At the rear of the Cover: Rihanna locations herself for Vogue Italia’s ‘DIY’ issue

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Rihanna by Rihanna — the Do It Yourself Issue  ©  Vogue Italia June 2021. Editor-in-Chief: Emanuele Farneti. Creative Movie director: Ferdinando Verderi. Casting Company directors: Piergiorgio Del Moro & Samuel Ellis Scheinman. Project Direction: Rihanna & Jahleel Weaver.

Operating as muse, stylist and photographer, the publication’s latest cover is entirely Rihanna’s own work. Vogue Italia’s Creative Director, Ferdinando Verderi, reflects on letting the artist take the reins

In the creative procedure, the act of withdrawing is rarely celebrated. However sometimes, a perfect partnership is about letting go.  

For Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, collaboration is about “exchange”. A self-proclaimed style “challenger”, his two-year flutter with the publication – the very first magazine he has worked with – has proved a lively circus of risk and unpredictability. Take the blank white-colored cover of April 2020; a statement to the fallibility of images during times of stress. Or the entirely illustrated ‘Ecology’ issue , proudly pronouncing that “no photoshoot production was needed in the making of this problem. ” Masterfully diverse in form and function, their covers are underpinned by a curiosity to prove specific expectations wrong; to subvert the status quo.  

The latest ‘expectation’ Verderi attempted to challenge? That of who it requires to produce a Vogue cover. In this case: Rihanna. Operating as stylist, day job, project director and professional photographer, the June cover – shot over the course of a single day time in an LA studio – is her voice, vision, and hand; unadulterated. Having a cover line reading “Rihanna by Rihanna”, she dons a tantalising Valentino outfit and thigh-high lace-up high heel sandals: one of several looks she curated for herself. But Verderi wasn’t quite a mere bystander, either.

Handmade by Ferdinando Verderi © Vogue Italia June 2021.

“It’s not easy for an image to speak loudly. There is always a tendency to include. But it takes confidence in order to remove”

‘Do It Yourself’ is definitely an issue Verderi has been competing for since day one . You don’t need to look far in order to detect early signs of the concept, each of his covers layered, as they are, with his trademark handmade ‘sculptures’. Each month, he or she sources physical materials that are consistent with the theme of the issue, hand-assembling and taking photos of them before overlaying all of them on the page: each one the riff on the preciousness of the handmade in the digital period.  

Yet for the latest issue, the pandemic billed Verderi’s agenda with even greater poignancy. “Things done simply by one’s own hand became even more relevant as a kind of liberation”, he reflects. “Covid taught us to do stuff ourselves. ”  Accordingly, the issue sees its ‘DIY’ subtitle not shown in typeface, but through a whimsical amalgamation of document clips, twigs, plant comes and thread; a “direct and immediate” marker of Verderi’s hand, drawing a clear line between Rihanna’s work and his own.

Regarding Rihanna’s work, Verderi recounts their delight at witnessing the artist thrive at each phase of production, from creating character studies to adopting the logistics and difficulties of a real photoshoot — all the while, deftly dodging overcomplication. “It’s not easy for an picture to speak loudly, ” Verderi observes. “There is always a tendency to add. However it takes confidence to remove. ” 

Rihanna simply by Rihanna — the Do-it-yourself Issue © Vogue Croatia June 2021. Editor-in-Chief: Emanuele Farneti. Creative Director: Ferdinando Verderi. Casting Directors: Piergiorgio Del Moro & Samuel Ellis Scheinman. Project Path: Rihanna & Jahleel Weaver.

Although it may seem unnatural for an Innovative Director to delegate a lot, ultimately, Verderi’s true contribution to the shoot was creating space for Rihanna’s authority.   “It’s very easy to talk about creative freedom, ” he says, “but for me the idea has long been about actions rather than intentions. ” Where he admits to perfectionism, it is a perfectionism in order to seeing out the vision. There is no corner cutting. In his words: “You cannot be a cheater, or the whole purpose falls apart. ” 

Should Verderi’s side-stepping of convention be observed as a slight on the build of photography? He guarantees not. “There are so many levels to photography that identifying it as one thing is so limiting, ” he says. “I am itching to transform the conversation; to find a brand new relevance for photography… Or at least my perception of it. ”

Indeed, amongst his large ambitions, Verderi’s approach will be refreshingly self-aware, humble, plus – in the truest sense of the word – collaborative. Rihanna’s ‘Do It Yourself’ cover is more than an experiment to prove a style icon as an image manufacturer. It is more than the itching of an itch between 2 star-crossed creatives making the very best of a pandemic. Rather, Verderi’s role as self-proclaimed ‘Guardian of the Freedom’ is proof of the power of integrity, regard, and trust. It is about forging the slipstream to get another’s success. And ultimately, about the power of constraint.  

Louise Long

Louise Long is a London-based photographer and writer with a focus on culture and travel. Her work has been published in Wallpaper*, CEREAL, Uk Vogue and Conde Nast Traveller amongst others. She is furthermore the founder of Linseed Journal, an independent publication discovering culture and local identification.

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