The cover of Interview shows the R&B pop crossover sensation that is Rihanna on a floral tip. Shot by Mikael Jansson and styled by Ludivine Poiblanc, the global sensation that is Rihanna nestles amidst a bright bouquet that evokes warm Caribbean nights and the sultry sensations of Latin America; Miami or even the beautiful island of Barbados, Rihanna’s birthplace to which she bad farewell to travel to the USA in pursuit of a music career at the tender age of sixteen. No wasted journey, certainly, judging by the megastar status that Robyn Rihanna Fenty has achieved as simply Rihanna.
The Interview cover walks a beautifully balanced line between classic romance, feminine sophistication and sultry sexiness with, perhaps, a subtle sense of Rihanna’s Caribbean roots, even though shot in Paris. Inside, the full shoot of Rihanna in all her glory that accompanies the extensive interview by rapper and producer Kayne West is all classic chic, grand settings and a very grown-up Rihanna. Think of vintage French glossy shoots. Rihanna is recast as a contemporary Audrey Hepburn in a remake of ‘Funny Face’ for a more sexually permissive society. She flaunts Chanel, Lanvin, Prada, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and countless other classic labels so fitting for the grand French interiors that form the location.
Of course, making the transition from a pop star loved by teenagers everywhere into a grown woman whose appeal reaches a more sophisticated audience has never been an easy task. Many have crashed and burned. The metamorphosis from a fireball sex bomb into something more complex is rarely straightforward. The upfront sexuality necessary to propel any female performer into the international charts and, more importantly, to stay there, is a bit of a double-edged sword. A young woman seeking pop music stardom, it seems, needs to offer a promise of the ultimate thrill to young men and burn like a lighthouse showing teenage girls, uncertain of their own prowess, the way ahead. But, unless a girly pop sensation can also come up with something else, she is almost certainly doomed. The fickle reality of the amorphous mass that are teenagers and twenty-somethings is always on the lookout for something new and last year’s pop goddess is easily replaced unless she can reinvent herself.
Rihanna is obviously a smart cookie. Like her successful and sustained predecessors – Madonna and Kylie in the 1990’s, for example- she cottoned on fast to the benefits of collaborating with skilled stylists who could ensure a transition into other circles, present an image that remained an aspiration for the fans whilst being taken more seriously by the unforgiving arbiters of taste and talent that are the international press and fashion media. Not long after her initial explosion on the music scene that included all the highly sexualised bells and whistles necessary to get attention from a broad public and, in particular, the youth market, Rihanna began appearing in bijou little items by lauded designers. Stepping out in niche luxury garments by designers beloved of the fashion cognoscenti that perfectly suited her stunning good looks and svelte elegant figure, Rihanna conquered the notoriously critical and unforgiving fashionistas.
In this sense, she is very much of her time. If one thinks about it, practically all successful women pop stars –and most certainly those who capture a lot of press and global visibility- now work extremely closely with top stylists, arguably something that was originally made the norm by Madonna, Kylie Minogue and a few other lady pop stars built for the long distance. But, if working with top stylists is de rigeur, this does not necessarily mean that a single style is compulsory. On the contrary, whereas some of the current global faces have focused on the outlandish and attention-grabbing approach, Rihanna, it seems has moved in a careful direction that maintains her sexy R&B image whilst moving ever closer towards a kind of classicism, the look of one of those great muse-models who Yves Saint Laurent persistently sent down Parisian couture catwalks.
The December cover of Interview and the sumptuously stylish shoot inside only underscores this tendency in Rihanna’s public persona and, let’s face it, perfectly demonstrates just how well it works for her. It most certainly suggests that Rihanna, once a teenage pop sensation, has joined the tiny ranks of clever women recording artists who instinctively know that growing up in the public eye, if managed well, need not be a painful experience and might actually ensure longevity.