When the stage lights came on at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Rihanna herself was standing in the center of a diverse group of models, all wearing Savage x Fenty lingerie. There were fat bodies, and thin ones, and medium ones. They were of every race. There was a model with gold prosthetic legs. Some were cis, some were trans. Some were bald. But when they started dancing, they were all one thing, equally: hot. And powerful.
Rather than simply have models walk down a runway, Rihanna took over Barclays Center with a 40-minute long extravaganza that featured group dance numbers and musical performances. The dancers were the models, but they did so much more than showcase the lingerie: they embodied a new spirit, one that is proudly resistant to the confines of a traditional fashion show.
This was Rihanna’s response to a world in which the man who ran the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show says that a lingerie runway is a fantasy that doesn't need to include anything other than tall, thin, cisgender women. This was a new kind of fantasy, one grounded in reality; based on how women look, and how they want to be able to move in the pieces designed to make them feel their sexiest. There's no twerking in angel wings, after all.
And twerk they did. Thighs jiggled, stomachs heaved, necks arched back. Cellulite was visible through tight stretchy lace as the dancers flew around the massive, all-white set, with endless staircases and doorways. They moved with attitude, and strength, and pride.
Migos, DJ Khaled, Big Sean, A$ap Ferg, Fat Joe, Fabolous, and Tierra Whack entertained the audience between dance numbers. Halsey debuted a new song, and, notably, was the only musician to interact with the models, dancing with them as she sang — reinforcing the idea that this was not a show catering to the male gaze.
And, sure, there were supermodel appearances. Joan Smalls walked out slowly while the dancers moved around her. The Hadid sisters showed up, as did Cara Delevingne; holding poses while the dancers moved around them. But the supermodels were hardly the stars of the show; Rihanna’s dancers continued to steal every spotlight clad in jewel tone lace bodysuits, corsets, and sheer nightgowns.
It was other celebrity appearances that made the crowd truly scream: people like Laverne Cox, Paloma Elsesser, and Aquaria, who would not be included in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show based on who they are and what they look like, but who starred in this one, with dramatic dance solos. This was a show for all kinds of women, not just women who fit the mold of acceptability created by men and dutifully delivered on by other designers and other runway presentations this season; and it was as much for the women in the show as the women who will watch it on Amazon Prime when it premieres on September 20. (And the women who will eventually wear the clothing, already available on Amazon in sizes 32A – 46DDD in bras, and XS-3X in underwear and sleepwear.)
For now, though, there will be no sneak peaks aside from the select photos that you see here. Upon entering Barclays Center, everyone was given a small pouch in which to lock their phones, and as the audience waited in smokey darkness for the show to begin, several people were clutching their iPhones despite not being able to use them, a comfort object. But when the performance began, we were enraptured; iPhones were forgotten as hands went in the air. Someone began smoking a blunt.
Rihanna appeared twice — in the center of the introductory dance number, wearing a black sheer bodysuit, and walking out at the end to take a bow, in a sexy, structural gown. She received a standing ovation, and one thing was certain: Victoria could never.