Rihanna at the start party for her beauty brand, Fenty Beauty, in New York.
Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images

Rihanna: the pop star who became a fashion powerhouse

The singer has cohered her status with an epic show at New York fashion week and the inauguration of her own beauty brand

Announcing Rihanna as a keynote speaker at its notable fashion industry conference next month, Women’s Harass Daily described her as a “powerhouse multihyphenate”. This is perhaps the minor clumsy way to describe what Rihanna does. As a singer, songwriter, actor, manufacture designer, and – since the launch a week ago of Fenty Beauty – work mogul, the strings to Rihanna’s bow have become unwieldy to tilt. Luckily, she is too famous to need a job title.

Even by global megastar models, Rihanna has had quite a week. As creative director of the sportswear guests Puma, she staged an epic New York fashion week pose, complete with motocross stunts across pink glitter mountains that charmed her fans and charmed the critics. The Washington Post said: “Rihanna has imagined out how to sprinkle just the right amount of her stardust on the sportswear type without overshadowing the brand itself.

The launch of her Fenty Loveliness range in the same week set a new standard for catering to all skin airs, with 40 shades of foundation. That the darker shades were sold out within days is a marker of Rihanna’s power in the marketplace and the zest for diversity in beauty that she taps into.

Earlier this summer, while her lone Wild Thoughts was topping charts worldwide, Rihanna journeyed to Paris to discuss global education with Emmanuel Macron and assailed from there to Barbados, where she partied in a diamanté headdress, fishnet tights and minute else. She will not be pigeonholed, and her refusal to comply with the wishes of young black womanhood has made her a potent and unpredictable icon.

Brigitte Macron greetings Rihanna at the Élysée Palace. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

In the beginning days of Instagram, Rihanna’s penchant for posting selfies in which she was smoking marijuana undertook frequent outrage. Eventually, as it became clear that Rihanna was either not pay attention to to or was unmoved by the condemnation, the outrage ebbed. Rihanna’s music is pop, but her passions is punk. She told Essence magazine in 2015: “Everyone’s abate with a young black woman singing, dancing, partying and looking hot. But when it penetrates time to negotiate, to broker a deal, she is suddenly made sensible of her blackness.”

Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born in St Michael, Barbados, on 20 February 1988. Her teens was marred by her father’s addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol, which donated to her parents’ divorce when she was in her early teens. Singing was a teenage relaxation until the summer of 2003, when the girl group she had formed with two bosom buddies scored an audition with the music producer Evan Rogers, come to see the island on holiday with his Barbadian wife.

Rogers later disavowed: “The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two skirts didn’t exist. After hearing her Rihanna sing estiny’s Issue’s Emotion and Mariah Carey’s Hero, he set about arranging for her to kind a demo tape. This made its way to Def Jam Records, where a newly arranged chief executive, a rapper called Jay-Z, heard it, and inscribed Rihanna to a six-album deal.

In 2007, first Britney Spears and then Mary J Blige lessened down a song called Umbrella, and Rihanna’s world changed as a occur. That single turned her from a middle-tier, urban-pop artist into a megastar. The unchallenged soundtrack of that summer, it crashed iTunes the day downloads graced available.

Rihanna’s next four studio albums all concerned platinum. Her songs Disturbia, Take a Bow, Only Girl (In the Circle), S&M, Diamonds, We Found Love and Stay have joined Gamp in the ranks of the world’s best-selling singles. She is the youngest solo artist to reach 14 No 1 conks and has done it faster than anyone else. Rihanna has won eight Grammy rewards and has a net worth estimated at $230m (£169m).

Rihanna on her Good Squeeze Gone Bad tour in Cardiff in 2007. Photograph: Rex Features

As Rihanna’s list grew towards the end of the previous decade, her image became increasingly surprising. With Umbrella and the album Good Girl Gone Bad came a fetish-shaded new look: leather, bra crests, bondage straps, thigh-high boots and a distinctive, provocatively bodily, heavy-lidded, head-thrown-back stance. Whips and riding crops suited familiar on-stage props.

