Kollin Carter met Cardi B in May of 2017 on the set of her very first magazine cover shoot, The Fader’s June issue. As someone who has made a name for himself as an editorial stylist, Carter assumed this shoot would be just like any other. “I love drama and luxury, and I style editorial photo shoots because they always include those two elements,” Carter told Billboard. “When I met Cardi, I could tell we would work well together because of that.”
Of course, that was before “Bodak Yellow” was released. And before Cardi became the second female rapper ever to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 without any collaborators (men included).
By mid-July, the Bronx-born and raised rapper’s breakout hit was rising on the charts, raking in 24.5 million U.S. streams in the week ending Aug. 3. She walked the carpet at the BET Awards and then was tapped to host and perform at the MTV VMAs where her performance outfit—a pair of $11,000 Balenciaga heeled boots and a custom crystal bodysuit–and her first “almost nip slip” immediately went viral. There was her engagement to Migos’ Offset, half a dozen New York Fashion Week front rows to attend, and extravagant parties and performances with fashion friends; Nicki Minaj at Phillip Plein, a stint at Alexander Wang’s It-girl #Wangfest in Brooklyn with the likes of Kim Kardashian West and Gigi Hadid, to name a few. There was Rihanna’s third annual Diamond Ball where, taking an unintentional cue from Disney, she showed up in an almost-replica of Cinderella’s gown by Christian Siriano, with two maidens (aka carpet production assistants) in tow, trailing behind her holding up the larger than life skirt.
It’s a rags to riches story; Bronx stripper to luxury fashion icon, red bottom Louboutins instead of a glass slipper. All in one summer.
We spoke to Cardi’s Fairy Godmother, her stylist Kollin Carter, about working with the rapper to create a lightning-fast style transformation, what’s up with that elusive Steve Madden collaboration rumor, and of course, how many red bottoms she actually owns.
So take us back to when your partnership first began.
After we shot The Fader cover in May, she asked me to help her do the BET Awards red carpet and we’ve been together ever since. Right now, I do anything she’s going to be photographed for; red carpets, award shows, Fashion Weeks. She still does her own day to day, so when you see her in a bodycon dress in the club, that’s still all her [laughs].
Her style seems to have transformed so drastically in only a few months. The VMAs, for example, was a moment when it really felt like something had shifted for Cardi aesthetically.
I truly, deep down believe she’s always been a fashion girl. She was born and raised in NYC and that automatically comes with a sense of style and a sense of, I hate to use this word, but “swag”. New Yorkers carry themselves in a certain way. I think it just took someone to bring that out of her and refine it a bit. Coming from an editorial world, I always want to do the opposite of what people expect. For Cardi, everyone is going to expect super sexy and a deep plunge and a split. But I’m trying to steer away from the predictable; she’s not a normal rapper and she shouldn’t have to dress like one. I think that’s what people are really enjoying right now.
It sounds kind of like a Selena Gomez style revamp, when she went from Disney star to sophisticated fashion icon almost overnight. What did that revamp mean for Cardi?
I took everything that was graphic in her closet and got rid of it. Loud prints, the graffiti, overwhelming patterns. I wanted to go in a direction where we did things that were minimal and monochromatic and get rid of anything that competed with her personality. She has so much personality and enough confidence and curves that to do something simple and monochrome won’t look simple and monochrome on her.
Also, maximizing on minimalism was a big step in the process. You know, saying, “maybe we don’t have to do this crazy shoe with that crazy skirt and a crazy top. Maybe we just do this crazy shoe with something more monochromatic.” I just love the idea of having her look super duper clean and the opposite of a “normal” hip hop girl.
The Christian Siriano gown she wore to Rihanna’s Diamond Ball was probably the farthest you could’ve gone from traditional urban.
So I knew this was her first Diamond Ball and it’s funny because when I saw the dress, I asked my team if this was too much. If this was crazy; I wanted to do way too much but I didn’t want it to be received as way too much. I knew that I wanted her to stand out since she is the breakout star of summer 2017. The thought was to make sure she was giving them this moment and saying, “I am the unapologetic breakout star of the year and I know it and you do too.” Even if she’s not talking, that dress gave the direct message of speaking and staying true to who Cardi is. She’s uncensored, bold and unapologetic.
That gown was kind of an enigma. On the one hand, it said, “I’m bold and fabulous and don’t give a fuck,” but on the other, it was quite literally a Disney Princess gown; the pop culture manifestation of censored, quiet and well-behaved.
Totally. When I was looking for a dress, this one was just the one I gravitated towards because it was dramatic and she was attending a ball. I honestly didn’t even realize how Cinderella it was until we did the fitting. Right then, everything made so much sense. We chose a dress, without even realizing it, that essentially told her history; It’s a hip-hop Cinderella story, she’s from rags to riches. She grew up in the Bronx and despite it all, this bold girl who used to dance made it. It’s crazy to see that that message stood out to everyone too, and people everywhere understood it.
Of course, that ball followed the nip slip incident, which was one for the books. We didn’t have time to do a full fitting for her presenter dress and I was a bit nervous about that gown because it was off the shoulder and had a silk drape on it. I was in our trailer, watching the TV and just saw it slowly, slowly slipping. Then they cut to someone else, come back and she’s holding her boob. Obviously, we were all freaking out. She came back into the trailer and was like, “oh that was so bad! It kept falling!” and I was like, “no, you looked amazing! And handled it so well.” We went online to see what people were saying and immediately everyone was loving it, saying it was like we were trying to do an Anna Nicole Smith homage or something. Hilarious; we couldn’t believe it.
So what’s up with the rumors surrounding this Steve Madden collaboration potentially in the works. Can you confirm or deny that?
I cannot confirm or deny anything with that collaboration yet, but I’m pretty sure everyone will know soon. Steve Madden is a brand that really hits home for her. If you didn’t have a pair of Steve Madden shoes, your sister did. If you didn’t have a sister, your brother probably had a pair on the low. If she is doing a collaboration with them, and again, I’m not confirming or denying anything, it almost feels like she’s giving back to her community. There are so many girls who can’t buy Louboutins but they want to get the Cardi look, and there are so many girls from her neighborhood who, for them, Steve Madden is the shoe. To work with them means she made it.
Speaking of Louboutins, how many pairs of “red bottoms” does she actually have?
She has to have over 90 pairs. The first time I was ever introduced to her shoe closet was in May, and at that point, she was running up on about 50 or 60 pairs (almost all are in size 36.5). And now…now she usually buys a pair or two every couple of weeks. Where she’s from, when girls are ready to get dressed up that’s what you wear. And in real life, before ‘Bodak’ blew up, she wore red bottoms because that’s what it means to make it in the Bronx. It’s a status symbol that the masses can relate to; everyday girls work hard and save up their money to have that shoe. Cardi did the same.
Last pair she bought?
We just bought a pair a week ago. It’s like this sleek, super chic black velvet thigh high (called the Classe Velvet 100m). It’s super sexy. Every couple of weeks she sees another pair or I see another pair and we’re like okay this is one that we need. Another pair we just got is called “The Crystal Queen”. It’s a double strap nude sandal, but the whole strap is full of ice crystals. I think she is conscious with her money, but…There’s a line in ‘Bodak Yellow’: “Hit the store, I can get ’em both/ I don’t wanna choose.” I’ve seen that first hand; she doesn’t have to choose anymore.