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Why Rihanna’s CFDA Awards outfit was brilliant marketing

One t’ing bout that red girl from Westbury Road though – she know how to mek people talk!

The Dress has been dominating social media around the world for the past 48 hours and if you think that wasn’t purpose work, well you must be now hear bout Mrs. Fenty girl-child.

So Rihanna wore what has been aptly described as a ‘naked dress’ to collect her Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Made of fishnet and 216,000 painstakingly applied Swarovski crystals, Rihanna wore the see-through dress with a flesh-coloured thong, a crystal-encrusted do-rag and gloves and the audacious attitude that has made her famous.

People predictably lost their minds and there has been much verbal sparring in many a comment section and many a timeline. Objectors have said it’s too risque. Rihanna’s defenders have argued that other performers have done it and a cobbled together ‘who did it first’ picture collage of Cher, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross wearing similarly nekkid, shimmery outfits has been making the rounds.

However, to our minds the best defense is that it is all skilful marketing  on Rihanna’s part. Let’s face it, Rihanna is not just a singer but a carefully constructed pop product – and we give her credit for having a strong hand in that construction. (Remember how she took over her Twitter account with a “no more corny label tweets!” declaration some years ago? Her Twitter feed became insanely more followed, spawned a vociferous Rihanna Navy and became key to defining her public persona.)

Pop is about tapping into the zeitgeist of popular culture at that particular moment. It’s about capturing the mood of the moment and pushing against the boundaries of that mood and in so doing expand the range of what is considered stylish or acceptable. Rihanna does that better than anybody – she knows how to get people’s attention and she influences the mood of the moment.

And in case you doubt us, check out who was the top search term in much of the world yesterday (according to Google Trends).

Mood of the moment? Yes, definitely.

And this is where the marketing bit comes in. Let’s examine a few facts.

1) Rihanna’s outfit was a clear reference to Josephine Baker and she knew the fashion set at the CFDA Awards would get it. They did – hence tons of references to Josephine Baker in the reports on the awards and Rihanna’s outfit. And in case we didn’t make the connection, she tweeted a photo collage of Ms. Baker in a similar outfit next to a picture of her CFDA outfit.

Just in case you didn't get the reference...
Just in case you didn’t get the reference…

The day after the CFDA Awards was Josephine Baker’s birthday meaning that it would perfectly coincide with the tsunami of next-day coverage about Rihanna’s outrageous,  Josephine Baker homage/outfit. We see what you did there Riri.

2)  Rihanna has been tapped to appear in a biopic about Josephine Baker. What better way to get people buzzing about the Bronze Venus than with a jaw-dropping outfit that winked at the legendary chanteuse’s legacy hence making the fashion folk talk about it and compelling many of those who didn’t know about her to google her? We’re talking about Josephine Baker right now, aren’t we?

3)      Rihanna’s dress was famously made from 216,000 Swarovski crystals. The main sponsor of the CFDA Awards? Swarovski.


By Me

island ~ ista
From Latin -ista via Portuguese -ista
one who follows a principle; an adept.

As an islandista I live, embody, exude the spirit of the Caribbean islands.

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