Back in 2005 when Rihanna burst onto the scene with her earworm dancehall hit "Pon de Replay,” she dressed like any other 17-year-old. Cropped hoodies, boyfriend jeans, and big hoop earrings were her staples, mixed in with the occasional mini. So how exactly did the now-29-year-old become one of the best-dressed women in the world? Two words: Mel Ottenberg.
Ottenberg is the creative mastermind behind RiRi’s buzziest looks, like the completely sheer Swarovski-encrusted fishnet Adam Selman gown that basically broke the Internet when she wore it to 2014 CFDA Awards (below) and the fantastical floral Comme des Garçons creation that stole the show at this year’s Met Gala. And even before he started styling the star almost 6 years ago, he saw the potential to take her look to another level. “I wanted to work with Rihanna because she likes to have fun with fashion,” Ottenberg tells InStyle. “Since she’s willing to be daring with her choices, I thought we would be a good match.” And right he was.
One thing that bonds the singer with her stylist is their shared love of change. Basically, they like to keep us guessing with every single outfit. "For the red carpet, we constantly challenge the idea of what’s glamorous and cool,” says Ottenberg. “And we like change a lot. As soon as she wears one thing and it works well, we know it’s time to go in a totally different direction.”
To stay ahead of those quick hits, Ottenberg is always looking for inspiration. "I pay attention to what’s new from the big designers, but also the fashion students that no one has heard of yet,” he says. “I also pour over books and magazines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Library, looking for forgotten ideas that could be reimagined.” But of course, once an idea is hatched, bringing it to life is another thing. "I love making something happen against the odds,” he says. "My favorite part is seeing the final look, especially if it’s a moment I’ve worked on for months.”
So out of all the wonderfully, wild outfits that he’s helped create for Rihanna—which one stands out the most? “The Adam Selman gown—hands down,” he says. "It was fun, wild, cool, and unique. Adam had an idea for a new kind of crystal fabric that didn’t exist, so he made it himself. And many have tried to copy it since. More than almost any other look, the world really stopped and stared with their mouths to the floor. It became a talking point and started a conversation about women’s bodies. I didn’t expect that to happen and it was fantastic."
To see all of Rihanna’s best looks over the years, keep scrolling. For more stories like this check out the July issue of InStyle Magazine, available on newsstands and for digital download now.
VIDEO: Rihanna's Beauty Transformation