The Aura of a Pinup: Beyoncé's Winning Image

By Robin Givhan
Friday, May 18, 2007

In choosing Beyoncé Knowles to represent his new fragrance, Emporio Armani Diamonds, designer Giorgio Armani embraced an entertainer who has capitalized on the art of being an all-American pinup.

The majority of modern female pop stars who rely on sex appeal to build their careers -- as well as whatever talent might be at their disposal -- tend to focus on either a Lolita-esque licentiousness or an attitude of carefully modulated raunch. But Beyoncé has mostly followed a different path. She combines her formidable talent with a feline sex appeal that is reminiscent of old-fashioned pinups such as Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret and Farrah Fawcett, but updated for a contemporary audience.

During her Destiny's Child period, Beyoncé and her co-stars were as neatly groomed and tightly coordinated as a Motown girl group. Once she began her solo career, she memorably performed on "Today" wearing a dress that would have been at home at a garden party and that prompted host Katie Couric to remark on how wholesome the singer seemed. Now 25, she has gone on to favor form-fitting dresses, ball gowns and mini-dresses, most of which are no more provocative than what one might see on a Miss America stage. And when she has worn a dress with a dramatically low-cut neckline, she never appears to be in danger of falling out of it. At her most spangled, Beyoncé projects showgirl style. And what is a showgirl but the hardest-working version of a pinup?

There have been moments when Beyoncé's videos and her dancing have been beyond erotic. But she has avoided any meltdowns, scandalous behavior or tawdry fashion moments -- or at least none have been caught by the cameras. She has not married willy-nilly, shaved her head or been hauled off to rehab to be treated for "exhaustion."

To a great degree, Beyoncé has kept the most enticing details of her personal life to herself. A pinup should not encourage familiarity, just exude glossy perfection. And the only people who radiate perfection are those about whom little is known.

Her wholesome side surfaced on the
Her wholesome side surfaced on the "Today" show in 2003. (Richard Drew - Associated Press)
Beyoncé is unique in that she is among the rare black women who have been able to pull off this trick across racial lines and one of the few pop stars who have been able to sustain it. It looked as if she might be losing her polished sheen when she made the hyperkinetic dance video for "Deja Vu" in which her face got awfully close to Jay-Z's crotch. Her fans took such offense that they launched an online petition to have the video reshot. And then along came "Dreamgirls" and Beyoncé's skillful, hollow perfection was all over the big screen.

The model Tyra Banks has managed an accomplishment similar to Beyoncé's. She traded in the high-fashion world -- with its intimations of drug use, mind games and catty behavior -- for a polka-dot bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated and a pair of angel wings in Victoria's Secret commercials. She honed her image as the sweet-faced model with the Barbie doll figure.

But once she became a TV mogul, Banks began chipping away at that persona, transforming herself into tough-love Tyra on "America's Next Top Model," and tell-all Tyra on her talk show. Pinups do not get mammograms on TV to prove to the audience that their breasts are real. A pinup would coyly keep her fan club guessing.

Armani has worked with Beyoncé before, notably last year when she performed during the presentation of his Emporio collection in London. Emporio Armani, which is a younger, more trend-driven collection than the designer's signature brand, has a long history of working with musicians, from the Fugees to John Legend. Beyoncé also has a history of fronting fragrances. In 2004 she helped launch True Star, a Tommy Hilfiger scent, and a year later promoted True Star Gold. (Emporio Armani Diamonds is expected to be in stores in September.)

Hilfiger's brand exploits multicultural Americana, as well as its close relationship with popular music. Armani sells a philosophy of glamour and elegant good taste.

Beyoncé is the rare pop star who fits into both categories. She's the sexpot a boy could bring home to Mama.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company