Mel Ottenberg, Erin Wasson, Rihanna, and Pharrell star in Styled to Rock.
Mel Ottenberg is Rihanna’s stylist, and therefore something of a game-changer. He is, after all, the one responsible for millions of teens around the world suddenly (and fervently) gluing fake pearls onto their sunglasses and Mickey Mouse ears onto their headbands. Although his work is so public, he has remained behind-the-scenes…until tonight, that is.
That’s when a nationwide audience can tune into Styled to Rock, a Bravo reality show boasting a big prizethe chance to design stage clothes for Rihanna herselfalong with a killer judging panel that includes the singer, model Erin Wasson, and Pharrell Williams.
Assuming a role somewhere between mentor and ringleader is Ottenberg, himself, who zooms between the contestants and the judges to keep things rolling (and rocking?). We spoke with the imminent TV star about his new gig, his thrift shop scores, and his favorite Rihanna looks so far.
Let’s start at the beginning: Every pop fan in the world wants to know how you and Rihanna teamed up.
I started working with her two and a half years ago. I did one huge jobit’s funny, it was almost like a challenge you would have on a reality show! I got called to do a live performance for the MBA halftime show. [It was a] huge show, with 75 dancers and her. And it had to happen in two days. And I was like, “No I can’t do that.” But then I thought, “No, I have to do it! What am I talking about?!” And somehow it worked! We got on well, so she asked me to style her tour.
Do you ever have to coax her into a look?
You know sometimes, I really will! When she wore the Tom Ford snakeskin dress to the Met Ball, I knew right away it was her dress, but it took me a minute to convince her that it was the one. But I knew. I was like, “You’re wearing this, it’s going to be a huge moment, try it on.” We usually agree, but sometimes I’m just like, “Rihanna, just put on the dress!”
She’s starting to go more grunge and goth now, right? Like the Tom Ford for Gucci cross she wore for the cover art for ‘What Now’?
You know, it’s funny you asked that. We do so many looks on her, and her look changes and it’s always fun to do new things. We found that Tom Ford cross in a vintage store just shopping! We were like, “This is a big moment. We need to buy this.”
So you still go thrifting for her costumes?
[Laughs] Sometimes, and I love when I do. I still love to go on the hunt. But also, I love to find what the new beat is. I just went to Paris and all the shows, and I met new young designers who are going to be major. But I can’t tell youI have to keep some secrets!
What other Rihanna costumes have you had to hunt down?
She wore these pearl Chanel sunglasses, and that became a huge moment and launched a million pearl sunglasses. But before I found them, I had them on a mood board, and I was like, “God, if we could only find this!” And then we did.
It’s like you manifested those sunglasses into being.
My team and I definitely do that often! It’s all about creating miracles. It’s about that on Styled to Rock too. It was about asking, “Who on here could deal, week after week, with the hard things they have to do?”
Did you always want to be in front of the camera?
Not at all. At first, when Rihanna was like, “You’re going to be on my show.” I was like, “Oh, I don’t know.” And at first it was hard to be on camera. I’ve always been a private, behind-the-scenes guy. I’m the opposite of a camera hogbeyond the opposite, really. But I don’t know, it was kind of fun! And in the end it’s about the [contestants]. It is fun to give someone a hard time about something and then see them grow and see them want to do better and see them evolve in such a short time. It’s great. So once you see a purpose in it, it’s fun.
Plus, you get to hang with Pharrell.
Pharrell is so good on the panel! Once I heard he and Erin Wasson were involved, it made me a lot more confident. I’m not a TV guy, but I was like, “These two are rad. I think I can do this.”