Along with her sharp lyricism and quirky personality, Doja Cat has captured the attention of the music world with her daring sense of style. The Los Angeles rapper’s eye for unorthodox looks that proudly puts her curves on display — as seen in her recent ’70s disco-inspired “Say So” video — has transformed her into one of fashion’s newest stars.
Doja discovered her love for fashion around age 9, when she used to create her own magazines with stapled computer paper and dress in her mother’s clothes. “I would get in trouble for s–t that I would wear at school,” she tells Billboard. “I was once sent home for putting glitter on my face — it was so crazy. I didn’t give a s–t about school; all I cared about was wearing a cool outfit every day, dancing and music.”
That rebellion is partly what catapulted her career, and Brett Alan Nelson is helping to bring Doja’s vision to life. The renowned stylist grew up as a theater kid in a small Missouri town, where he played with Barbies and loved the idea of costumes seen in musicals such as Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Growing up, being gay or dressing outlandish or weird was really frowned upon,” he explains. “So seeing something like that was exciting. It was freaky and I like freaky things! But I never knew I could really make a career out of it.”
Nelson later moved to Los Angeles to do visual merchandising for an urban streetwear store, where he soon met a stylist who introduced him to that exciting world. After establishing his name dressing the likes of Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, Snoh Aalegra, Charli XCX and Kylie Jenner, Nelson got a call from Doja’s team, who were looking for a stylist for her appearance at the 2019 BET Awards.
“I was so excited because I mostly work with women because I can have more fun with them. I never met her but I knew of [the viral ‘Mooo’ single] and obviously searched her Instagram,” Nelson recalls. “We just talked on the phone for an hour about ideas as I was standing outside the gym. She told me she really liked pink and cats, so [the awards show] was a fun one and it’s been nonstop since then.”
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The pair’s workflow resembles a sibling relationship; they send each other mood boards based on Doja’s songs and debate whether various looks are too out there. “When we bicker, that’s where the good s–t comes from,” says Doja. “He’ll make me wear a lampshade on my head and I’ll be like, ‘I never ever wanted to do that!’ But for some reason, I end up liking it. He makes me step outside the box.”
She continues: “I know exactly what colors and textures I want to work with. My grandma was in textiles and my mom makes men’s clothing so she’s on Photoshop all day, so she taught me all about different fabrics. I’ll tell Brett what I want and he’ll sketch what exactly I had in my mind in, like, 30 seconds — it’s the craziest thing.”
Like Doja, Nelson is drawn to powerful women who aren’t afraid to take risks — both in music and personal style. “I’m not the guy you call for a T-shirt and jeans. They’re plenty of people who can do that, but I’m not gonna waste my time,” he explains. “I like to create characters and [looks] that are new and fresh. Especially with Doja, I want people to watch [her videos] and recreate the outfits because they’re that good. And we see it happening. It’s fun to watch because it’s all derivative from her blowing up.”
Below, both Doja Cat and Nelson break down the inspiration behind some of their most eye-popping outfit collaborations.
Cherries on Top (“Juicy” music video)
Nelson: I’ve learned a lot from [photographer and director] David LaChapelle — I’ve worked with him for several years. Him and Lil’ Kim created that [avant-garde female rapper] style together.
Doja and Jack [Begert] both directed the video, and they had an idea of the setups they wanted. But we turned out so many more looks than what we were supposed to. I was working with kind of a small budget for this video. I knew we needed another look, so I thought to make an over-budget look.
I took the Supreme logo and changed it to say “Over Budget.” I put it with a bunch of diamonds, and then she put the cherry [headpiece] on because we didn’t have that setup at that point. I was making a joke by saying to the label, “I need more money.” [laughs] Supreme is obviously this very expensive streetwear brand that really isn’t worth what it is, so I wanted to make a jab at streetwear but also do something fun and quirky that felt like her.
Doja Cat: I think that’s everyone’s favorite look, between this and the watermelon one. I wanted every color of the rainbow, so I needed purple for grape, red for apples or cherries … I like kiwi and I think it’s a beautiful color. Watermelon is a different type of green, but it felt easier because it’s more visual.
