In September, Rihanna made history by staging a star-powered, mega-inclusive musical fashion show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to launch the fall/winter 2019 line of Savage X Fenty, her disruptive lingerie brand. Halsey and Big Sean were among the singers, and the models (including two FIT alumni, transgender actor and activist Laverne Cox and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Aquaria) were of diverse races, sizes, and physical abilities.
It was a stark contrast to most fashion shows—not to mention advertising and entertainment media—which employ thin, cisgender models without disabilities. This radical inclusivity, reflected in the shades, sizing, and support of the pieces, sets the line apart from traditional lingerie brands. Bra sizes range from 32A to 42H, panty sizes from XS to 3X.
“It’s for everybody,” says Melissa Battifarano, Fashion Design ’01, vice president of design for Savage X Fenty. “We really embrace all body shapes and make our customer feel sexy.”
Battifarano drives the brand’s creative direction and upholds Rihanna’s vision. She manages a Los Angeles–based team of about 15 designers, production managers, and quality assurance experts to create the dozens of pieces released each season. Rihanna has final say. “Everything comes from her, down to the hangtags,” Battifarano says.
Every product is created from scratch.
“Merchants want to sell you bestsellers from other lines,” she says. “That’s not what we’re doing. It’s not a me-too attitude.”
Battifarano, a longtime sportswear designer, met Rihanna in 2014 to work together on the Fenty X Puma streetwear collaboration. Battifarano had previously designed for Puma, and her former boss there thought she and Rihanna would hit it off. Four seasons later, when that line reached its natural conclusion, Savage X Fenty began.
The fashion show, released on Amazon Prime Video on September 20 as part of a deal to sell the line on Amazon.com, was massively more elaborate than anything Battifarano had worked on before. Past shows have featured about 60 looks; this one featured 147 ensembles for dancers and 44 for models. Midnight 00 created 118 custom shoes, and Puma pitched in stylish footwear, too.
“It’s really a cultural moment,” Battifarano says. “It’s bigger than just fashion. It’s a movement.”