Rihanna discusses influence of 1960s ’Black Is Beautiful’ movement as Fenty launches

RiRi cites photographer Kwame Braithwaite as an inspiration in creating the luxury brand.

May 29, 2019
Rihanna discusses influence of 1960s ’Black Is Beautiful’ movement as Fenty launches Rihanna attends the Fenty Exclusive Preview on May 23, 2019 in Paris, France.   Aurelien Meunier/Getty

Rihanna has revealed that Kwame Braithwaite, the Brooklyn-born photographer who helped pioneer the "black is beautiful" movement in the 1950s and 1960s, was a major inspiration for her new luxury brand, Fenty.

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Fenty officially launched today, May 29. Launched in partnership with LVMH, Fenty makes Rihanna the first black woman in history to run a major luxury fashion house.

Rihanna marked the occasion by sharing a photograph of Braithwaite's on Instagram. The image, dated 1968, was taken at the Renaissance Casino Ballroom in Harlem on Garvey Day. A poster reading “Buy Black” can be seen in the background.

Braithwaite's movement promoted an Afro-centric version of female beauty that included unstraightened hair and dark skin at a time when representation was poor.

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Kwame Brathwaite. archive.

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Speaking to Vogue in a new interview, Rihanna explained how she first came across Braithwaite's work. “When I was coming up with the concept for this release, we were just digging and digging and we came up with these images – they made me feel they were relevant to what we are doing right now,” she said.

It was the discovery of one image of a group known as the Grandassa Models, who deigned their own clothes and regularly appeared in Braithwaite's work in the '60s, that struck a chord. “It was a really strange and powerful parallel,” Rihanna said. “And he gave me permission [to use the imagery], obviously that is a big deal.”

That wasn't the only parallel. “Kwame Brathwaite is from Barbados! And, his last name is my grandfather’s name, which was my mother’s name before she was a Fenty.”

In a recent New York Times interview Rihanna said the plan for the Fenty luxury brand was to be "disruptive" and change the luxury fashion world with a focus on direct-to-consumer online sales. The collection, which includes sunglasses, shoes and other accessories, will be added to every few weeks.

Rihanna discusses influence of 1960s ’Black Is Beautiful’ movement as Fenty launches