Mel Ottenberg Takes Over Interview Magazine

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45-year-old fashion stylist Mel Ottenberg has dressed some of the world’s most influential celebrities (Rihanna and Justin Bieber) and has worked with the biggest brands (Dior, Nike, and Calvin Klein).

He has also been the creative director of Interview for the past three years. magazine is a jumbo newsprint book founded by Andy Warhol in 1969. This month, he was chosen as the next editor-in-chief.

I met my Greenwich Village neighbor, Mel, the other day to chat about her upcoming takeover at my Covid “office” (aka my favorite bench) in Washington Square Park. We nod under a big ginkgo tree where he lays out his plans to change everything and discusses how pop culture, celebrities, superficiality, entertainment and magazines fit into our new apocalyptic living paradigm.

So, Mel, you’re going to be the new editor-in-chief of Interview magazine in the craziest, most existential moment any of us has ever experienced. How does it feel to take over the management of such a historic pop-cultural platform?

I am very excited to continue this amazing legacy that I have loved since I can remember.

When Nick Haramis (former editor-in-chief) and you (as creative director) reinvented Interview three years ago, I loved what you did. The spirit of how you modernized it – the cultural mix, the fashion, the high-low glam-punk vibe, the wit, the casual way you cater to celebrities – spoke to me. Will we see a big change with your first issue in October?

Yeah! Now the world may be coming to an end, like, “Hey, let’s make a magazine when no one is looking at magazines anymore”. It’s fun because now you can do anything. I take risks and change jobs. I can surprise people. As the editor-in-chief, my mood will be about rapid change and taking risks.

Do oversized magazines fit the spirit of the times these days?

People ask, “Why is it so big?” When he says or I say “I don’t like size”, “This is newsprint! Just look, enjoy and recycle!”

What inspires you from the legacy of the interview?

Andy Warhol! And that energy that makes people want to be a part of our cool party. Different eras also inspire me: the 70s when Andy was in New York is everything to me, the glamor and excitement of the 80s, the 90s with Ingrid Sischy, covers, illustrations and a mix of superstars and nobody. All in a weird Cuisinart in my head.

my best friend Paige PowellHe used to work with Andy at the magazine in the ’80s, and he would always tell me how the most famous people stop by the factory for lunch. Everyone wanted to have lunch with Andy because they knew they could meet a great young artist, a duchess, or a hot-looking DJ. Paige was the most curated hostess of these meetings. He was always trying to sell ads, so he would invite a potential big-headed advertiser to lunch, too. Back then he would always get the ads. Andy loved it.

The reality of what Paige is talking about is something I absolutely aspire to and believe in. Our September issue has giant stars who are there because they want to have fun, be sexy, and have cool conversations.

I’ve never been a famous person. Our philosophy at Paper has always been to “see somebody like nobody and nobody like somebody else”. I think a lot of famous people like to be treated like normal people.

You have always worked with many famous people in your styling career. Do you think it is difficult for them to cope with the pandemic life?

This has been a time of real crisis for all people. People are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and being cancelled. They are afraid to go out and socialize. They are afraid of catching the virus. I feel like stars should call their broadcasters 40 times a day to find out what they’re going to do.

Something has changed with the power of celebrities. You can have hundreds of the world’s biggest celebrities support a candidate these days, and it doesn’t work. Are celebrities losing their water? Do people still care as much as they used to?

I feel that the cult of personality never ends. Hey, I’m still obsessed with Cardi B and look how electrified the world (including me) has become with Bennifer or Channing Tatum and Zoë Kravitz now resurgent as a new couple. People are like, “Thank God, we’re looking at paparazzi photos of celebrities again.”

Do you find celebrity egos a little suppressed because of all this? Are the stars acting a little less like a diva?

Yeah! I think they’re a little more human. I also think that celebrities are a little more open to being creative and daring.

Do you think these dark times have changed people’s relationship with the superficial – whether it’s celebrity, fashion, trends or materialism?

Despite all the heavy problems we face, I think people still want superficiality. See how Instagram has become everyone’s resume. Or the explosion of TikTok, a creative narcissistic void that I totally love. You can be very serious about what’s going on in the world but still love Bennifer. The interview will be a place where you can find very superficial things and very compelling thinking.

Are you going to the Met Ball? Will this time be any different from other Met Balls? In the midst of this Delta scare, will celebrities really join?

I’m not going but I heard a lot of influencers are going. The Met Ball has always meant a lot to me. When I die, they will remember everything I shaped.

One last question: what’s wrong with your Baz Bagel love? You put that cool little bagel place on Grand Street on the map. They even named a sandwich after you!

It’s a turkey Reuben, everything bagel on a pumpkin. As the new editor-in-chief of this American institution, I am equally proud to have a signed bagel sandwich.

The interview was arranged.

Kim Hasreiter, co-founder and editor of Paper magazine from 1984 to 2017, is writing two books and co-producing a film. Earlier this year, it ran a free newspaper called The New Now about creative New Yorkers during the pandemic.

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