Photo by Михаил Секацкий on Unsplash

Rihanna’s announcement of her pregnancy a couple of weeks ago, in a photoshoot on the snowy streets of New York, has been one of the biggest celebrity moments of the year so far. However, the announcement was not just a pop culture moment but a fashion one. The multi-hyphenate’s long pink puffer from Karl Lagerfeld’s AW96 collection was layered over pavement grazing, split hem ripped jeans, paired with stilettos and accessorised with a wealth of jewels draped over her bump and hips. The religious-themed jewellery and low slung jeans reference Madonna’s 1989 Like A Prayer album cover, personalising the recurrent Virgin Madonna theme of many celebrity pregnancy announcements by making it streetwear. Love the Sales, an online fashion aggregator, reports that searches for ‘pink padded coats’ rose by 200% within an hour of the photos’ posting and ‘ripped blue jeans’ by 175%. Integral to Rihanna’s celebrity image has been her status as a fashion icon, so it is of no surprise that her first public moment as a visibly expectant mother would be any different. Nevertheless, this moment is part of a trend of the celebrity and fashion colliding in increasingly personal ways that seek to reinforce the fast-crumbling image of the celebrity. Fashion and celebrity have been and will remain intertwined. There is no questioning that. Implying that this is a new phenomenon would be foolish. Having said that, fashion is being co-opted in novel ways as part of celebrity metanarratives in a series of increasingly personal moments that seek to reinforce celebrity status.

“Celebrity is predominantly about performance and even the seemingly candid and intimate moments form part of a closely curated image of how they wish to be perceived”

The idea of the celebrity took a hit in 2020. The infamous multi-celebrity cover of John Lennon’s Imagine was met with derision and even hostility. The same thing attempted maybe five years earlier would have been standard fare and even expected in response to a catastrophe on a global scale the way the pandemic was and continues to be. Nationwide lockdowns across continents meant that celebrities like us were confined to their homes (although that means very different things for us and them). This period lifted the lid on the lives of people who are often revered as gods among men, stripping back the shiny gilding to reveal unremarkably ordinary people — just like us. Now some were able to turn that into something of a moment of its own — Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s daily quarantine pap walks come to mind — but for many, it revealed a class of people who were wildly out of touch and not particularly special.

Considering that the whole concept of the celebrity is based on being special — especially talented, especially beautiful, especially rich — this spelt disaster. This is where fashion comes in. Post-pandemic fashion has been utilised by celebrities in new ways, which blurs the line between what is personal and what is a commodity. The personability of celebrities is exactly what fashion marketing wants and has found a new role for our newly unrelatable idols.

“The whole concept of the celebrity is based on being special”

A prime example of this is the, at times bizarre, coupling that was Kanye West and Julia Fox. Their relationship, announced through a fashion shoot published by Interview magazine, has been defined by fashion from the start. Fans have pointed out the similarities between Fox and Kanye’s ex-wife Kim’s style, drawing parallels with the wardrobe overhauls Kanye has carried out for his previous partners. It has become commonplace to expect Kanye to debut an outlandish mask at every function. A facet of the public spectacle that is FoxYe that has gone almost entirely unremarked about so far is how much of a great time this is for Kanye — business-wise that is. On the heels of the release of his record-breaking latest studio release DONDA, the richest Black man in American history has seen the announcement of collaborations with YeezyGap and Balenciaga’s less than 24 hours after the news of his new ‘so organic’ relationship broke. In addition to this, a documentary on Kanye’s life that has been over twenty years in the making has finally hit Netflix this week. I’m not suggesting that their relationship is merely PR. It is important to remember that none of us, myself included, actually know these people — regardless of how much of their personal lives they choose to share publicly.

That being said, celebrity is predominantly about performance and even the seemingly candid and intimate moments form part of a closely curated image of how they wish to be perceived. It is easy to see how the personal is increasingly utilised as a marketing tool, as more celebrities venture into the business of fashion through collaborations and cosmetic lines. Rihanna declined to acknowledge her pregnancy reveal on her public Instagram for two days (aeons in internet time), instead promoting Fenty Beauty’s Valentine’s collection; banking on the increased number of eyeballs on her page waiting for some reaction to the news, if any.


Mountain View

We need to talk about fashion

So, while fashion and celebrity have always been intertwined, the way this association has now expanded to include intimate moments of the personalities at their centre, as part of wider campaigns, speaks to how executives are having to get our attention in increasingly inventive ways. By combining intimate moments with high fashion couture, celebrities simultaneously remind us of their elevated status and appear open and relatable. The prevalence of the internet means that consumers are more aware than ever and it is only a matter of time before they catch on to this strategy. What comes next is anyone’s guess.