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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Oh, Baby! Rihanna’s Plus One

Caviar Kaspia, perched on the second floor of a Haussmannian building overlooking the Place de la Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement, in the chicest of Parisian neighborhoods, has somehow defied the odds by being one of the coolest hangouts this side of the Seine for close to a hundred years. Virtually every important name in fashion—Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Tom Ford, the list is endless—​has been a regular at one time or another. The cult eatery is a favorite haunt of Rihanna’s too, and it’s been three years since she was last in town. She’s in the mood for restaurant hopping—it’s Friday night of Fashion Week, after all, practically New Year’s Eve—and Caviar Kaspia is her last and most important stop.

Rihanna wears a Marc Jacobs coat. Savage X Fenty briefs. Manolo Blahnik shoes. Chopard earrings and Briony Raymond ring.

When I show up for our planned rendezvous, close to midnight, the place is buzzing. The room has all the charm of an intimate 1920s salon, though right now many of its Old World trappings—glass cabinets filled with 19th-century silverware and Limoges porcelain—have been transformed thanks to a two-week-long takeover by Off-White. As a tribute to the brand’s late founder, Virgil Abloh, who was a regular here too, a blue neon sign with the words “imaginary dinner” hangs over the bar, complete with the designer’s trademark quotation marks. Even the waiter uniforms have been replaced with sleek Off-White lab coats and Nike sneakers.

I scan the room for signs of a celebrity entourage. Anitta, the Brazilian pop star, is holding court by the impressively draped windows, flitting from table to table in a crystal-​​studded mini. By the looks of it, Rihanna and her crew have yet to arrive—because when has timekeeping ever been her strong suit? Then I notice the host is beckoning me from the far side of the restaurant. Turns out Rihanna is already here, ensconced in a corner by herself, waiting.

“I know the skirt is Junya, but girl, can I ask who makes that denim jacket?” she says as I approach her table. Nothing escapes Rihanna’s exacting eye, especially not when it comes to fashion. I tell her it’s Junya too, an archive piece from an earlier collection that I recently scored on The RealReal. “It’s good,” she says, nodding approvingly. She’s curled up on the banquette in an oversized khaki parka with a slinky turquoise catsuit beneath, a look I recognize from Stella McCartney’s last show. Her shoe of choice? A four-inch stiletto heel. Like all the best moments in her style repertoire, the outfit is a study in opposites—sexy, cool, sophisticated—and worn with her characteristic ease. In fact, for a very brief moment, with her hair swept away from her face in a loose bun, subtly glossed lips, and a dusting of gold makeup, I almost miss the baby bump. “As much as it’s happening, it’s also not happening,” she says, patting her belly, only partially visible above the table. “Sometimes I’ll walk past my reflection and be like, Oh shit!

Were Rihanna and A$AP Rocky planning to start a family? “Certainly not planning against it.” Chopard stud earring. Boucheron necklace.

We settle in and she persuades me to order the house’s famous dish: baked potato topped with caviar, an indulgence she enjoyed before she was pregnant. She’s already had a bite to eat, but I came hungry. These days, she says, her cravings tend more sweet than salty. “I usually hate desserts, but all of a sudden you come close to me with a chocolate-​covered donut and you’ve got my heart forever,” she says, giggling. Tangerines are a thing too. She eats them by the dozen, sprinkled with salt. Yes, salt. “It has to be with salt and only with salt, because in Barbados we take our fruits to the ocean and soak them,” she insists. “Trust me, it really is a thing.

It’s obvious how happy she is to be here right now—how much she’s loving the simple fact of being out in the world. Since she and her partner A$AP Rocky, 33, announced they were expecting in late January, the 34-year-old superstar has embraced her time as a mom-to-be with an irrepressible joie de vivre. “I think I even say yes to more now because I know it will be different on the other side of this,” she tells me. “At first I expected some magical change, but really I remain who I am.” In other words, “none of the dials are turned down.”

Over the last two weeks, she’s changed something profound in fashion—single-handedly rewriting the rules of pregnancy dressing with one jaw-dropping style maneuver after another. She made her grand entrance to fashion month at Gucci in Milan with Rocky at her side, sweeping onto the front row bump-forward in a lace-and-latex crop top, low-slung satin pants embroidered with a dragon motif, and a metallic headpiece that recalled an Egyptian queen. (Onlookers wondered if the sizable Gucci trunk her rapper boyfriend was carrying might actually be the couple’s hospital bag.) She ramped things up again in Paris, gliding into the Off-White show dressed in the brand’s baby pink leather minidress, heeled sandals laced up to the knee, and a dramatic floor-sweeping shearling coat seen on the runway at Diesel less than 72 hours earlier.

