Here's a thing that young women do, on a Saturday night, when they've had a few drinks.
A rap song comes on with rude lyrics, and emboldened by a Saturday night fever which is as ancient as they are young, they sing along, gleefully emphasising all the swearwords, miming rap-swagger with extra lip gloss. It's a wild-side thing, a flirting-with-danger thing. At Rihanna's London fashion week catwalk show on Saturday night, soundtracked by a track by A$AP Rocky which I shall leave unspecified since neither the title nor any of the first 10 lines are printable, the young British supermodels-of-the-hour Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn were doing it in the front row – and when the show finished, they stood up, holding hands, and danced backstage, rap-miming every step of the way.
We'll come to the clothes on the catwalk – part of a 120 piece Rihanna collection which goes on sale in River Island in two weeks' time – later. Let's be honest: the clothes were never going to be the main event here. The intrigue and controversy that surrounds Rihanna these days is such that even when she releases an album, or wins an award, the music isn't the main event. Whether she's selling music or perfume or hotpants it is her body, her lifestyle – and more than anything her relationship with Chris Brown, with all the attitudes and issues that raises – which are the story.
The spirit of mouthy, dare-you swagger that pulsed through the speakers and infiltrated the Frow on Saturday night will be what sells these clothes. If you are 18, 20, 22 years old, then Rihanna represents your darker, badder side. (That she herself seems sometimes to be at the mercy of her own dark side complicates the whole thing further.) The staging of the event – in a bleak warehouse, nonsensically late, ludicrously crowded – bore all the hallmarks of the treat-them-mean, keep-em-keen school of public relations with which Rihanna's people seem to be well versed (see: the Rihanna jet). There was, however, plenty of champagne and vodka. Sobriety is not what this brand stands for.
The clothes? They are bright, and tight, and aggressively sexual. They require abs of steel and are mostly incompatible with the wearing of bras. Their target audience is young, and would interpret brazen as a compliment. Unlike collaborations in which fashion designers bring a new visual language into a store – Martin Margiela for H&M, say – the Rihanna for River Island range is very recognisably River Island. What the Rihanna label brings is not extra fashion content, but personality and attitude.
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