Washingtonian Mel Ottenberg is the man responsible for the ‘naked dress’

Fashion Icon award recipient Rihanna attends the winners walk during the 2014 CFDA fashion awards in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Fashion Icon award recipient Rihanna attends the winners walk during the 2014 CFDA fashion awards in New York City. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

By now you know all about the “naked dress.” The Swarovski-sprayed barely-there gown pop juggernaut Rihanna wore to the annual CFDA awards in New York on Monday night. But what you might not know is that the man behind the “Internet’s most talked about dress” is a local.

Rih Rih’s stylist, Mel Ottenberg, who grew up in the shadow of the National Cathedral and graduated from the Edmund Burke School in Forrest Hills, began working with the singer in 2011. His partner, Adam Selman, designed the dress.

We reached Ottenberg, 38, at his hotel in Paris (of course) where he jetsetted immediately after the ceremony in Manhattan. He described himself as “the son of a baker” (his dad, Ray, runs the family-owned Ottenberg Bakery) and a city kid before dishing about that dress and how growing up in the capital shaped his chic.

You told Style.com that Rihanna “was ready for this dress a while ago, and that I wasn’t.” Is that your Washington conservative slip showing?

“No [he laughs], that was sort of a joke. This dress was really more my idea. I’m not a prude at all. I’m not conservative. I don’t think I have any Washington fashion blood in me.”

Really? So how does D.C. stack up fashion-wise to other major cities?

“Maybe its not the last word in fashion, I’ll put it that way. I’m still biased because I love it so much, but it’s definitely not the fashion capital.”

Then what led you to fashion?

“I went to the Corcoran every weekend for years and years, taking drawing classes and painting classes.  My best friend’s mom always had Vogue and it was such a different world. I’d never really seen something like that, you don’t experience that in D.C. and it sort of transported me into fashion. At 10 years old I was obsessed.”

Did living in the District shape your style at all?

“It really did, actually. I snuck out all the time to go to nightclubs in D.C. in the early ’90s. Tracks and the Volt.  There was a total scene going on. There were kids wearing real fashion and I would go and just be in awe. The style that I was really influenced by wasn’t so much the status quo, it was more of the underground stuff. I wasn’t lacking for any cool style inspiration.”

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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