bitchy | Is Rihanna’s Harper’s Bazaar China cover shoot cultural appropriation?


Rihanna loves Asia, and Asia loves RiRi. Remember at the Met Gala in 2015, when the theme was “China Through the Looking Glass,” and Rihanna full-on studied the theme and worked privately with a Chinese designer (Guo Pei) to create a one-of-a-kind look to perfectly encapsulate the theme? Yeah. Rihanna is a popular cover choice for magazines around the world, so it’s no surprise that Harper’s Bazaar China decided to use Rihanna for the subject of their latest cover shoot. Consider this too: I bet her Fenty fashion label is looking to have a massive breakthrough in Chinese markets. That’s probably why she agreed to the Bazaar China cover too.

So, Rihanna did the cover and cover shoot. It was styled by Chinese stylists, shot by a Chinese photographer, visually edited by Chinese visual artists, and on and on. So… are these photos cultural appropriation or are these photos a true homage and true representation of what’s happening in Chinese fashion culture today? Are they honoring Chinese style and Chinese fashion, as done by a Chinese team to a Western celebrity? Or should a Western celebrity sit this one out? It’s a larger conversation online about whether this is appropriation or simply Rihanna working with Chinese stylists and designers FOR a Chinese audience. I don’t have an answer – like, some of the photos seem like A LOT to me, but would I feel differently if I was the intended audience? Would I feel happy that a Western celebrity worked with a Chinese team to “get it right”?

I also think it’s worth noting that true homages do happen, and that many of these Chinese designers would probably love to expand their markets too. Rihanna is likely promoting Fenty in China in the magazine, but by using Rihanna, those Chinese designers are getting global exposure too.

Photos courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar China.

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