Rick Owens jacket and skirt. Briony Raymond ring.

Arguably the peak of her rule-​breaking maternity style thus far, though, has been the little black dress she wore to Dior. Sometime before the show, Rihanna and her stylist Jahleel Weaver made the decision to remove the lining of the lace Dior cocktail frock, leaving it completely transparent. “Rihanna is just so fearless, so for me it’s always a question of ‘How do we make this look make sense for who she is?’ ” says Weaver. Suddenly what had essentially been all sweetness and light becomes a far more risqué fashion proposition. “To me that dress is actually the closest thing to maternity clothes that I’ve worn so far,” Rihanna insists. “And we hadn’t really done lady that whole time. So I was like, Let’s do lady!” (Naturally, Rihanna’s idea of “lady” includes little more than jewel-​encrusted belly chains and a strappy G-string from her Savage X Fenty line. “Listen,” she deadpans, “they were going to see my panties regardless. So they’d better be mine.”)

Needless to say, the internet had thoughts. Her critics labeled it indecent. How dare she be this naked and this pregnant? The vast majority, however, greeted the moment with a collective cheer. Here was a beautiful woman at her most abundant, sexy, and strong, delighting in the creative play of getting dressed—with or without a baby bump. For Black expectant mothers in particular, it stood as an awe-inspiring act of defiance. At a time when the joy of bringing a child into the world has too often been overshadowed by one geopolitical crisis after another, her unbridled feminine power was nothing short of life-affirming.

With Rocky at the Gucci show in Milan. “Like iron sharpening iron,” is how Rihanna describes their style rapport. Vittorio Zunino Celotto

For Rihanna, now in her third trimester of pregnancy, fusty notions of maternity wear were an easy target. “When I found out I was pregnant, I thought to myself, There’s no way I’m going to go shopping in no maternity aisle. I’m sorry—it’s too much fun to get dressed up. I’m not going to let that part disappear because my body is changing.” When I bring up the subject of maternity jeans, she rolls her eyes: If it’s not something she would have worn before she was pregnant, then it’s not something she’s going to wear now. To be sure, working outside the traditional bounds of pregnancy style comes with its fair share of challenges—just ask her stylist. “I know he loses sleep over it because my measurements can literally change from hour to hour,” she says. “In fact I’m sure he’s going to ask for a raise after this!”

As the body changes, so does the style: Midriff-baring looks she might have thought twice about wearing before her pregnancy have become a perfect fit for her new bump-forward style. This is a point she hopes will empower other expectant moms. “I’m hoping that we were able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women,” she tells me. “My body is doing incredible things right now, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that. This time should feel celebratory. Because why should you be hiding your pregnancy?”

If there’s one person on the planet who can match the risks she takes with fashion, it’s Rocky. “Like iron sharpening iron,” is how Rihanna describes their style rapport. (The rapper, who was friends with Rihanna for years before they were romantically linked, described her in GQ last May as “the love of my life. I think when you know, you know.”) More than just a pregnancy reveal, the images of them strolling hand in hand through snow-covered streets in Harlem—her in a bubblegum pink vintage Chanel puffer and ripped jeans, him in a denim Carhartt jacket and leather pants—were a tender public declaration of their union. In one particularly heart-melting photo, he kisses her gently on the forehead as snowflakes settle in her hair. This was not the sort of highly orchestrated Hollywood photo op we’ve become accustomed to. It felt real, a reprieve from a bleak midwinter news cycle, and more than just a gift to the legions of fans who’d been willing their unborn baby into existence. Suddenly, the whole world was happy for them.

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture By Glenn Martens dress. Alaïa shoes.

But none of this was smooth for Rihanna. “People don’t get out of the friend zone very easily with me,” she says. “And I certainly took a while to get over how much I know him and how much he knows me, because we also know how much trouble we can land each other in.” Some of us will recall exactly what kind of trouble she means, starting with their first encounter at the VMAs in 2012 when Rocky joined Rihanna for a performance of her hit single “Cockiness.” Midway through the performance, as they were dancing side by side, Rocky pulled a surprisingly cavalier move. “He grabbed my ass on stage. That was not part of the rehearsal!” she says. “I was like, What are you doing!?” Her team braced themselves for an upset Rihanna. Instead, she let it go. “My manager was like, Oh, God, she must like this guy a little bit. She never lets this shit slide.”

