Not only is super-stylist Mel Ottenberg
one of OC's favorites, he's also the man Rihanna trusts to get her dressed for a world tour and Find Love in a Hopeless Place. Considering the impact that video
had this year (I know at least two people who bought this Komakino jacket
after spotting it on Rhi), and the amazing relationship that we have always had with him from collaborating on OC lookbooks, I knew that a formal introduction between Mel and the OC blog was well overdue.
With bylines in Purple Magazine
(where he maintains status as their Fashion Editor) i-D
, and Harper's Bazaar
, and his partnership with an unbelievable roster of photographers (his first shoot was with Steven Klein. Like are. you. serious?), Mel's hard work and almost impossibly cool vibe both in print and in person make him a mainstay in the styling world today. I stopped by his Canal Street studio to talk about his work and what he's into these days, and fan out on our favorite editorials. Check it all out here!
Daria Radlinski: Let’s start at the very beginning. What did you dress like in high school?
Mel Ottenberg: At 15 my big look was huge, red Cross Colours jeans with a Junior Gaultier black mock turtleneck and steel toe Docs. With a Caesar.
DR: Oh yeahhh—Humberto and I are both obsessed with Junior Gaultier!
MO: So good. I was so psyched when I saw it for the first time and bought my own piece of Gaultier! Then in the club I was teased for wearing JUNIOR Gaultier and not full on JEAN-PAUL Gaultier, but those kids were wrong, Junior is everything too.
DR: Do you ever reference the way you dressed as a teenager in your looks now?
MO: Yeah—all the kids that I saw in like 9th grade while I was sneaking out or candy flipping at a rave, I reference those memories. And the editorials from early 90’s Details
, The Face
still really do it for me.
DR: You started going to clubs at a young age. Who was your favorite club kid and what was their look?
MO: When I started going to DC clubs in 91, Kevin Aviance was THE pinnacle of glamour. I would watch his performances for hours. He came to our prom with my best friend and we almost got kicked out of school because of it!
DR: What poster did you have on your wall when you were growing up? And did you have any favorite pop stars?
MO: Kraftwerk, Siouxsie, The Cure, The Smiths, Deee-Lite, Sinead. I had a gigantic Creatures poster, and lots of Cure, Smiths, etc.
DR: What was your first job ever, fashion-related or not?
MO: It was not fashion related. It was a telephone operator at the family business, which was a bakery in Washington.
DR: How did you get into styling?
MO: I was really into fashion but was way too crazy to have a job. I met Matthias Vriens, and he asked me to style a story for The Face
, which was really exciting. I used mostly my own clothes because I didn’t know how to pull or anything. I really liked the pictures and the collaborative vibe, and so I pursued styling as a career.
DR: Cool! What was the story about? What did it look like?
MO: Scruffy, dirt-bag boy. Everything I was into at the time, and I guess still am.
DR: Do you have any memorable moments from a shoot?
MO: Most memorable moment was a naked Pam Anderson gyrating in a giant glass terrarium on a David Lachapelle shoot long ago. So sick.
DR: Who’s one person that you still cannot believe you got the chance to work with?
MO: It’s a tie between Pam Anderson and Britney Spears! Gay dreams.
DR: Do you ever look back to early shoots and think, "OMG, I can’t believe I did that"?
MO: I laugh when I think about myself prepping for shoots in the beginning. I didn’t have a cell phone! Sometimes I didn’t have electricity either. I worked from home and my friend Stacy from Exquisite Costume was my assistant. It was before Style.com, so I would print out pictures of the collections that I found online and make these little collages and fax them to places, because people used to fax. I need to find those fax collages!
Right before one of my first shoots, my apartment building caught on fire. Firemen came into my apartment and bashed the windows out and there was soot all over my place, and jewelry and shoes everywhere––and I had to fly to LA at 8 AM the next day. I stayed up all night packing in this crazy bombed-out mess, and making these concept collages for the shoot! When I got to the airport they wouldn’t let me on the plane, because I was supposed to be on the flight 24 hours earlier. In the end, I made it to LA and the shoot was great, but it was a complete disaster getting there.
DR: Having you and Terry [Richardson] do our Spring 2011 lookbook was such a perfect match for that collection. We're such big fans of the work you and Terry do elsewhere––like, definitely James Franco on the cover of Candy. Since we’re all about collaborations at OC, who are some of your favorite people to collaborate with?
MO: I consider myself really lucky to work with great photographers and so many talented people. I collaborate a lot with designer Adam Selman on Rihanna’s stage clothes, and he’s my boyfriend too, so we have a great time working together. We did a three-way collaboration with Tom Binns on a handpainted, Swarovski-covered bikini for Rihanna this year. That was one of my favorite collaborations ever!
DR: What’s your all-time favorite editorial that you’ve ever worked on?
MO: So many favorites, impossible to choose one. Don't make me pick!
DR: Do you go into styling for a performance much differently than you do for anything else?
MO: Well, I still want a performance look to feel like an editorial moment, but the process of getting there is really different. It's not as spontaneous. There’s no retouching and the look has to work from all angles. Everything needs to be totally functional and durable onstage. Lots of custom clothing is designed and made, and there are lots and lots of fittings, and lots of planning. Add 8 to 20 backup dancers and you've got a crazy situation.
DR: I'm obsessed with old Fiorucci and I’ve always been a fan of Jeremy Scott; it’s really cool that you reference those in Rihanna’s costumes for "Loud". What made you decide to bust them out right now?
MO: I love Fiorucci too and knew she would be hot as a new wave girl. Anyways, we both love Jeremy. He’s a really old friend of mine, and I always wanted to collaborate with him. I had so much fun working with him on the tour, and he REALLY gets what it takes to make great stage clothes.
DR: What makes you choose so much OC for Rihanna?
MO: Love OC and we have been using a ton of it on Rihanna. It's across the street from my studio, and I can always go there and find something cool that I can't find anywhere else.
DR: Oh, I have one last question. If you weren’t a stylist what would you be?
MO: A professional jet skier!