Of course, no single Sephora product will transform you into a multi-millionaire Barbadian pop goddess—but a Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter in “Trophy Wife” will get you pretty close. Fenty Beauty is a stunning addition to Rihanna’s aspirational aesthetic empire, which includes crop tops and leggings for fooling paparazzi into thinking you work out and furry Puma slides that are perfect for walking to and from the pool you’re about to make out in.
But while other Rihanna offerings have featured looks that only Rihanna could pull off, Fenty Beauty is, above all, accessible. The expansive makeup and skincare line unabashedly caters to a range of skin tones. True inclusion—as opposed to an appearance of diversity—defines Fenty Beauty and, unfortunately, sets it apart from the competition.
According to Refinery 29, offering 40 shades of foundation was Rihanna’s chief priority. “I wanted things that I love. Then I also wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with,” Rihanna shared. “That was really important for me. In every product I was like: ‘There needs to be something for a dark-skinned girl; there needs to be something for a really pale girl; there needs to be something in-between.’ There’s red undertones, green undertones, blue undertones, pink undertones, yellow undertones — you never know, so you want people to appreciate the product and not feel like: ‘Oh that’s cute, but it only looks good on her.’”
This ethos is reflected in Fenty Beauty’s marketing campaign, where models like Duckie Thot, Paloma Elsesser, Halima Aden, and Slick Woods show off the wonders a good highlighter can do for any skin tone. The emphasis is placed on a range of products and shades with a wealth of consumers in mind—not a single look that only a few girls can emulate.
Fenty Beauty was an instant hit, with beauty bloggers praising “the first truly inclusive beauty line” and declaring that Fenty Beauty “has the range.” At Jezebel, Clover Hope contextualized Rihanna’s pioneering efforts within a “frustrating cycle for women of color in search of beauty products.” Unsurprisingly, catering to a huge and largely underserved market paid off; by Tuesday, a number of Fenty Beauty offerings appeared to be sold out. According to The Cut, seven out of the 13 darkest foundation shades are currently out of stock on the Sephora website. “Sharing on social media, fans and even employees at Sephora have posted photos of empty racks of Fenty Beauty–especially foundations catering to women of color,” Vibe reported. “With most brands releasing two shades for women of color, the singer has shed light on black buying power.”
Some makeup brands have previously made moves to accommodate—or at least market to—black women, who spend an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products. But Fenty Beauty has raised the bar, leaving competitors scrambling to keep up. Social media vigilantes have noticed other brands leaning into diversity in the wake of Rihanna’s epic launch, sharing photos of their own foundation ranges and black models on Twitter and Instagram.
Naturally Kylie Jenner, the reigning queen of celebrity makeup lines, got swept up in this narrative when her Kylie Cosmetics social media accounts shared a promotional shot for their “Brown Sugar Matte” just two days after the Fenty launch. Since the photo featured a black model—a relatively rare occurrence for Kylie Cosmetics, with the last example being an Aug. 6 post—it was quickly assumed that the two events were related. Post-Fenty Beauty, someone at Kylie Cosmetics clearly wanted to show off the inclusivity of their own makeup line. Suffice to say, the Rihanna Navy was having none of it. RiRi fans quickly inundated Kylie’s social media with scornful Rihanna GIFs and clapbacks like, “Just admit it, #FentyBeauty with all its diversity has got you shook, with your ‘one black shade fits all’ model.” Another Twitter user replied to Kylie Cosmetics’ pandering post, “Fenty has done us black girls great, so why would we want this? Keep it.” As of Wednesday, Jenner’s brand appears to have deleted the original post.
This feud is more layered than your average Twitter melee between two celebrity camps. While other brands are just as guilty of leaving women of color out of the conversation, Jenner’s literal lip service to diversity is more hypocritical than most. As anyone who’s literate in Twitter trending topics could tell you, the Kardashian family and Jenner in particular have a history of ripping off black women. Earlier this summer, Designer Tizita Balemlay of PluggedNYC called Jenner out for allegedly stealing her designs for camo print separates. Balemlay posted images of her styles and Jenner’s side by side, captioning the post in part, “Copy & Paste [sic] down to the shoes I used on my models.”
As The Daily Beast wrote at the time, these accusations hit a nerve “because they play into one of the more problematic aspects of the Kardashian brand: the fact that they are so consistently lauded for creating trends or looks that women of color have been rocking—with far less fanfare—for decades.” Jenner’s physical transformations over the years as well as her style choices (think lots of cornrows) have been routinely criticized as attempts to emulate black women. Meanwhile, according to actual black women like Balemlay, the youngest Kardashian is exploiting the creative output of real-life women of color.
Black women may be Kylie Jenner’s aesthetic ideal, but they’re clearly not her most valued customers. Instead, she stands accused of repackaging appropriated trends, styles, and even physical features for a majority white audience. Kylie Cosmetics doesn’t feel like a beauty line that prioritizes accessibility and inclusivity, and the advent of Fenty Beauty has put that failure into even sharper focus. From now on, mainstream brands might have to dig deeper than a token black model or foundation shade if they want to impress makeup buyers—and we have Rihanna to thank for that.