Millenial Sk8er Boi (“Bottom Bitch” music video)
Nelson: I saw that GCDS dress on the runway and thought it was f–king cool. Doja came from that male-heavy, Blink-182 skateboarding world. [Editor’s Note: “Bottom Bitch” samples Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?”] My era of that music was Avril [Lavigne] and that female angst punk-pop music. So I see things like that spiderweb dress and I want to take it away from that tomboy element and do something that felt a little sexier.
Doja Cat: There’s the skater look [in the video] with the Dickies in the skate park. Do you want to tell her what happened?
Nelson: Dickies originally gave me logo clearance and they’re a very church-going, Trump-supporting, Texas-based company. They thought Doja was too sexy for their brand. I said, “You literally approved your logo with me. I made a custom outfit.” Because if you approve your logo, I don’t have to tell you what I’m doing — like Nicki Minaj and the Fendi print. I didn’t tell [the Italian fashion house] about that. They were pissed, but now look — she’s got a collaboration with them.
But Dickies took that away from me, so I wanted to take a jab at them. So the night before, I colored out the “-IES” and colored in where the horseshoe is. Her whole entire outfit just said “d–k.” You can’t see it, but I asked legal what we can get away with. They said if we changed the logo at least 50 percent, then it’s fine.
Doja makes so many sexual innuendos here and there in her music. There’s a quirkiness that’s very intelligent behind what she does, so it’s nice to do little tricks … d–ks. [laughs]
Doja Cat: And these kind of things just happen! We didn’t know. Those looks are things I would wear again in my everyday life.
Billboard reached out to Dickies for a comment and received the following: “Dickies did initially speak to Brett when he reached out to use the logo, but Brett’s team never provided a clear letter of intent to use the logo, as requested by Dickies. There were no further conversations after that. Dickies respects Doja Cat’s artistry, and is happy she is also a fan of the brand and wishes her much success.”
Not Your Average Housewife (Hot Pink album promotion)
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Y’all, need some dick trimming – @dojacat – 1800-Cock-Trim. AstroTurf look and gloves designed in collaboration with @oscarutierre – shoes by my queen @kiragoodeyfootwear x @m.denood and jewerly by @shopdalmata from @blk_pr – shot by @vijatm – make up by @mugopus and hair by @iam_whatshername_ #dojacat #doja #cock #trimming
Nelson: I kind of remember you saying you want a gardening outfit …
Doja Cat: I wanted something made out of something I shouldn’t be wearing, something surreal like grass or leaves.
Nelson: “I want a bikini made out of Astroturf” is what you said. We saw the creative [outline] and she was doing lawn work. Everything felt a little housewife-y. There’s a guy who’s made a couple of costumes for us, his name is Oscar Utiérre — he and I collaborated on this look together. I’m surprised it came out as well as it did because it’s all Astroturf. And the shoe is crazy; it’s a metal cage spiked into the ground.
Doja Cat: And it was so heavy. It’s like the weight of my leg.
Nelson: The gloves she’s wearing are real gardening gloves that we ripped from one pair and custom-made a new one. It’s a very David LaChapelle shot.
Doja Cat: I didn’t know they were going to put the penises in the back until I got on set. I was like, “Oh, those are balls, there’s the shaft … and now they’re trimming the head.” I love it and I’m happy I did it!
Giddy Up (“Rules” music video)
Doja Cat: “Rules” has this Western thing going on, so we immediately thought of the desert. We didn’t want to do a cowboy look because it’s too obvious. So we went with a ’70s pimp because it’s a bit similar. We still put the little spurs on the back of the shoes. And I had a pimp hat, but I’m Doja Cat so we put ears on it.
Nelson: We also wanted to do something different because so many people in the rap world have done that Western theme, with Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Nas X. We didn’t want to ride their coattails. We wanted to be in the realm, but also in our own world.
Doja Cat: The snakeskin look was a continuum of me wearing cow print and eating a burger [in the “Moo” video]. Now it’s me holding a snake and I’m wearing his uncle, you know? People were making that joke a lot and I thought it was pretty funny.
