Rihanna , Craig McDean, Photoshoot, 2016 , If there was ever proof of Rihanna’s respect for shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, it is this: at 2pm, on time, she enters the building. Which is, in fact, the same Paris studio she vacated only a few hours earlier, having spent all night there shooting a new Puma campaign. This was, in part, her fault — because she hadn’t arrived on set until 8.30pm, many hours delayed. Rumour had it she had been up the night before as well, filming Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Or she was back in the recording studio putting the final touches to her eighth album, Anti. Who knows? What we do know is that Rihanna is famously and reliably late. Just not today. Mr Blahnik is already upstairs in the studio restaurant, radiating charm, elegance and restless energy, resplendent in one of his beautiful custom-made suits (his entire outfit is candyfloss-pink, including the socks and ribbed poloneck. Only the suede loafers are a rich caramel). Aged 73 and constantly exhausted by his own schedule — which is as punishing as Rihanna’s — he often repeats that he does not want proceedings to overrun. And Rihanna is determined to enforce her collaborator’s wishes. A flurry of nervous activity heralds her arrival. She appears suddenly at the doorway, with a cap pulled low over her eyes, dressed in an inky-blue sweatshirt over white tracksuit pants, and fluffy pink pool slides, all by Puma. When you are as phenomenally successful as she (the stats speak for themselves: eight multi-platinum studio albums, eight Grammy awards, 230 million tracks sold worldwide, four sell-out world tours, with another on the way this summer; never mind the social-media figures — her Vevo subscribers are at 19 million, beating Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift); when the less savoury details of your life have been repeated ad infinitum (the crack-addict dad, the abusive boyfriend), you could be forgiven for projecting a little froideur. But she strides confidently into the room, with a broad show of white teeth. While her team look depleted, she is relaxed, vivacious, a slight puffiness
around her cheeks being the only sign of the punishing schedule they keep. She immediately compliments the JW Anderson crêpe blouse I am wearing. “I’m into nipped-in waists right now,” she says, grinning, and moves in for a warm if slightly awkward kiss-and-hug session (the awkwardness is all mine, not hers), before circling around to greet everyone else in similar fashion. At 28 there is an adult confidence in her stance, while her vivid almond eyes add an ostentatious drama to her statuesque beauty. Photographs don’t do them justice — they are electric and glow in the studio gloom, highlighted against her dark, honeyed skin. Without fidgeting or being overtly controlling, she calmly directs her opinion while Vogue senior contributing fashion editor Kate Phelan and Rihanna’s creative director run through the rail with her — a glittering fanfare of showgirl sequins, stripes and look-at-me bodysuits. She loves the Marc Jacobs denim jacket adorned with cute trinkets and the red-and-white bloomers edged in lace; also the oversized cream Dior jacket, with its florets of delicate shredded chiffon and intricate beading.
The pattern on the boots mirrors the tattoos that play out across her hands. “It was Manolo’s idea”
It is only when her eyes alight on a nearby table, where the glittering zenith of her partnership with Manolo are laid out — X-rated thigh-high denim stiletto boots — that her studied professionalism is thrown aside and she lets out a squeal of delight. It’s the first time Rihanna has seen them finished. She pulls the boots up against her, running long painted nails across the tiny gleaming white crystals hand-stitched across the upper hem. The pattern on them mirrors the tattoos that play out across her wrists and hands. “It was Manolo’s idea,” she later explains. There are also shorter denim ankle boots to admire and study, again in pale denim and crystal, and simple strappy sequined denim slingbacks. Manolo is not certain exactly how the collaboration — named Denim Desserts by Rihanna — came about.
“Oh, they contacted us…” he says vaguely, waving elaborately towards his recherché marketing PR, Karolina (she confirms they were approached last summer). We’re sitting downstairs; Rihanna has retired behind closed doors for three hours of beauty prep, following affectionate and exuberant hugs with her fashion hero. Raucous laughter occasionally wafts through to us. Did he know anything of Rihanna? “No, nothing, nothing at all,” he says innocently. Despite his global fans, he rarely courts celebrities or follows fashion’s tempestuous tides. “I knew she was fabulous in her videos,” he adds. Manolo is a designer who talks with the intensity and alacrity of one who hopes to out-sprint even death. Pedestrian details are of no interest —except, of course, when they apply to the construction of a heel. Instead he wants to talk about Rihanna’s neck. “I first met her two, three years ago,” he recalls. “She was introducing some kind of thing at the British Fashion Awards in London and she sat at a table that was all African-Americans. There was Naomi Campbell, too — `Blah, blah, blah, darling,”‘ he chortles, “then suddenly this thing came up, this gracious creature with a swan neck, moving towards me to say hello, and I just went mad for her then. Oh, this girl, I thought… “It was the way she held her neck,” he continues, “this movement of women is what fascinates me; you either have it or you haven’t.” Their first design meeting was in London. “We were moving to a new office and there were huge building works opposite. And all the workers saw this girl arrive with a queue of people behind her and they shouted, `Rihanna, Rihanna!’ It was weird. I was like, ‘Oh God, this is important.’ And she came up to the top floor and we pulled up the blinds and she blew kisses…” In a second meeting, in humid New York in the summer, they drew out each of the other’s ideas —”We talk about high heels. She wants heels! I was like, ‘No, no, you can be sexy and beautiful with a flat shoe.’ But n0000!” He whistles dramatically. “She wanted high heels, and I loved that and I respect that. I like a woman who knows what she wants.” One hour later, Rihanna is cuddled up to Manolo for their portrait, curling a long, naked thigh up around his waist, eyes practised to Robyn Rihanna Fenty (born February 20, 1988), better known as simply Rihanna , is a Barbadian R&B recording artist and songwriter. Born in Saint Michael, Barbados, Rihanna moved to the United States at the age of 16 to pursue a recording career under the guidance of record producer Evan Rogers. She subsequently signed a contract with Def Jam Recordings after auditioning for then-label head Jay-Z.