Gradually, Rihanna let her guard down, and things became serious when the world went into COVID lockdown. “He became my family in that time,” she says. Part of it was an epic road trip they took in summer 2020 from Los Angeles to New York. Meandering across the country on a big tour bus, they were able to get away from the glare of the public eye. They’d park and Rihanna would grill barefoot while Rocky tie-dyed T-shirts picked up at the gas station. “I cooked our food on this little janky grill I bought from Walmart,” she remembers. “I still have it, too. It works like nobody’s business.” No matter where they stopped, they always had fun. “I love the simple things but also the grand adventures,” she says. “There’s no pretentious my-brand-your-brand bullshit, it’s just us living,” she says of their existence together. “I just feel like I can do any part of life by his side.”

“My body is doing incredible things right now, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that. This time should feel celebratory. Because why should you be hiding your pregnancy”


By the time the holidays rolled around, she was ready to bring him home. Barbados had been closed to visitors for much of that year, and Rihanna was dying to see her family. Now she knew she’d have company. “It was us who were going home,” she says. “We were going home.” Her mom, according to Rihanna, is usually a tough nut to crack, but she warmed to Rocky right away. “My mother has a really good read on people. She observes first and then she’ll move slowly. I guess I’m like that too,” she says. “There are some guys that I’ve dated that she won’t even look at to this day. But she was charmed by him from the jump.”

Though he was born and raised in Harlem, Rocky has roots tracing back to Barbados too: His late father emigrated from the Caribbean island. “To see him in a space where he’s imagining his dad as a boy, walking the same streets as his dad walked, eating the same food as his dad ate, it was really heartwarming.”

I ask Rihanna what she loves most about their relationship. As if on cue, her phone starts to buzz. It’s Rocky on FaceTime. She turns the camera around to give him a view of the scene. “Look, can you see how everything in here has been Virgil-ified?” They exchange I love yous before hanging up, their ease and warmth palpable. “What I love the most about us? Transparency with everything: how we’re feeling, what our goals are, what our fears and insecurities are. The vulnerability to be able to say what you feel about each other.”

Like everyone else in the world, I’m also curious to know if they’d been planning to have a baby. “Planning? I wouldn’t say planning. But certainly not planning against it. I don’t know when I ovulate or any of that type of shit. We just had fun,” she says. “And then it was just there on the test. I didn’t waste any time. I called him inside and showed him. Then I was in the doctor’s office the next morning and our journey began.”

That journey is unfolding one day at a time. Rihanna had assumed that she would suffer from morning sickness like her mother, but so far so good. The mood swings have, mercifully, also been easier to manage than she had anticipated. “I was bracing myself for something insane because I knew I wouldn’t have my usual coping mechanism: I can’t just go and smoke a joint right now,” she says. “But I was pleasantly surprised that I’ve been able to manage.” Still, there will be times when an innocuous Instagram post will trigger a flood of tears.

When it comes to the actual act of giving birth, Rihanna betrays little apprehension, partly because she’s supported several of her closest female friends and family on their way to motherhood. “She made time for me when I was having my baby,” says Sonita Alexander, one of Rihanna’s best friends since childhood, a doctor who lives in Barbados. “The baby was sick, so she came back three weeks later and was supportive the whole time. I would say it was the most important moment in our friendship. She’s a great auntie.” Rihanna wishes all of her nearest and dearest could be in the room with her, but with COVID restrictions that seems unlikely. “Maybe I’ll just have a party bus parked outside or something,” she says, only half joking. After learning about the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s something she’s ready to try. “I’m praying my body allows me to,” she says. So what frightens her the most? “Postpartum depression. Will I feel out of control emotionally? Those are the stories I hear from other women that scare me.”

Rihanna wears a Dior jacket, sunglasses, and gloves. Savage X Fenty briefs. Balenciaga boots. On mannequin: Off-White dress.

There’s also childcare to figure about—but right now, she and Rocky can’t think further than the idea of asking her mom and his mom to help, though she’s reluctantly put a night nurse on hold at the urging of friends. “I’m sure that will be helpful, but they’re going to have to fight my mom, because I can’t imagine anyone telling her how to put her grandkid to bed,” she says. And where in the world does she want to raise the child? “That gets difficult to say,” she admits. “Rocky asked me recently if I had a dream place, where would it be? I told him home, Barbados. I always imagined it being that way. But realistically it probably won’t be.”

Rihanna has never been much for scheduling, so it’s fruitless to ask her to predict how she’ll juggle it all—the multimillion-dollar lingerie and beauty empires, the music career, a young family. Part of her magic is that she’s mercurial. “Balance is one of my biggest challenges and always has been,” she says. “And now there’s another human being coming into play, it changes what that means again. Still, I have businesses that aren’t going to run themselves. My mom handled the three of us with not even close to the amount of resources that I have, so I can absolutely do it. What it looks like? I’m not sure.”

