Gone are the “Pon De Replay” days of baggy jeans and exposed lacy underwear. In recent months, Rihanna has set herself apart from other R&B starlets, opting for designer couture over belly-baring crop tops.
Two weeks ago, when she sang her hit single “Unfaithful” on “TRL,” Rihanna dazzled the crowd in a hot-pink Dolce & Gabbana stretch-satin bustier dress, gold door-knocker earrings and Giuseppe Zanotti pumps.
Earlier that day, Rihanna appeared on “The View,” showing off her dainty Catherine Malandrino silk dress to stay-at-home moms across the country.
“You are stunning!” co-host Elisabeth Hasselback said. “And a voice to match!”
Rihanna wore diamond drop earrings and her hair pinned back in a bun as she explained her rise to the top and how Jay-Z took her under his wing. She sat perfectly poised between TV’s most intimidating, yapping crows.
The little girl onstage did it all so effortlessly. Which begs the question: Why do so many pop stars feel the need to use sex as a ploy or an eye-catching draw when accentuating natural beauty can be even sexier than showing your stomach? Rihanna is the perfect example — but her transformation didn’t happen overnight.
Her revamped image is all due to a team of experts who’ve been working with the R&B songstress for the past five months: hairstylist Tippi Shorter, makeup artist Mylah Morales and celebrity stylist extraordinaire Mariel Haenn. And the behind-the-scenes crew is everywhere with Rihanna — the limo, the dressing room, the hotel room, you name it.
“The time of day, weather, audience, song, all these things come into play,” said Haenn, who first teamed up with the pop star on the set of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16.”
“We are the team, and we always collaborate on what’s going to work best, the overall look,” she added. “It all ties together at the end. I always bring a ton of options, and I will give her my favorites and why I think they would work best. She most of the time goes with my top choice.”
Haenn is a blessing for Rihanna, who became the face of JCPenney’s Miss Bisou brand last summer — an adolescent fashion move, Haenn implied — and appeared in baggy jeans, crop tops and sneakers while promoting her first hit, “Pon De Replay.”
For her “S.O.S.” video, Rihanna got it right, ditching the white-minidress look for a green tropical stunner that was sexy and classy.
“I get a lot of comments from parents that appreciate that she doesn’t show a lot of skin, and I think her confidence is what makes her sexy,” Haenn said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for her demographic to portray that. We like to keep it classy and young at the same time. So many little girls are looking up to her.”
With Jay-Z and Def Jam signing her paychecks, you might think Rihanna would have an unlimited fashion budget and get to keep all of the clothes she wants. But even R&B princesses have limits.
“There is definitely always a budget, and it’s not always what we would like it to be, but that’s the challenge of my job,” Haenn said. “That’s what makes you a good star. She doesn’t get to keep any of it.
“You’re given a budget, but with shoes and jewelry, it gets pretty tricky,” she added.
So Haenn will go to Forever 21 or independent boutiques like Damselfly to get trendy trinkets for less.
Since working with Haenn, Rihanna has worn high-end designers like Yves Saint-Laurent, LaROK, J. Mendel, Gucci, Jean-Paul Gaultier and BCBG. For Conde Nast’s Fashion Rocks event on September 8, Rihanna will wear a custom-made dress by designer Zac Posen. Fashion house Abaete also customized blue-and-white jumpsuits for her tour and for some upcoming performances with the Black Eyed Peas.
To achieve Rihanna’s new superstar look, Haenn works around the singer’s nonstop schedule, sometimes starting at 5 a.m. and going strong till 2 the next morning.
“I care a lot,” Haenn said. “I put everything into it. I know there are not a lot of other stylists that care as much as me, but it’s me and my name on it. And when I’m making the call and people know it’s me styling it, it has to be right every time. Every piece I look at, I think, ’What’s the worst thing they could say about this?’ There were a few in the beginning that we didn’t have enough time to perfect, but we’ve been on a roll lately, and every week it gets picked up by magazines.”
Haenn is currently working on outfits for the Teen Choice Awards, a Seventeen magazine event, the cover of Women’s Wear Daily, commercials, soap-opera stints and Fashion Rocks.
And Rihanna will be at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 31, where she is nominated for two awards: Viewer’s Choice and Best New Artist in a Video (see “Shakira, Chili Peppers, Madonna, Panic! Lead List Of Nominees For MTV Video Music Awards” ).
“I’m prepping that now,” Haenn said of Rihanna’s VMA look. “I think she just has to look amazing and flawless. I don’t want to overdo it, but I just want her to be simply stunning. She definitely doesn’t need to come out of left field and do anything to get attention, but it’s definitely going to be a surprise.”