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August 1 2014

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Nicki Minaj’s Styling Team on the Star’s New Toned-Down, Fashion-Heavy Look

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Since exploding onto the rap scene with a huge verse on Kanye West’s 2010 hit “Monster,” Nicki Minaj has continuously upped the sartorial ante, one neon wig and salacious outfit at a time. While settling into her latest character, however, as Lydia in The Other Woman—a next-generation First Wives Club costarring Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, and Leslie Mann—she switched stylistic gears and debuted what might be her most surprising look yet: a toned-down Nicki. “You can either continue doing costumes or you can just say, ‘Hey, guess what? This will shock them even more. Doing nothing will shock them even more,” she said in a recent interview with MTV News.

So Minaj has returned to her natural roots—literally—and abandoned her Technicolor wardrobe in favor of muted dresses by Alexander McQueen, with help from her stylists, Jerod McClairn and Nonja McKenzie, known as McClairn & McKenzie. We caught up with the pair over the phone to talk about Minaj’s recent evolution; the Moschino looks in her latest video for her collaborative track with Tyga, “Senile”; and the strong women who inspire her style.

How long have you been working with Nicki?
Jerod McClairn: A year and a half. We were part of her style transition from the colorful wigs and the costumes to a more streamlined, high-fashion look. I started working with her three weeks after she started doing American Idol. She was between stylists.

2014 MTV Movie Awards - ArrivalsWhat kind of direction did Nicki give you?

JM: Her team really didn’t give me direction. They sent me her itinerary for a radio promo in New York City. One of my concerns was I wasn’t confident that I could do the costumes she was accustomed to doing, but they assured my agent that I should do what comes naturally [when] looking at her schedule, so that’s what I did. I basically tapped into my vision of her, and it worked. At that particular time I thought she should have a much more modern silhouette—luxurious, someone who is embracing high fashion.

The project after that was for a Christmas party in NYC and a New Year’s Eve party in Las Vegas. So I pulled her dress options and great knit leggings, a Balmain jacket, just a high-fashion version of herself—a lot of color, everything was pretty close to the body. The creative direction at that time was high-fashion streetwear. From there, her style had an organic evolution.

She’s had so many different phases. What do you think is the core of her personal style?

JM: A lot of people ask what the inspiration is, and she’s the inspiration. The inspiration comes from how she feels as a woman and an artist, her third album, her first movie. It’s a reflection of where Nicki is on her journey as an artist. She has so many different facets to her career. She’s a businesswoman. She has a fragrance. She has the number one Moscato in the country. She’s a music artist. She’s an actress. She has so many different dimensions to her career, and her evolving style is a reflection of all those things. Nicki is sexy. She is bold. She is courageous. She has a certain strength in whatever it is that she does.

Nonja McKenzie: But she also has a softness and femininity that I think is coming out.

JM: Yes, and I also think that she’s at a point where she’s tapping into her strength as a woman because she’s strong enough and secure enough with who she is to reveal her more vulnerable, softer side.

What was the impetus behind her most recent style transformation into this very toned-down, natural look?JM: That is just a reflection of who she is as an actress, which is more stripped-down, more toned-down, more natural.

So her style changes based on the different types of events she has in her life?
JM & NM: Absolutely.

NM: Each project is different, and before we get engaged in the project, we always have to gauge from her on how she feels. She gives us direction on how she feels, and then we respond.

JM: She either approves it or says, “I feel better like this. More of that. Too much of this,” so on, so forth. She gives us her critique and that gives us the direction we need. It’s a collaboration, but the inspiration comes from Nicki.

One of the greatest things about her style is that she does have a very present sexuality, but it’s not intimidating. In a way, it’s tempered because she is one of the few girls in a boy’s world, in rap.

JM: Exactly. Her sexuality is tempered with a certain amount of sophistication and elegance.

NM: It’s a little sexy macho. It still has a degree of strength.

JM: Nicki is a rapper, so there is a certain amount of pomp and braggadociousness.

What was the concept behind her look for the “Senile” video?
JM: We kind of came up with a sexy chola girl who could fit in with the boys but was still very classy and high fashion. It’s an extreme version of Nicki. She is the woman, so she’s always the crown jewel—especially of the Young Money crew. Jeremy [Scott] was very instrumental in helping us create both of those looks. We reached out to him, and he came up with pieces specifically for the video, like the black-and-gold corset and panty and the Moschino bra and custom underwear.

Did you consider if there’d be any backlash from her chola look?
JM: It’s paying homage to the chola style. Nicki embodied it amazingly. It was a glamorizing and acknowledgement of that culture, which in my opinion is a compliment.

What is her relationship like with other designers?
JM: We have a great relationship with Hervé Léger. Nicki loves Roberto Cavalli. We’re in the process of cultivating relationships with them and a number of other brands as well. She also loves Balmain and Versace. One of her favorites right now is Alexander McQueen. She recognizes that it really works for her body, and one of the things she likes about it is how their cuts elongate her body. She finds that very flattering and appealing. That’s one of the things she’s noted about his designs.

What’s your favorite look you’ve put together for her?
JM & NM: The “Lookin Ass” video.

JM: My favorite is the first outfit, where she’s wearing the archive Moschino chain jacket with all of the layered jewelry and her hair pulled up in a chignon. I love the look. I love the fact that it was shot in black and white, which makes it iconic.

NM: I love both of the looks for that video. She had her Naomi Campbell moment.

Photo: Getty Images

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