Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion shows have since the launch of lingerie label in 2018 been daring, provocative and unlike any lingerie shows seen before.
Besides the exquisite lingerie designs, the brand prides itself in being all-inclusive and celebrating all body shapes and sizes, race and gender.
After weeks of sizzling teaser campaigns, the third Savage x Fenty fashion show was aired on Amazon on Friday, September 24.
While Riri’s loyal fans raved about the latest collection and the spectacular show, which as always included well-known celebrities and supermodels, many were left wondering why some of the non-black women in the show were sporting braids in some of the scenes.
Pointing out singer Vanessa Hudgens and actress Emily Ratajkowski, who were just two of the famous non-black “models”, many believe the choice of hairstyle is an appropriation of black culture.
Social media was abuzz with responses to Rihanna’s choice to style these stars in braids.
One Twitter user wrote: "I love the Fenty show but I think we deserved a trigger warning for seeing this many white women in braids."
“Loving everything about this show except why are white women in braids??? Rihanna?? What’s good!? I need answers” wrote another.
“I wish I could write something as funny as putting all these white girls in braids for the Fenty show,” tweeted comedian Raina Morris.
Speaking to The Guardian, the author of My Beautiful Black Hair, St Clair Detrick-Jules, says: “For the producers of Rihanna’s fashion show to fashion white models with distinctively Black braids kind of feels exhausting.
“We’ve been making some headway with educating non-Black women about how deep our connections are to our hair – yet here come the producers wilfully ignoring all the easily accessible information online explaining what cultural appropriation is and why it’s harmful.”
While there continues to be a debate on the origins of the hairstyle, Detrick-Jules thinks the attempt to reframe the debate around hair occurs due to lack of understanding of history.
“The fact that our knowledge is so vague and often filled more with myths than facts, partly accounts for why there’s so much cultural appropriation.”
She says braids originated in Africa around 3,500 years ago.
“They have been used to indicate social status, religion, marital status and other identity markers. In other words, braids, like other black hairstyles, are reflective of culture.”
The author believes that incidents like these keep happening because of a misconception about the meaning of the style.
Last year April Selena Gomez was accused of “blackfishing” for the image used on Interview magazine's Spring 2020 cover.
Not only did the singer appear bronzer than usual, which in itself is a form of “blackfishing” but her hair was styled in several long braids with baby hairs on her forehead.
Blackfishing, a term used to describe the phenomenon of non-black celebrities and influencers changing their appearance by wearing their hair in black hairstyles, darkening their skin tone with bronzers or self-tanning products, applying their makeup in such a way to make their features appear more black or even mixed race.
Kim Kardashian has, on numerous occasions, been called out on the same issue.
Especially when it comes to darkening her skin and regularly for wearing hairstyles such as braids.
In March last year she attended Kanye West's Yeezy Season 8 show at Paris Fashion Week her hair styled in waist-length braids which matched her daughter North’s hairstyle at the time.
Her appearance caused outrage on social media with Twitter users sharing comments like, “This is straight-up blackfishing,” and “bruh why do you keep doing this? You think she'd learn. Put your hair up in a high pony and go to the fashion show like everyone else.”
The reality-TV star had previously defended her blonde "Bo Derek braids" which she sported in 2018 to Bustle by saying, “obviously know they’re called Fulani braids and I know the origin of where they came from and I’m totally respectful of that”.
“I’m not tone deaf to where I don't get it.
“I do get it… In no way am I ever trying to disrespect anyone's culture by wearing braids.”
However, this is not the first time that Rihanna has been accused of cultural appropriation over her Savage X Fenty fashion shows.
Last year the Barbados-born singer made a public apology after criticism for using the track Doom by Coucou Chloe, which used vocal samples of an Islamic hadith, a sacred Islamic text.
The song provoked outrage and disappointment from Muslims around the world, who accused the show of disrespect.
In the apology she states that song's inclusion was “a huge oversight” and apologised “for this honest, yet careless mistake”.
“I do not play with any kind of disrespect toward God or any religion and therefore the use of the song in our project was completely irresponsible!” she add.
In February this year she faced accusations of cultural appropriation and religious insensitivity after she posted a topless image of herself wearing a pendant depicting the Hindu god Ganesha.
Ram Kadam, from the Bharatiya Janata Party, expressed utter disgust with her post, saying: “It’s appalling to see how Rihanna shamefully mocks our beloved Hindu God Ganesha.
“This exposes how Rihanna has no idea or respect for Indian culture, tradition and our issues here.”
So it’s surprising, that with all the controversy surrounding “blackfishing”, that the business woman – a black business woman – would in fact sign off on how the models were styled for the show.
This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, Oct 3, 2021