How Rihanna Taught Us Stylists are the Untapped ‘Buyers’ of the Apparel Industry

It’s an unlikely collaboration – celebrities and college graduates – but what seems at first glance like an odd pair, is actually a win-win relationship that affects us all more than we may realize.

Celebrities have long been fashion tastemakers; those we watch to set the high fashion trends that will eventually trickle down into our product assortments. Every year (many times a year), the retail industry watches as A-list celebs like Beyoncé and Pharrell strut down red carpets wearing the newest from high end brands. ‘Who are you wearing?’ is a literal million-dollar question – brands pay celebrities up to $10 million just for wearing their new line at award shows.

And then, every once in a while, there will be a moment when a celebrity walks out in something… different. New and stylistically unlike anything we’ve seen before. Rihanna and Lady Gaga are both big fans of making moves like this – the equivalent of a fashion mic-drop. But their infamy isn’t happenstance, there’s a whole team of people behind creating that look.

Key among that team are stylists. A lot of them. Rihanna’s longtime stylist and friend, Mel Ottenberg – the guy who styled Britney Spears’ infamous ‘Slave 4 U’ VMA show… the one with the snake – sits in on innumerable fashion shows from all the big names, handpicking pieces he knows Rihanna will slay. But he, along with the group of his other (smart) peers, have a secret weapon.

College students.


“People complain that it is a boring time in fashion,” says Ottenberg in an interview with Billboard, “but the kids are doing stuff.” In between his high-profile roster of clients and brands he works with, Ottenberg keeps an eye on the fashion design students coming out of renowned fashion institutes like New York’s Parsons, Pratt Institute, and Central Saint Martins in London.

Among those discovered by Ottenberg include Melitta Beaumeister, a recent Parsons grad. Now known for her monochromatic, oversized clothing, she attributes Ottenberg and Rihanna for her high fashion debut. “A lot of press reached out to me,” she says of the response to Rihanna wearing one of her leather jackets. “The week after, I was able to show [Dover Street Market] the whole collection, which they bought for New York, London and Tokyo [stores].”

But it’s not just Beaumeister who benefits from the partnership. Like your small business, Rihanna and Lady Gaga are brands. They stand for something. In this case, it’s innovation in their industries – fashion and music. Both work to push the boundaries of what personal style means. Discovering unique, up-and-coming brands who’ve never been worn in Hollywood before further establishes their reputation of being trend-setters.

So, what now? How do you become the Next Big Thing?

If you’re an apparel brand just getting started with your own line, there are ways to supercharge your networking interactions online and in person. You can add a bit of business-savvy to your brand’s chances of being discovered.

The first step is to always do your research. Get to know the stylists in your area and build relationships with them. Offer to provide clothing for an upcoming shoot, or send them a piece from your collection that fits their style.

When you’re building your brand’s social media presence, be sure to target the right people with your campaigns. Use hashtags relevant to the industry, follow those you wish to be your peers. Look for the people who are behind-the-scenes of your favorite models or celebs, and mention them instead.

They’re the people who make the magic happen.