tells us where LVMH wants to position its product—to appeal to the younger affluent, more-with-it customers who take cues from casualwear and the street for comfort with style and exclusivity,” he says.
Yes, Fenty Maison is intended to draw a younger customer and broaden its base, but it is so much more than that. It signals that LVMH is not just resting on its laurels, but moving headlong into a future that it intends to shape.
LVMH innovates with a new model of luxury
While LVMH was formed in 1987 in the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy, its roots go back centuries—1854 for Louis Vuitton and 1743 for Moët Hennessy. In building Fenty Maison in 2019, it is innovating with a new luxury model to invigorate an industry largely operating under old-luxury ideas.
Milton Pedraza, president of the Luxury Institute, says this is what he expects from a leader like Arnault and LVMH. “LVMH is leading the way with open innovation. It is opening an insular company to outside collaboration in order to innovate bigger, better and faster than if relying only on your employees.”
In this partnership, LVMH is building a new model of innovation based on co-creation. “LVMH knows how to co-create to scale and distribute product. It is also creating a new definition of luxury which is more open and inclusive,” he says. “This is the model they can potentially use with many other co-creators.”
Kohan senses the new energy this collaboration will bring not just to LVMH’s customers, but to the company itself. “This pop celebrity entrepreneur will help infuse a new way of thinking into the more aristocratic and European world of LVMH.”
That is what is most exciting about the LVMH-Rihanna Fenty Maison news. It means a storied company with guardianship over a portfolio of heritage luxury brands is not afraid to adapt to the changing times.
Rihanna brings new life and a youthful, new-world spirit to a increasingly global and diverse luxury market. Hats off to LVMH for running headlong into the future, not shrinking from it.
“This cocktail of creative forces and the paradoxes within it, is what makes it interesting. LVMH gets that the greater the level of creative innovation, the greater the risk, but also the greater the potential returns,” Pedraza concludes.