Why Rihanna Loves Princess Diana’s “Bad Bitch” Style
Rihanna has once again praised Diana's style, but the two share more than a love of good clothes.
Photograph by Josiah Kamau for Getty Images.
In the cover story for the latest issue of Vogue Paris, Rihanna gathers images of some of her personal inspirations and icons, including a photograph of Princess Diana in the black Christina Stambolian often referred to as her “revenge dress” because she wore the super daring look to the photographer-jammed Serpentine Gallery party on the same night that Prince Charles gave a tell-all interview to ITV confessing his infidelity.
“Every time a man cheats on you or treats you badly, you need a revenge dress,” Rihanna writes in the magazine, according to WWD’s English translation. “Every woman knows that. But whether her choice of this knockdown dress was conscious or not, I am touched by the idea that even Princess Diana could suffer like any ordinary woman. This Diana Bad Bitch moment blew me away.”
This isn’t the first time Rihanna has spoken about her admiration for Princess Diana; in April 2016, she was photographed in a Princess Diana memorial t-shirt and denim thigh-high stiletto boots from one of her capsule collections with Manolo Blahnik. And she spoke about her love of Diana's style in Glamour’s November 2013 issue: “You know who is the best whoever did it? Princess Diana. She was like—she killed it. Every look was right. She was gangsta with her clothes. She had these crazy hats. She got oversize jackets. I loved everything she wore!”
Earlier that year, in February, renegade feminist Camille Paglia wrote an essay for The Sunday Times calling Rihanna “the new Diana” for her “ravishingly seductive flirtation with the world press,” though she certainly didn't intend this as a compliment. Like Diana, Paglia wrote, Rihanna is skilled at “using photo ops to send messages of allure, defiance, or revenge in a turbulent relationship with an errant partner”—a reference to her on-again-off-again relationship with Chris Brown. Paglia praised Rihanna’s Instagram candids for having “an atmospheric eroticism that is genuinely artistic and has not been seen in decades.” Rihanna posted the newspaper cover on Instagram with a winning caption:
Now that Rihanna is far past her relationship with Brown, Paglia’s criticism that her paparazzi seduction is troubling no longer seems valid. But in truth, that isn't really what makes Diana and Rihanna similar. Rihanna uses her street style visibility and Instagram to promote young designers like Molly Goddard, and raise awareness for social justice issues, like advocating for the release of Cyntoia Brown, who is spending her life in prison after being convicted of murder for killing a man who sex trafficked her; and January’s historic Women’s March. Diana, too, used her status as the most photographed woman in the world to promote young design talent, such as Catherine Walker and Jasper Conran, and to bring attention humanitarian causes. (Her style was the inspiration for Off-White's Spring 2018 show in Paris; Rihanna wore a look from that show last month, bringing the cycle of style inspiration full circle.)
It's not a mere appreciation for good clothes that Rihanna and Princess Diana share, but a savvy understanding of how to bend a media fixation into something more meaningful than mere obsession. If the spotlight is always going to be on you, their public images suggest, you might as well use it for a good cause.