Rihanna On Her ESSENCE Collab With Artist Lorna Simpson: 'It's Magic'

In an exclusive commission, the Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin founder collaborates with the celebrated artist on reinterpreting modern-day glamour.

We can all agree, 2020 tried us. From the unsurmountable stress brought on by the ongoing global pandemic and crippling racial unrest to non-stop White House tweets and devastating natural disasters, we had very few moments of bliss.

Enter Robyn Rihanna Fenty.

Whether advocating for Black Lives Matter on social media, galvanizing voters to the polls, redefining body and gender norms with her second Savage x Fenty show, or simply reminding us we’re still sexy and glowing via her Fenty Skin and Fenty Beauty tutorials, Rihanna was the blazing sun we needed on many a dark day last year.

For ESSENCE’s January/February 2021 issue, Rihanna continues lighting our way forward. As a first in our brand’s 50 year history, we commissioned the esteemed Lorna Simpson to interpret modern-day beauty in collaboration with the global star. The result: A series of original photographic collages for the cover and 12-page portfolio entitled, “Of Earth & Sky.”

“Lorna is a legend,” said Rihanna, 32, of the artist whose lauded career spans three decades. Although teaming with Simpson was an idea conceived with her creative director, Jahleel Weaver, Rihanna was trepidatious about taking the first step. “Honestly, I just didn’t think I could get her,” Rihanna laughed. “But I like reaching for the stars and I like challenging myself.”

Simpson has become known for her art that recontextualizes images of Black women from vintage pages of Ebony and Jet magazines and found photos in the creation of arresting collages. In 2018, she received the J. Paul Getty Medal and she has been honored by The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Saying yes to this exclusive project allowed Simpson, 60, to continue exploring narratives around gender, race and identity. She also shared the experience with her daughter, writer and actor Zora Simpson Casebere, 22, who penned the accompanying cover portfolio essay, “Anthems of Possibility.”

“[Collaborating] with Rihanna and ESSENCE magazine is quite incredible,” Simpson said while on set. “As an artist, I’m able to deliver these unusual images of someone who is so well-known and so recognizable… It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Rihanna agreed. “It’s a natural trifecta,” she said. “It’s like magic.”


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