Nicki Minaj in the Sunday Styles!!!!
PERHAPS it was the brightly colored surgical mask that covered Nicki Minaj’s pout at the MTV Video Music Awards last August. Or maybe it was the neon puffball tunic, which made her look as if she’d fallen into a bowl of Dippin’ Dots, that she wore to Carolina Herrera’s spring 2012 show in September. But few in 2011 could take their eyes off Ms. Minaj, the Technicolor Barbie with the big voice and an elastic smile.
Part sweet Lolita, part street-smart punk from Queens, Ms. Minaj has been the most talked-about young rapper to settle into the front row at New York Fashion Week since Marc Jacobs embraced Lil’ Kim as his muse in 2005. She is a sought-after cover girl, with spreads in Elle, Cosmopolitan and W magazine. Ms. Minaj sang hits from her debut album, “Pink Friday,” at recent shows for Victoria’s Secret and H&M. She could even claim Halloween last fall, judging from the scores of tutorials on YouTube for fans seeking her fluorescent look and ice cream swirl tresses.
A year ago, Ms. Minaj was making dresses for herself in her basement, said John Demsey, group president of Estée Lauder Companies, which owns MAC Cosmetics, the brand that worked with her on a lipstick. “Now the others want to get their hands on her.”
Those “others” are companies hoping to get in the Nicki Minaj business. And business is booming, thanks in part to Ms. Minaj’s behind-the-scenes moves. Like Lady Gaga before her, she wants to be a high priestess of style.
Last spring, she split with her manager, P. Diddy, and began working with the hip-hop veteran Gee Roberson and Cortez Bryant, who also manages Lil Wayne, the rapper who helped secure Ms. Minaj’s record deal in 2009 after hearing an early mixtape. A priority of his, Mr. Bryant said in a phone interview, is to negotiate a deal with a fashion house so Ms. Minaj can sell her own line of clothes. (She already has a nail-polish line with OPI.)
Some pop stars are born, others made, others spring fully formed from the Internet. Ms. Minaj, 29, whose birth certificate reads Onika Tanya Maraj, moved from Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, to Queens with her parents when she was 5.
As a young girl she loved music and drama, which seemed like an escape from a chaotic home life; she told Details magazine in 2010 that her father tried to burn the family’s Queens house down in an attempt to kill her mother. (Ms. Minaj declined to be interviewed for this article because, her publicist said, she was recording an album.)
She attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts and in 2007 began releasing digital mixtapes, including “Beam Me Up Scotty,” in 2009, which was well received in hip-hop circles. In September 2010, two months before her album debut, Ms. Minaj and executives associated with her record label, Young Money Entertainment, asked to meet with Mr. Demsey of MAC. Ms. Minaj got right to the point: she wanted to be the company’s Viva Glam spokeswoman. “She was fun and cute,” Mr. Demsey recalled. “She’s funny, loves makeup and has a mashup style between Vivienne Westwood and a Harajuku girl.”
But she wasn’t yet a star, so Mr. Demsey proposed an online lipstick promotion over four Fridays, timed to her album’s November release.
On Nov. 26, 2010, MAC introduced Ms. Minaj’s Pink Friday lipstick, selling all 3,000 in stock in 15 minutes, in addition to an eye-popping 27,000 in the next three weeks. The company spent little on advertising, Mr. Demsey said, with sales driven mostly by Ms. Minaj’s voluminous postings to fans via Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, 8 of 10 buyers were new to the MAC Web site.
“She is all about her brand and where she wants to go,” Mr. Bryant said.
As album sales took off (“Pink Friday” had its debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200), that brand began to expand. In late 2010, organizers for Christie’s Green Auction, a charity event in the coming March that was followed by a fashion show, were debating what entertainer would make a splash at the event. Vogue’s director of special events, Sylvana Ward Durrett, then suggested Ms. Minaj, saying she was “about to hit it big,” according to Glenda Felden, a communications director at the Web site Charitybuzz, who attended the planning meetings. (A publicist for Vogue declined to make executives available for comment.)
“Half of us were, like, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be great.’ The other half was, like, ‘Who?’ ” Ms. Felden said.
By early February, though, Ms. Minaj had sold more than 1 million albums, and fashion designers were beginning to take note. She was widely photographed prowling the red carpet at the Grammy Awards in a leopard-print bubble-skirted dress and matching leggings designed by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, and a Q-Tip shaped wig streaked with black.
Ms. Minaj does not have a full-time stylist, according to business associates, although she has worked with professionals for specific events; more commonly, her publicist will request outfits. She does have a full-time wigmaker, Terrence Davidson, whom she gave a shout-out to at the Billboard Women in Music luncheon last month.
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