In July 2012, River Island announced it was ‘thrilled to be collaborating with Rihanna and to be the first fashion brand to work with her in this way.’ The world then divided into two halves: one part got very excited, and the other wondered what ‘in this way’ entails exactly. Would she merely collate mood boards and let her minions do the rest, or when the line launched in Dubai this month, would she surprise us all with her secret illustration and textile skills honed in between albums?
“I doubt that Rihanna sat draping toiles, or searched through Première Vision [the world’s biggest textiles exhibition] for the perfect double georgette…” says Irish fashion designer Peter O’Brien, who after studying fashion at London’s Central St Martins and New York’s Parsons School of Design, cut his teeth at Christian Dior, Givenchy, Chloe and The House of Rochas before designing for the high street, the theatre and launching his own eponymous label last year.
Of course, many celebrities have ‘designed’ their own clothing lines, from the good (Kate Moss for Topshop, Nicole Richie’s House of Harlow) to the less well received (J-Lo’s Sweetface, Madonna for H&M) to the downright mocked.
So what sets the successful celebrity fashion lines apart? “The two obvious exceptions are Victoria Beckham and The Row by the Olsen twins,” says O’Brien. “They work because in both cases they were seen as long-term projects, and taken very seriously. Both lines have excellent design teams and have their own brand identities.”
However, the designer is somewhat bemused by the number of celebrity figures being enlisted into the world of fashion. “It always mystifies me that famous people – usually in sport or popular music - feel that because they are celebrated in their own field they can be fashion designers.”
Celebrity collaborations have proved a lucrative method of brand promotion in the past, and it’s little wonder that high street names are keen to align themselves with a high profile figure who can provide access to a target market. But for O’Brien, credibility in the fashion industry does not come easily, no matter how famous the collaborator.
He cites TV makeover programmes, live streaming of fashion shows and abundance of style bloggers for making everyone an expert. “The fashion industry is undoubtedly to blame, wooing celebrities to wear their clothes and sit on their front rows - no wonder they feel they can do it too.
“Yet they are incomparable to the likes of Dries van Noten, Yohji Yamamoto Madame Grès, Madeleine Vionnet, Haider Ackermann. These are real designers, inventive, timeless, and each in love with the technique of making clothes.”
It remains to be seen just how far Rihanna will go in the world of high street fashion, but there’s little doubt that the River Island brand will benefit from the singer’s legions of teenage fans in the meantime.