At Monday’s CFDA Fashion Awards, pop star Rihanna took the stage to accept the Fashion Icon Award from the grande dame of fashion — Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Never one to dress demurely, the Barbadian beauty wore a sheer gown designed by Adam Selman that exposed everything except her Social Security number — most notably, her pert nipples.
But the all-powerful editrix was all smiles, lending gravitas to Rihanna’s risqué fashion choice.
“This wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction,” says celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch. “It was intentional. You could not have done that on a red carpet years ago. A stylist would lose their job if there was a nipple showing.”
But while Rihanna’s bare skin was deemed appropriate for an awards ceremony, that hasn’t been the case on social media.
In April, photo-sharing app Instagram suspended the 26-year-old singer’s account after a topless picture shot for French fashion magazine Lui appeared in her feed. Rihanna responded by posting a covered-up photo of herself with a caption that read, “Rih’s next magazine cover if it was up to Instagram.” While Instagram insisted that the dust-up was a mistake, Rihanna ultimately deleted her account, which had more than 35 million followers.
Which raises the possibility that the CFDA dress choice was more of a protest than a fashion moment.
She’s just the latest celebrity fighting Instagram for its habit of removing images of bare breasts as part of its controversial anti-nudity rule.
Last week, Hollywood progeny Scout Willis took a topless stroll in the East Village to protest Instagram, which had kicked her off its site for posting a snap of a jacket emblazoned with a photo of two topless women.
“What @instagram won’t let you see #FreeTheNipple,” she tweeted.
After her breast-baring stunt, Willis penned an essay for XoJane.com defending herself and bashing Instagram’s sexist policy.
“There are also some people who would criticize my choice to relate nipples with equality at all,” she wrote. “To me, nipples seem to be at the very heart of the issue. In the 1930s, men’s nipples were just as provocative, shameful, and taboo as women’s are now, and men were protesting in much the same way. In 1930, four men went topless to Coney Island and were arrested. In 1935, a flash mob of topless men descended upon Atlantic City, 42 of whom were arrested. Men fought and they were heard, changing not only laws but social consciousness. And by 1936, men’s bare chests were accepted as the norm.
“So why is it that 80 years later women can’t seem to achieve the same for their chests?”
While her actions have drawn a steady stream of criticism, others applaud Willis’ bold move.
“I think it’s commendable,” Danny Agnew, the New York editor of men’s lifestyle website InsideHook, says of Willis’ topless protest. “I think you have to do something a little extreme to get someone to notice. Plus I don’t think most people knew that it’s perfectly legal to be topless in the state of New York. I think it only becomes a big deal when people make a big deal out of it.”
Flash back 10 years ago to the polarizing moment when Janet Jackson’s nipple was revealed during her infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl.
Jackson was pilloried for her indecent exposure, which, according to the FCC, drew 540,000 complaints. The event became known as “nipplegate.”
It’s an issue that is getting increasing, ahem, exposure as the nipple continues to seep into the consciousness of the fashion world.
Rihanna wore a mesh top without a bra to the Balmain show in February, Miley Cyrus posed topless for W magazine that same month and, on Sunday, Nicki Minaj sported a mesh shirt over star pasties that just barely obscured her areolas.
“I think people like Rihanna are trying to break down those boundaries, and some people will like it and some people will call her a sinner. But [Rihanna] is gorgeous. She’s in her prime and not doing anything that Madonna wouldn’t have done 20 years ago, if she could have gotten away with it,” says Bloch, adding that as risqué as her Madgesty was, she never flashed her nips on the red carpet.
While Instagram has publicly defended its policy, debate continues to swirl — especially considering that it’s not just photos the site is censoring, but other art, too.
Last month, Grace Coddington, the flame-haired creative director of Vogue, was slapped with a suspension after posting a topless cartoon she drew of herself. She responded by posting a drawing of her cats — one with a black bar obscuring its crotch area.
Agnew says some of his fashion photographer friends who post artful nude shots have also had their accounts scrubbed.
“[Instagram doesn’t] take into account the overall purpose of the photograph. It’s just, is there a nipple showing or is there not? Context doesn’t matter to them.”
Some argue that the new trend of sheer fashions is just another form of such artful expression.
New York-based designer Ann Yee applauds boob-baring threads with a high-fashion bent.
“I think nip fashion is fine if done in an effortless and tasteful way. It’s been apparent in fashion for years; Rudi Gernreich’s signature black suit comes to mind. American culture has always been a bit hesitant to embrace provocative dressing, so kudos to Rihanna for being able to rock that dress.”
Bloch echoes the sentiment that the singer’s style has implications beyond the fashion world.
“I think we all know Rihanna doesn’t play by the rules,” he says. “She is a modern feminist.”
–Courtesy of NY Post