Remember a time, not too long ago, when finding your perfect shade and undertone was the stuff dreams were made of? Then, multi-hyphenate trendsetter Rihanna crashed onto the beauty scene in September 2017 with an all-inclusive campaign and 40 shades of foundation that prompted the entire beauty to sit up, take notice and, in many cases, follow suit.
One year later, beauty brands don’t dare attempt a new foundation launch without a full range of shades, and we have Fenty to thank for normalizing that trend—and ensuring that it didn’t just remain one. To honor the bad gal’s incredible influence (which just garnered Fenty Beauty a 2018 Beazley Design Award nomination), Allure magazine placed her on the cover of their October “Best of Beauty” issue, bucking the idea that black women covering major magazines is yet another trend.
But just to drive home the immense impact of the Fenty Effect, Allure included five open letters from black women; all of whom have been enormously affected by Rihanna’s music, image and entrepreneurship. It’s easy to write off Rihanna’s influence as simply celebrity-driven, but it’s been nothing short of genius. As Allure’s editor-in-chief Michelle Lee noted: “Launched a mere 13 months ago, Rihanna’s 40 shades of foundation changed the industry forever. Fenty Beauty disrupted an already crowded market, not with technology or scientific invention, but with ideology.”
But what did others have to say about the woman who launched the brand that launched with 40 shades? Allure recruited writers, superfans and even a Fenty muse (and new mom) to wax poetic about how each has been affected by Rihanna’s ever-innovative presence. And as it turns out, the impact was multilayered, hitting them in mind, soul and body.
“I read recently that time is easily squandered by the luxury of youth, but you’ve shown me another way. ... Your evolution has been such a pleasure to watch only because you let it be real. You let me be real. You refer to your own thiccness with admiration, and your life with all the seriousness it requires, and nothing extra. You know the luxury of youth, but you do not waste your time. What a beautiful lesson,” said writer Ashley C. Ford, who credits Rih with being both part of her own sexual awakening and self-awareness in her thank you note.
For Fenty muse Slick Woods, who famously went into labor while walking Savage x Fenty’s runway show last Wednesday, Rihanna has elevated inclusivity, creating a platform for less conventional beauties like herself.
“People loved the idea of Slick, but you gave me countless platforms to let people actually fall in love with who I am. You made inclusivity cool, and that’s revolutionary. Now people are putting money toward inclusion, rather than putting money toward a certain supremacy. It’s a beautiful switch in pace. You have my loyalty until the end of time.” — Slick Woods
Cynde Watson, who was striving for inclusivity in the beauty industry a decade before Fenty arrived on the scene, lauds Rihanna for advancing the work she and others like Iman began:
“I credit you for breaking boundaries and shaking things up in today’s beauty space with your intense conviction and celebrity influence. You are inspiring consumers, retailers, and future beauty brands to think globally and recognize that all skin tones matter. And that’s a beautiful thing,” she said.
If you’re a member of Rihanna’s “Navy,” you’ll likely empathize with “superfan” Kim Johnson, who fell for Rihanna’s genre-defying persona and style.
“Here was a black woman who had completely unsettled the agreeable, cookie-cutter pop-star personality that had previously been assigned her. ... I was struck by the image: a young black woman taking control of the narrative that had already been set for her by the people around her.”
But perhaps most poignant is the tribute from writer and blogger Ateh Jewel, who drives home exactly what a beauty desert we’d been living in prior to Fenty—which, while not a perfect match for everyone, set a new standard for the beauty industry, and who gets to feel included.
“Fenty Beauty has helped to heal my 14-year-old broken heart. ... The beauty apartheid that I felt trapped in was the last bastion of open segregation. I wasn’t welcome, and I certainly wasn’t being catered to by major beauty brands with foundations that matched my rich, deep skin tone.” — Ateh Jewel
Fenty Beauty may be a work in progress, but a year in, it’s already made a huge impact on how we view beauty, and, by extension, ourselves. And what does Rihanna have in store for us next? Who knows, beauty-wise, but she swears new music will come “soon.” In the meantime, we’ll just have to be grateful to Fenty for starting a long-overdue conversation.