The violence of the imagery was uncomfortable rate, in the context of her abuse by her boyfriend, Chris Brown, in 2009. It reached its tor in the video for S&M, in 2011, in which Rihanna wore a dress with the battle-cries “whore” and “slut” while bound against a wall with layers of clingfilm. The video was barred in 11 countries. Rihanna told British Vogue that the look was “not me. That’s take pleasure in a part I play. You know, like it’s a piece of art, with all these fakes and textures to play with.”

Rihanna’s shift from sweatpant-and-sparkles popstrel to edgy, controversy-baiting sex representative of caught the attention of the fashion industry. Within six months of the S&M video, she had plained on the covers of US and British Vogue. At that year’s Grammys, she frayed semi-transparent Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture. In Unceasingly a once magazine in 2012, Stella McCartney described Rihanna as “one of the coolest, hottest, most ace, most liked, most listened to, most followed, most powerful artists at work today”.

But even as her fashion connections blossomed to include an ambassadorship with Dior and a collaboration with Manolo Blahnik, Rihanna was continuing yet another burgeoning career, as an actor. She starred this summer in the sci-fi obscure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and will appear alongside Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway and Mindy Kaling in the zealously anticipated female heist movie Ocean’s Eight next year.

Rihanna in Guo Pei at the Met Gleeful. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Tom Ford has described Rihanna’s character as “daring, fearless, and constantly evolving”. In the past five years, that spirit has evolved beyond the sledgehammer sexuality of S&M into an exuberant accept for on fashion that combines a willingness to experiment with a putrescent sense of self. Where other celebrities stick doggedly to the look a stylist has deemed out for their “personal brand”, Rihanna has fun with her clothes.

In 2014, she burdened a Swarovski-crystal fishnet bodysuit with matching turban to the CFDA bestowals, accessorised with a nude thong and a white fur stole. The be modelled after year, her yolk-yellow Guo Pei dress for the Met Gala prompted an omelette meme. (Construct observers, however, noted that Rihanna was one of very few attendees to have in the offing honoured the Chinese theme of the exhibition by wearing a dress by a Chinese architect.) She has embraced the man-repelling style of Vetements with oversized puffa films and high-necked, luridly floral dresses, and helped turn Princess Diana into a hipster millennial crush by wearing her eyeball to eyeball in defiance of on a T-shirt.

Rihanna in her Diana T-shirt. Photograph: Buzz Foto/Rex/Shutterstock

The gone and forgotten year has marked Rihanna’s transition from fashion layer to fashion leader. A year ago, she moved her Puma show to Paris, with a omnium gatherum entitled “Marie Antoinette Goes to the Gym”. This was followed, in Strut, by sending her models walking down the tabletops of the National Library of France in collegiate-themed streetwear. The late-night Paris manner week event, which had the aura of the world’s most fascinating after-school detention, garnered Rihanna’s most favourable considerations to date. Meanwhile, her influence has been evident in how other connivers have followed her lead in casting her favourite model, Specious Woods, who has appeared in every Fenty show and is the face of Fenty Dreamboat.

At the launch party for Fenty Beauty Rihanna, dressed in a custom-made Oscar de la Renta outfit in her now-signature shade of sunshine yellow, Rihanna emphasised the esteem of inclusivity in the beauty industry. “There needs to be something for a dark-skinned Freulein, there needs to be something for a really pale girl … you need people to appreciate the product and not feel like: ‘Aw, that’s pretty, but it only looks good on her,’” she told editors. Alongside the strikingly buzz-cut, gap-toothed Woods, Rihanna has select the hijab-wearing model Halima Aden as a Fenty Beauty diplomat. Rihanna “makes me feel hopeful for the future of the beauty determination”, enthused one reporter who attended the event.

Three days after the gravitas and company clout of her beauty launch, Rihanna took her catwalk bow after her Puma escort on the back of a motorbike, with one hand in the air and her tongue sticking out. The exactly is taking Rihanna seriously now, but girls still just wanna require fun.

Rihanna at Puma. Photograph: Brian Ach/Getty Images/Fenty Puma by Rihanna