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Adam Selman is a name you may not yet know. Though unless you’ve hidden under a rock for the past year, you’ve likely seen his handiwork. When Rihanna needs a leopard print bustier, he’s there. When she needs a back-up dress for the VMA’s, there he’ll be: needle, thread and boob tape in tow. He’s her costume designer. And when it comes to the mega fashion force that is Rihanna, it’s he and stylist Mel Ottenberg that are responsible for her look. This isn’t to say that Riri has no say her look, but we’re all adults here. And with that sobering realization, two things are certain: Santa Claus doesn’t exist and even the most stylish celebrities require a team.
If you look closely at backstage photos of Rihanna, you’ll spot Selman. He’s often tweaking her moments before she steps on stage. He’s like a stage mother, shoving his very own made-up, adorned-down pageant child on stage for the world to see. Ahead, on the heels of a whirlwind tour, the man behind the woman whose musical reign just won’t let up talks “panties,” kitten heels and what it’s like working with one of the biggest pop stars on the planet .
So where do the ideas for Rihanna’s costumes begin? For the Loud tour I was super inspired by the photographer Cheyco Leidmann and all of those bright poppy colors he used in his work, oh and early David LaChapelle. Throughout the Loud tour, Debbie Harry also played a huge role.
And what about for The 777 Tour? For 777 things had to be quick and transition from stage, to going out at night then to the plane. It was all about custom bras and that jet set lifestyle. It all kind of transitioned into this Debbie-Harry-meets-Tupac thing, like with the jersey other men's pieces.
Yes, there was definitely some dude-spiration happening. Oh God, yes! A lot of menswear was involved.
What was the 777 Tour like? It was a trip! I’ve done tours and worked some crazy jobs and hours, but this one was a whole new beast! Bags were lost, everything was late, everyone was cranky. But we managed to have some good times in the process. I’ve never experienced press like that either and I’ve hardly given any interviews. I was afraid to go to the back of the plane! Cameras were on 24/7, microphones were out at all times. I don’t think the back of the plane ever slept.
Yikes, that sounds like quite a ride! I also found it amusing that most of the people on the plane had never been on a proper tour. Granted, this was a unique experience, but tours and tour life is super difficult and draining. For me it was exhausting but worth it in the end just to have her wear one of my outfits on the last stop in NYC with friends in the audience. No matter what I'm always exhilarated when Rihanna wears one of my looks, it’s exciting.
How long have you worked with Rihanna and what has been your signature on her look? I’ve worked with Rihanna for the past year-and-a-half. I made a pair of panties that Mel Ottenberg used in a fashion story in Purple Magazine. When he first became her stylist, he showed her the spread and she went straight to the panties I had made. Mel poached me [from the Britney Spears' tour] to work on the Loud tour and the panties became a signature item. I was so flattered that the tiniest thing I have ever made had such a big impact.
Her style has evolved so much in such a brief time. How do you keep it fresh? Since then, we’ve evolved a lot together; Rihanna, Mel and I are constantly coming up with new ideas for a new look and new pieces to create. With Rihanna, I’ve been trying to keep things simple and clean and let her shine. She is such a presence that she doesn’t need to wear loud clothes or costumes right now; she really can throw on a rag and make it look glamorous. Mel is a huge supporter and we both have similar ideas of what “glamorous” is. We really make an amazing trio — both Rihanna and Mel give me an amazing platform to work with.
What’s your definition of glamour? I love the idea of 1970s stripped down glamour. It’s the simple shape of what you’re wearing and it’s all about hair and makeup. The clothes look great, but it’s all about you and your face and the way everything frames it.
How do you know Mel? He’s my boyfriend.
Wow, so what’s it like working with your boo? That has to be rough sometimes? We have a great working relationship and if I’m gonna argue with anyone it may as well be him. We bounce ideas around all the time, but at the end of the day, we leave the bustier and panty talk at work.
Since working with Rihanna, what’s been one of your biggest challenges? That VMA dress was the quickest turnaround. Just insane! We decided on it at the last minute so I really just had a sample. I was literally sitting on the floor of the rehearsal space cutting and hand-sewing it the night before.
How long have you been designing and how did you start? I’ve been designing for about nine years. I started out as a freelance pattern maker and assistant for a designer where I worked on tours for Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Exile (a J-pop group) and Britney Spears. I always had my own projects going on and for a long time I was uncertain if wanted to be a designer. I did carpentry, handyman work, making props for films, touring as a wardrobe guy. I also art directed a book with comedian Amy Sedaris. As long as it was hands on I was happy doing it. Eventually, Sufjan Stevens, The Scissor Sisters, and of course Rihanna asked me to design for their tours, and it’s just been consistent since then. Lucky me.
Tell me about your design aesthetic. What makes your work different from everything else out there? For a long time I did a lot of embellishment work and concepts for companies, and once I started my own work, I realized how much I wanted to strip that down and start with fresh silhouettes and ideas about clothes that I related to in a new way. I started with a lot of swimwear ideas and if you look at a lot of my work it has a certain swimwear vibe that’s translated into clothes and costumes.
That makes sense, with all of the bustiers and two-piece costumes for Rihanna. Yes! I mainly grew up in Texas, so I have a hard time dressing for winter. I like summer clothes all year-round and that plays a part in it too. I also got really into knots, trying to integrate them into clothes and costumes and have been running with that for a minute, it’s been hard to get away from knots! They’re endless inspiration.
What are your plans for your brand in the new year? Oh the new year should be a good one, my astrologer told me so. Rihanna has a world tour coming up that I plan on being a large part of, and her clothing line that I co-designed [Rihanna for River Island] is coming out in the Spring. Both of those are very exciting to me. I’m trying to remain super open to what is next. I do love costume design, but I'd love to develop a small collection under my name. Maybe I can do both.
I have to ask, what trend do you wish would die or make a comeback? I want to say that I wish kitten heels would die forever, but I might cause a mutiny. And I really do love snap-crotch body suits for the ladies, I hope they make a serious come back soon.
Really? What’s wrong with kitten heels! Let them go.
Originally published online for PopDust Style a dearly departed style division of PopDust.com