Before we get started, tell us a bit about your role on tour with Rihanna.
I am part of Rihanna’s wardrobe team and have now completed four tours with her. In 2013 I did an American bus tour for three months with her. Then our crew traveled to Europe for another three month bus tour. We finished the year flying to places in Asia, South Africa, Dubai and many others. I traveled to 40 countries with Rihanna in 2013.
This year I was asked to come back and do wardrobe for Rihanna as she teamed up with Eminem for a short summer tour. The Monster Tour did 6 incredible shows and sold thousands of tickets. Those two together were incendiary. I was so grateful to be a part of something that was so massive and executed in such a short time. The people who work on these gigs are inspirational. Being able to watch this type of show built from the ground up is just like magic.
The Rihanna Wardrobe team were fortunate to be working very closely with Mel Ottenberg and Adam Selman, Rihanna’s personal stylists. They are the masterminds behind the punk rock, grunge inspired-look that Rihanna rocked during The Monster Tour. Being in the same room with them while they worked on creating these looks was an experience of a lifetime and I was trying so hard to keep my cool but I was completely twitter-pated.
The styling team offers many selections to Rihanna from their own personal collection and from other designers and she then chooses what she would like to wear for the shows. Once the outfit is chosen it is up to the wardrobe department to take care of the clothes. Rihanna wore many outfits on this tour but the background vocalists and the dancers had the same costume for every show. This requires much more attention from the wardrobe department because it is up to us to make sure that the costume looks brand new for every show.
My responsibility caring for the 10 dancers and 2 background vocalists (along with my side-kick, Jessica Valladares) required a large amount of prep work each show day. Some examples include color-coding all of my girls so that they are always guaranteed to get their own costume and undergarments every day without confusion. Their boots are carefully inspected and cared for before each show so that I know that they will be safe on stage. I build their dressing rooms and their quick change room under the stage as well. Once we get into an arena or stadium and the designated rooms have been assigned I am in charge of making them comfortable for the girls. I would work closely with the Backstage and Catering Department to get the things I need to make this happen. These people can completely transform a nasty locker room into a phenomenal and beautiful room equipped with new carpet, pipe and drape, furniture and lamps, etc. It is astounding to see the before and after process. I feel so inspired working with the people who are in charge of making legends like Rihanna and Jay Z feel comfortable no matter where they are.
Once the show starts I am under the stage with a large amount of our crew and performers. One thing that I never realized before working with concerts is the beautiful choreography that takes place under the stage as well as what the public gets to see from the performers. We are all in charge of making certain parts of the show work. You have to be on your toes at all times so that no one gets hurt. You have to know when the pyro is going off so that you don’t get burned, you have to know the performers cues so that you don’t run into anyone. There is so much going on under the stage during the show. I think that’s my favorite part.
On the last show of the tour a dancers kilt split open and there was a very short 90 second period where I was screaming on a walkie-talkie, had two people sprinting to bring a backup and had a seamstress under the stage with me to help me quickly tailor the kilt to the dancers waist size. It was hot and sweaty and so stressful and then we got her out with about 10 seconds to spare in full costume. It’s a wonderful rush! Immediate celebrating and dancing under the stage broke out between the crew as we wiped our sweaty brows. The wardrobe department is there for whatever the performer may need while preparing for show and during. If they go on stage without a perfect costume it’s our ass.
I remember on The Diamonds World Tour a beloved dancer tore her ACL during the New York show. I remember carrying her like a baby for as far as I could before I passed her off to another crew guy who carried her to the paramedic. We are a family and we are all there for each other. It’s magical because we all have the same goal too, which is to always have a perfect show. In fact, a common saying on the road is, “You’re only as good as your last show, so make it count.”
Were there any unique challenges to styling for a live production compared to styling for a photo shoot?
Always! Every article of clothing has to look good on stage but more importantly the performer needs to be able to move well in the clothing. The kilts worn on the dancers were creatively altered by the stylists to that they had a big slit up the side. This way the girls could move more freely on stage.
Often times on photo or video shoots, clothes can be damaged in some way, I imagine this chance is magnified when live performance is added to the mix. What do you do in the event that a dress is damaged when the artist will have another show to play in a matter of days?
On a tour of this magnitude there are duplicates offered. THANK GOODNESS! I would alternate every other day between the duplicate costumes. This way I could have the dirty clothes cleaned while the dancers performed and then the next day we would switch again. Luckily we also have access to a master seamstress for any major alterations needed before show.
What are some of the unique challenges or considerations when working with a celebrity compared to working with models?
When you work for a celebrity they are the boss. Models aren’t typically the boss unless you are working with Gisele or someone of that “Supermodel” status. Though you should always respect yourself and your work, you should also be able to make it very clear to your celebrity boss that you are there to accommodate them to your fullest ability. I personally would feel more comfortable giving instruction to a model than a celebrity.
Can you give any advice or tips for photographers, stylists, makeup artists, or hair stylists who aim to work with celebrities?
Don’t give up. I know it sounds mundane but it’s so important. I know how repetitive the constant struggle of self promotion goes. It gets old sometimes and it’s exhausting to constantly be promoting yourself and your work, but you have to do it because that’s the only way you will be seen. Keep trying to stand out and make yourself be known. Be humble and grateful and work hard and great things will start happening before you know it.
Are there any skills you’ve learned from styling for performances that you think will help you when working on still photo shoots or videos in the future?
There are one million things that I have learned in my short time of touring. I feel like it has made me a better person overall in many ways. I have learned so many tips and tricks about clothing and stage makeup, building sets, video content and sound. But beyond all of that I have become more confident within myself, which always translates better in a work setting.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Keep your head up! The 12-16 hour days get easier and though you’re submerged into a fast-paced world with a lot of responsibility on your hands, you are experiencing something that a rare few get to experience. Try not to get too wrapped up in all of the exciting social events around you because your work is more important and one can only burn the candle at both ends for so long. You’re no use if you’re too exhausted to work so get your sleep.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I mostly draw my inspiration from my little sisters. They make me want to work harder than I could ever imagine. They make me want to impress them constantly and show them that big things happen for those who show a humble heart and work hard. I also draw my inspiration from my talented friends in this industry. The art of a photographer or makeup artist or stylist or musician is so inspiring to me. I love more than anything to get a big group of us together and create something magical.
Though working on a concert tour is vastly different than working on a still or video shoot, Janelle’s unique work experience is incredibly valuable. In our line of work, there are many times where you will be forced to work quickly under pressure as Janelle has clearly learned to do with in working on tour with Rihanna. It is also not uncommon for the fashion world and celebrity world to cross paths in many ways, so knowing how to work with a celebrity, knowing how to work quickly and efficiently, and how to problem solve are crucial skills. We appreciate Janelle taking time out from her incredibly hectic touring schedule to chat with us about her work.
Photos in the body are all provided by Janelle.