Beyoncé Is Great at Everything... Except Designing Clothes
Ahead of her long-teased collaboration with Adidas, her latest merch drop reminds us that her penchant for telling compelling stories doesn't show in her clothing lines.
Will Ragozzino / Getty Images and Shop Beyonce
It's a minimalist collection of T-shirts, bodysuits, and assorted stuff-you-could-get-from-Zazzle (like socks, bags, bike shorts, and tanks), most of which say "beyhive" in a small font (or repeated in a large font) somewhere on them. The few departures from that are confusing at best—there's an Indian-themed one that spells out "beyhive" in Devangari script—minus what's arguably the best thing in the drop, a $30 set of two Beyoncé-branded bandannas. The mediocrity of her new merch may come as a surprise to some who are still enjoying their "Homecoming" Nefertiti-inspired merch or happily sipping tea from Lemonade mugs that read "BOY BYE." But for those of us who remember a few of Beyoncé's previous fashion endeavors, like House of Deréon and the original Ivy Park, it seems like designing fashion lines may be the one arena where Queen Bey has yet to be the trailblazer she typically is.
The culture may have decided to collectively forgive and forget Beyoncé and Tina Knowles' House of Deréon, which was unofficially discontinued in 2012. But let's revisit that. The mother-daughter pair launched the line—named after Tina Knowles' mother Agnéz Deréon—in 2004, with the idea that the clothes would be inspired by three generations of women in their family. Beyoncé later launched a juniors collection called Deréon with her sister Solange Knowles. But the resulting clothes, most memorably the dresses, had a busy, over-the-top vibe that made them look like they were made for people who had a prom coming up in peak-reality-show-era New Jersey, or a bar mitzvah in the tropics, or a quinceañera on a boat somewhere. Bey herself couldn't always pull the looks off.
It wasn't just the designs that needed help, either; the concept itself was pretty confusing. Take this promo video from 2009, where Beyoncé goes from nearly getting blown over by an oncoming tropical storm at a shoot in Bermuda to an underground cave shoot with 2000s ring-tone sounds playing from her 2008 Lady Gaga collaboration track "Video Phone." Even Beyoncé herself had to admit that the Bermuda rainstorm shoot went south and the cave vision wasn't clear to her at first.
House of Deréon isn't just a head-scratcher in the context of today's standards. It somehow was too gaudy for 2000s and early 2010s America, when gaudiness and tackiness were the name of the game. We're talking about a time when wearing bright red aviator party glasses with red bars across the lenses while dancing to The Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" or having a huge bedazzled Ed Hardy sketch on your shirt was unironically a good thing. But even then, House of Deréon was just a little too much.
After the House of Deréon's juniors line was quietly discontinued in 2012 and the rest of the operation winded down unofficially in the years following, Bey started an athleisure line in 2016 called Ivy Park with the U.K.-based international high streetwear company Topshop. Ivy Park may not have generated the same self-parodying promo videos as House of Deréon, but it also didn't make much of a statement in the world of athletic clothes, or the world at all. The line's so-so athleisure wear was modeled largely by skinny white girls in sweatpants and sliders. There was no radical social commentary about beauty or athletics, though its name did reference a park where Beyoncé learned her signature self-discipline. But Beyonce is clearly aware of the way sports can be used to challenge racial politics. In the same year she launched Ivy Park, she invited Serena Williams to twerk by her side in the video for “Sorry,” completing Lemonade's story of Black women persevering. Beyoncé also had backup dancers wearing Black Panther-esque berets at her 2016 Super Bowl performance months before Colin Kaepernick's kneeling protest began. But who knows, maybe she's saving that commentary for her upcoming Ivy Park relaunch with Adidas, considering they've been more willing to make political statements supporting Black athlete-activists like Kaepernick in recent years.
We might be judging Beyoncé unfairly, or setting the bar too high, now that Rihanna has made it clear what Black fashion entrepreneurs can do, between catering to women of all skin tones and body sizes with her beauty lines and weaving Black fashion history lessons into her Fenty clothing launch in May. But the bar can never be too high for a visionary like Queen Bey. She powerfully challenges notions of beauty in her own visuals by depicting Black bodies, especially Black women from the South, in new, bold ways. It just doesn't quite add up that the night before her big Adidas launch, her account teased fans with a tweet of a Britney Spears selfie video where Britney sports an Ivy Park crop top and announces she’s about to go jet skiing.
Beyoncé's lack of showstopping, trailblazing fashion entrepreneurship is baffling, but only because she's already given us a fierce vision of what she wants to contribute to the world. And that vision has used fashion to empower generations of Black women in a way no performer has done before. We just want to get in on the action and see what it would look like if she kept that same energy for looks we can access.
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