And that long-awaited record? Making music is still very much part of the program, even if she’s playing her cards very close to her chest. In her mind, Anti still stands as her creative benchmark, “my best album to this day.” Released in 2016 and famously snubbed by the Grammys, the genre-busting album was ahead of its time—and a hard act to follow. Right now though, she’s not trying to be in competition with herself, or anyone else for that matter. “I’m looking at my next project completely differently from the way I had wanted to put it out before. I think this way suits me better, a lot better,” she says. “It’s authentic, it’ll be fun for me, and it takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Alaïa dress.

Along with maternity jeans, she has a list of other pregnancy do’s and don’ts, starting with the baby shower. “No brunch, no blush tones. And no animal-shaped nothing,” she says, shaking her head. “I mean it’s lit for a lot of people—I’ve even planned a couple of baby showers like that myself—it’s just not right for me. Personally, I want a party. I want everyone to be plastered and crawling out. And it’s got to be co-ed! Don’t put me on no wicker chair somewhere with gifts at my feet where everyone is staring at me.” A gender-reveal party is off the table too. “I asked my doctor: Is something wrong with me for not wanting this? Because people keep asking me. Am I a bad mom? When we’re ready to tell the world, we’ll just tell them.”

Rihanna’s hardly the kind to compose twinning mommy-and-me fit pics on Instagram, but she is looking forward to the prospect of dressing her child. Truth be told, though, she hasn’t bought so much as a pair of baby booties. “I’m so behind on everything,” she says with a sigh. “I haven’t bought anything yet.” Not even a onesie? Nope. Some toys for the crib perhaps? “No, Chioma! You’re not hearing me. Not. A. Single. Thing!” she says, clapping her hands with each word for emphasis. On that count, Rocky has somewhat of a head start on her. A self-confessed interior design geek, he already has ideas for the nursery. Rihanna’s not sure they’ll get much use of it though. She imagines her child will sleep in their bedroom, at least in the beginning.

“There’s no pretentious my-brand-your-brand bullshit, it’s just us living,” she says of their existence together. “I just feel like I can do any part of life by his side”


But let’s back up a bit, to the more urgent matter of what the baby will wear. In the immediate future—as in tomorrow afternoon—there’s a shopping trip planned to Bonpoint and Baby Dior. The one item of baby clothing she does have so far is a mini bathrobe, a gift from her hotel in Paris, an exact replica of the one she’s been lounging around her room in. “It is legit the tiniest, cutest robe I have ever seen in my whole life,” she says, beaming. This feels like the right moment to ask her the unthinkable: What if this child, born to the world’s most stylish couple, isn’t into fashion at all? “Don’t say that! You just broke my heart!” she says, exploding with laughter. “Yo! That is the day that I will have a problem, if my child don’t like fashion? What?? You’ve got me so nervous!”

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello coat. Messika belly chains. Fashion Editors: Alex Harrington, Jahleel Weaver.

It’s close to 4 a.m. and the restaurant is all but cleared out. This is not the first time Rihanna and I have stayed up all night chatting in Paris. Several years ago, in a hotel suite at the George V, our conversation was just as candid. With Rihanna, nothing’s ever scripted; she moves through the world with an open heart. And as much as she’s a hilarious storyteller, she’s a great listener too.

And right now I have some news of my own to share: I’ve decided I’m going to try for a baby by myself. “Oh, that’s so exciting!” she says, engulfing me in a hug. I confess that going it alone wasn’t the original plan, but somehow it feels right. “You know it’s the same with me—I always thought it would be marriage first, then a baby, but who the fuck says it has to be that way. I’m certainly not gonna let that get in the way of me being a mom,” she says, then pauses to hold her belly with both hands. “Oh, wait! The baby is moving!” I ask if I can touch the bump—maybe some of that fertility goddess energy will rub off on me—and she obliges. Sure enough, the baby throws me an elbow. “Oh, that was a light one. You have seen nothing yet,” she says, chuckling. “It’s mostly when I cross my legs or limit their space that they’re like, Get out of my way quick!”

If there’s one thing she’s certain of, it’s that the little person growing inside of her already has a personality of its own. Above and beyond anything else, she’s looking forward to seeing the world through their eyes. “They’re going to teach me more than I could ever teach them. And I want them to go for it. I want to see who they are in the world, who they become,” she says. “Because I’m just here to keep them on the rails—a passenger as much as the driver.”

When it’s time to say our goodbyes, I can tell those maternal instincts are already kicking in. As I start to order an Uber, she shoots me a worried look. She’d prefer to give me a ride home, if that’s okay. “You know it’s just not safe out there at this hour.” And really, how can I argue with her. Mother knows best. 

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