Rihanna’s stylist, Mel Ottenberg was recently interviewed by Refinery29. You can read the interview below.
How did you start working with Rihanna?
“We had both worked with the same people, and I got hired to do a big performance with her. After that, she asked me to work for her. That was, oh, two years ago.”
In the last “x” amount of years, she’s become, as Riccardo Tisci said, “the face of a generation.” How much input does she have in creating her look? How’s the creative process between you two?
“We definitely have some back-and-forth moments, but she’s in control of her image. It’s very collaborative. It’s a different process for everything, but quite often there’s a creative [process] for a performance or video, and I have to figure out what the looks will be. I show her different ideas, and we talk about it. Sometimes, figuring out what it’ll look like has already been done, and other times, it’s more spontaneous and collaborative.”
What kind of input did you have with her current tour costumes? There is a lot of looks made by the best designers in the world.
“I worked very closely on every design aspect and every detail of the tour clothing for her, for her dancers, for her band, you know, everything. I worked really closely with all of the designers on the custom stuff, which was really fun.”
Not to play favorites, but is there a look that you think is really out of the park?
“You know, it’s hard to say. I’m really happy with it all. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve done. There are six really strong sections, and the playlist is so strong — she’s had so many great songs. The energy of it all is great. I’m really happy with all of the clothes. I don’t have a favorite, to be honest. It’s crazy to say, but I love the whole thing. I love what all of the designers did.”
It’s a really incredible selection of some of the best designers in the game right now.
“Well, I really wanted it all to feel custom for her. I got to work with designers who I really admire, like Raf Simons, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, who were all psyched to work with her because Rihanna is such a major icon. I feel like they’re all guys that are very much in fashion and not a part of showbiz. That was all really exciting. To work with Adam Selman (who I work with on all of her costume stuff) helped really make it totally custom. I wanted to create something unique, because in this day and age, everyone thinks it’s all the same watered-down looks, and Rihanna isn’t like that. She’s not looking at other people for competition; she’s just doing her own thing, and that’s fun to work with because she’ll let you do something different.”
There are some really amazing vintage elements in her looks. Do you go through designer archives? Is it all from your own knowledge?
“You know what, it’s different for everything. I have really specific ideas about what I want her moments to be. Like she wore these pearl Chanel sunglasses that got a lot of press for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. They’re from 1993, and I had them on my inspiration board. Somehow they found their way into the show — which was pretty amazing. I’m always out looking for stuff, both new and old, that I haven’t seen before that’ll be exciting. Even for the tour, the vintage things are all from secret places. I have amazing vintage dealers, and we do a ton of custom shoes — all of the shoes on the tour are custom. Those are the kind of details that really make something special.”
One of the things Rihanna does so well is rock the androgyny gamut. She can seamlessly go from looking super-urban with loose pants and a backward snapback to glamorous, feminine, and red-carpet ready. Is that fitting for her or is that you trying to show off her versatility?
“That’s all very her. I don’t know of anyone else who really has that — the badass street style but refined, red-carpet attitude. It all comes naturally to her.”
What do you look for when you’re trying to choose something for the red carpet? What about when you’re choosing something that’s a little edgier and more rebellious?
“It’s really spur on the moment when it comes to the edgier looks. Most of it comes from some street thing. It’s more thought out for the red carpet. The planning starts months in advance with all the sketches and planning with design houses. There’s a lot of back and forth — even things like the tour started months before anything. What I’m looking for that is something that she’s going to feel really good in and not think about too much. I want her to be able to move and not feel so self-conscious about the fashion. I look for something easy that’ll make a huge impact.”
Is there a particular video that you really love the fashion in?
“Yes, it’s definitely ‘We Found Love.”
Yes! People will be looking back on the 2010s and think that’s what fashion was about.
“It’s very my style. I knew exactly what I was going to do with it when I saw the creative for the shoot. It was great fun to make and it is, you know, the moment.”
So, Rihanna’s new fragrance is called Nude. Do you have any tips for bedroom style?
“Let’s be real: get naked.”
Last summer, we saw a resurgence of the ’90s with bras and mesh tanks and jerseys. What do you think is going to be big this summer? What should we put on our shopping lists?
“I would say florals, skinny gold jewelry, and one piece bathing suits — really hot one piece bathing suits and patterns.”
One of the things that we always talk about at Refinery29 is the huge disconnect between the runway and the street. Every now and then, you get a designer who gets it, but for the most part, you see the style not being reflected on the runways. Are you seeing anything on the streets of New York that’s inspiring you?
“What I really want to see is a certain ease in dressing. I agree you don’t see that on the runway. I’m not saying being comfortable is ultra fashionable, but I do like clothes that flatter the figure and can actually move. There’s a lot of stiffness of the runways.”
There’s nothing sexier than effortlessness.
“I agree. That’s actually what I really like about the Rihanna for River Island collection, because we were going for dresses that make a lot of impact but can look good on many types of girls — they move well. That’s important. I hope to see a lot of effortless looks this summer.”