Well, an icon should wear something iconic, and, like it or loathe it, this dress is going down in fashion history – and that ass probably earned its own display in the Smithsonian!
Yes, Rihanna turned up to collect her CFDA “Fashion Icon” award in 230,000 Swarovski crystals precariously glued onto some fishnet, accessorised with a pink fur stole and a knowing smile, and two days later the Daily Mail are still trying to come up with new angles on it so they can keep re-running the story of this “scandalous” dress. Sensational? Yes. Scandalous? Meh… Maybe I have “naked starlet fatigue”, maybe I have “naked Rihanna fatigue”, but I am far from scandalised by the sight of Rihanna’s nipples. At this point I feel I know them better than my own, and repeated exposure to her breasts does nothing but make me wish she had more carefully considered that under-boob tattoo.
My Rihanna fatigue of late has manifested itself in an almost complete disinterest in anything she does. I’m not interested in her music or her on-again-off-again flirtation with Drake, I’m not interested in her getting herself banned from Instagram for violating their nudity policy, and I’m really not interested in her fashion choices or the fact that she won this award. Or at least I wasn’t, until I saw this, because this dress definitely grabbed my attention. And not for the obvious reasons, because I’ve never been beguiled by the cheap thrill of exposed flesh, but this dress is mesmerising, even though if it weren’t for the naked body underneath it, it would really be nothing special. A floor-skimming, figure-hugging, shimmering gown is to the red carpet as baggy green scrubs are to an operating theatre, and it’s not often that someone, through their sheer force of presence, can make something, not just interesting, but iconic.
And it would be easy to dismiss the someone in question and claim that anyone can turn up on a red carpet practically naked and have everyone talking about them for days, but I disagree. This is the modus operandi of Z-list reality stars and wannabe desperadoes everywhere, but it takes an actual star to elevate a look like this from an attention grabbing stunt to an undisputed fashion win. Another iconic and uber-revealing red carpet dress springs to mind – the infamous, barely-there tropical print Versace dress that cemented the arrival of J-Lo into the public consciousness. Whether you liked it or hated it, that was a true “fashion moment”; that unique combination of the right dress on the right person at the right time, and it unquestionably deserves its place in the annals of fashion history.
What sets Rihanna’s dress apart even from that navel-baring Versace is that, for someone who prides herself on a very raw, brazen and explicit kind of sex appeal, who continually, and very publicly, pushes the boundaries in exploring her own sexuality, this dress is practically demure by Rihanna’s standards. Because while she’s completely exposed, she’s actually not at the same time. With the full length matching gloves and the head scarf, this might be the most covered she’s ever been, and only her neck, back and shoulders are actually uncovered. Everything else is revealed under the glare of the lights, and that’s the reason this dress reads as sensational rather than scandalous to me.
Clearly Rihanna knows she’s got it, and we know she’s not shy about showing it, but this is showing it in a much less aggressive and a much more suggestive and playful way. The overall effect might fall somewhere between the Art-Deco glamour of Josephine Baker and a glistening, fur-trimmed condom, but I can’t hate it. True fashion moments are few and far between these days, but we know them when we see them. When a look spawns a meme – that’s a fashion moment.And when the celebrity embraces that meme you know that they know that they achieved what they set out to do.
Because the people who would dismiss this dress as tacky or trashy or cheap aren’t seeing the bigger picture, which is that, these days, red carpet fashion is not just about one dress in one moment. It’s about using fashion to create a narrative, and if there was any doubt in people’s minds that Rihanna was a fashion icon, this dress – this whole look – and the way she wore it, makes me think that, despite what I might personally think about her fashion choices in general, the CFDA picked the right girl.
Below: Talk about mesmerising… Designer Adam Selman’s team painstakingly apply 230,000 crystals to the fabric, and Rihanna launches her perfume, Rogue, at Sephora in Paris.