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Fashion Is Savage X Fenty just putting a pricetag on empowerment?

Dec. 29, 2020
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The Savage X Fenty Volume Two video trailer opens in a blur of electric colors, flashing lights, and close-ups of diverse dancing faces and bodies overlaid with bold neon writing announcing that “Rihanna… Is About to Bring…. The Baddest… Sexiest… Performances By….” The list that follows features many performers of color ranging in body types and sexuality. 

“WE’RE SAVAGE, NOT SORRY” reads the website's description of the show. The incredibly diverse, impressive group of performers and models pictured below the statement serves to drive the message home: Savage X Fenty is trying to create something new.

At the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which long stood as the hallmark for lingerie, viewers saw a narrow and airbrushed definition of beauty. The average viewer did not resemble the models and could not find pieces of herself within the performance. 

The Savage X Fenty show isn’t subtle in the ways it acts as a critique and replacement of the Victoria’s Secret show. Whereas the Victoria’s Secret show sold itself on sameness—marketing a brand of identically thin, mostly white, and arguably unattainable standards of beauty—Savage X Fenty deliberately sets itself apart from the industry standard.

Victoria’s Secret has operated on existing out of reach. Its products flew off the shelves of every mall in America because it represented an elusive and narrow standard of beauty that could be aspired to but never achieved; the wings synonymous with the show weren’t for sale. The Victoria’s Secret show hinged on the premise that normal people were fundamentally separate from the angels they saw on stage—and now the show is no longer running, perhaps indicating that people are sick of exclusivity and unattainability.

It’s great that Savage X Fenty is representing bodies of all shapes and sizes, but we can’t forget this is a marketing tactic; the brand of inclusivity remains a brand. Savage X Fenty promotes diversity alongside a price tag of only $11.68 for a garter belt as seen on Nazanin Mandi. Usually, the clothes featured in fashion shows are a symbolic reflection of the brand and aren’t sold in stores. But in the Savage X Fenty show, all articles of clothing seen can be directly purchased. The company offers a message of endless possibility, inclusivity, and beauty that truly can be yours with the simple purchase of a fast-fashion bra. 

The Savage X Fenty prices, after all, are cheap. Extremely cheap. The practices that yield prices like this have come under question for brands like Shein and Nasty Gal—marketing six-dollar flimsy tops designed to be worn once or twice has, in recent years, become morally reprehensible—but Savage X Fenty seems to have rendered itself exempt from this criticism on the grounds of its inclusivity. 

A quick Google search of “Savage X Fenty ethics” yields minimal results, largely because the brand has little to no transparency about their ethical practices regarding how their production techniques impact the planet, people, and animals. 

The brand has also come under fire for deceptive marketing, as buyers reported that purchasing an item from the website automatically enrolled them in a $50 a month “subscription program.” In theory, the idea of a subscription program is fine—but transparency is lacking, and many users report buying cheap lingerie only to inadvertently realize it comes at the cost of an extra $50 extra every month. 

Rihanna has undoubtedly created an empire. According to Forbes, she was the wealthiest female musician in 2019. She is the first Black woman in charge of a major fashion house, and her brand’s representation is undoubtedly making a mark on the fashion industry.

Her accomplishments should not be understated. But neither should the effects of deceptive marketing and unethical production standards. The Savage X Fenty show is an artistic form of dance, music, and fashion, and it is a notable cultural statement. It’s also a capitalist enterprise designed to make money.

All good art makes its viewer question the world—so maybe we should start by taking a closer look at the intersection of morally questionable marketing and commendable art.