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rihanna's stylist discusses the politics of the ultimate #freethenipple dress

Before Rihanna stepped onto the red carpet in a completely sheer dress at the 2014 CFDA Awards, she had no idea what #freethenipple even was. Her longtime stylist Mel Ottenberg definitely can't say the same thing.

by Hannah Ongley
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05 August 2016, 11:02pm

On June 3, 2014, a braless Rihanna stepped onto the red carpet at the CFDA Awards in a bedazzled sheer Adam Selman dress that sent the internet into a frenzy. The reigning queen of DGAF fashion confessed to having no idea at the time that freeing the nipple in front of the cameras would be interpreted as a radical feminist act, mostly due to the fact that she had no idea #freethenipple was even a thing — despite recently igniting the hashtag/debate herself by posting photos on Instagram from her topless shoot for French adult magazine Lui. "I have always freed the nipple," she said five months ago. "It was never to get attention. Never sexual. Never in desperation. The bra just fucked up my sheer shirt. I just wanted to be perfect and that's what I went with and I felt okay with that. And after a while, it became such a scandal and a 'horrible role model' thing. It was a topic of discussion, and eventually other girls started defending me. And now there's this whole 'Free the Nipple' movement."

Meanwhile, her longtime super-stylist Mel Ottenberg was thinking something quite different. In a recent interview with 032c, Ottenberg recalls the events leading up to the fateful evening, and wanting to dress Badgal in a dress that only she could pull off. He also remembers being rather gleeful while envisioning the social media meltdown that would ultimately occur as soon Rihanna stepped onto the red carpet. "At the time of that dress, Rihanna was very prolific in showing her life on Instagram, but they shut her account down because she was showing her tits," he remembers. "It was right when her Lui cover story we did with Sorrenti had come out and it was blowing up Insta. So they kicked her off to make an example of her I guess. And I was thinking, how genius that she just got kicked off, and in a week we are going to do this dress that is going to be the most shared thing on Instagram for the year. I just knew it. And it happened like that. That was a moment I was making a statement. It really is insulting that a woman's nipples can't be on Instagram. It's really shocking, and it's really backwards. Look at American Vogue from the 80s for instance: there's boobs all over it. It's a woman's breast. It's not a big deal. So instead of writing #freethenipple I thought it was fun to explode the nipple all over Insta."

As Ottenberg notes, the sheer dress might not have been a perfectly calculated mockery of the app's retrogressive guidelines — clearly it was selected as The One before all the Lui brouhaha happened. Rather, the fact that Ottenberg didn't even mention to his client what effect her dress might have on the entire first world only confirms the age-old Rihanna Navy adage: "She doesn't give a fuck." Hence why her only regret in life is not pairing the dress with a bedazzled thong. 

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Text Hannah Ongley