Nelson: We almost didn’t get to shoot that look because we were running really behind in the day. We were in the desert and you know you only have so much time once the sun goes down. We got one shot of the snake wrapped around you, but I wanted one of you standing up because [the look] was so hot! Thankfully we got, like, three shots.
For this album cycle, I wanted to keep pushing her with her a– out. In the world that we live in right now, everyone’s mind is a bit shaken about what real beauty is because it’s all fake. Like, the perfect body is a Kardashian body. Doja is all real. I think it’s so funny that these girls are getting their bodies made to look like her. She’s a thick girl, and I like showing that. It feels hard, like a rap b—h that no one can f–k with.
Doja Cat: There’s girls who can’t get their bodies done. Honestly, it’s dangerous and sometimes not the best for you — some people go to the wrong person. So to have somebody to look up to who has a real body … well we had Beyoncé. But I would’ve loved to have more women like that to look up to as a kid, because then I could’ve been like, “I’m great!” But I always wondered when I looked at other people thinking, “D–n, I’m never gonna look like that.” I also love my body and I like to use it. And [Brett] puts cute s–t on it and he cuts out the butt cheeks.
Nelson: It’s a good a–!
Fembot Takeover (“Cyber Sex” music video)
Nelson: The wire look was also a last-minute one. To be completely honest, I forgot about it. [laughs] There was the whole computer board room and I only remembered the day before we shot it. The gloves were so cool — there were made out of computer wires and she was flipping them around.
Doja Cat: There were sharp edges I was rubbing up against. Circuit boards are NOT like a blanket in any form. The most uncomfortable part was the headpiece. I’m already wearing a hat [her wigs] all the time, so putting another one over it was really difficult. So I used my face and arms to make it more animated so it looked like there was more movement. And at the last minute, Brett put an Apple charger around my neck.
Nelson: We just wanted a sexy lingerie moment that felt futuristic. You can’t really tell, but the nipples were pierced and the bikini was all metal. The same guy who made the wig actually chromed out a bra and bikini for me.
“Hi, Puddin! Miss Me?” (“Boss Bitch” music video)
Nelson: I saw that designer post the belts and I thought, “That’s our look” and I sent it to Doja. We honestly had other options, but we knew collectively that was it. The shoes in the video, I pulled them out of a Spanish museum that was doing a sex and leather exhibition. When she would walk, the skulls’ mouths would open. They cost me an arm and a leg to get them, but they were so perfect.
We knew this soundtrack would have a lot of women and I guessed a bunch of them would be doing videos. So I wanted to stay away from what we know of Harley Quinn and do something that felt like Doja as Harley. She’s also wearing earrings that have little black-and-white babies — a fan gave her those on stage the night before. It was so cute.
It was a very Fifth Element, Versace moment. Oscar, the designer who made the grass look, actually made this for us too. She just wanted something hard that felt very Halle Berry as Catwoman, but also very The Matrix.
Getting Naughty (2020 AVN Awards)
Doja Cat: I hid the entire time! I stayed in my dressing room and had a single nasty oyster. But it was cool. There were a lot of creepy guys and hot naked girls just walking around as they looked at them. So I thought, “I could either be part of this or just literally eat all day and dress up in my room.”
Nelson: I basically asked her, “Doja, do you know what a merkin is? [laughs] I was like, “It’s a p–sy wig!”
Doja Cat: I liked that, though, because I have a landing strip — it’s not anyone’s business. But you can put that in! I connected that to [the bodysuit]. I mean, I don’t have that much hair, not to get into too much detail. [laughs] But it was perfect because it covers everything up, but it was so porn and so AVN.
Nelson: She was completely naked under that. I did a little bit of padding because you can’t be flying in the wind at the AVN Awards. But that’s the one thing you said, “I want to be really sexy.” I said: “Well let’s make you naked!” We were getting to roll into “Say So,” which is really ’70s.
Doja Cat: It could’ve went to my leg, which would’ve been very naked. But [the flared bottom] turned it into an outfit.
Nelson: I’m also so inspired by Bob Mackie and Jean-Paul Gaultier, where they pull in something that has an element of disco. We took away a lot of the feathers that would’ve been there and like a thousand more crystals, but it’s such a Cher moment. We try to keep the girls wanting more.