Nicki Minaj warned the world she had time yesterday (February 3rd), and she put those spare minutes to use by taking on high-end shoe designer Giusseppe Zanotti for refusing to take her calls about a potential collaboration.
The Queens rapper ended her blast of tweets by saying Zanotti’s refusal to pay or work with her was rooted in sexism. And while that may be part of the reason, it’s also likely her status as both a female of color and a rapper was problematic for the Italian designer.
The storm started with Minaj tweeting she had met Zanotti “years ago” and he let her know he had named a shoe after her. And indeed, up until yesterday (more on that later), the label’s site offered an entire range of “Nicki” sneakers. Taking note of recent celebrity collaborations, Minaj had her management reached out to Zanotti about the possibility of working together, which Minaj said was shut down by a representative for Zanotti.
Minaj went on to tweet, “Just go on google, you’ll see all the different pairs he’s named after me. Lil black girl can inspire u but ain’t worth a collection my nig?” Rallying her loyal band of Barbz, she was able to get #giuseppewhatsgood trending globally on Twitter. In a moment of high pettiness, Zanotti stayed silent, and made a different sort of statement by removing all the Nicki sneakers from his site.
Minaj framed the problem as women not being paid for their time and brought up the issue of pay for Hollywood actresses versus actors, and wrote, “Scarlett [Johansson] spoke on her pay vs. her male co-stars & was shamed by other women as well. WakeUp! This is our work place! Just like u have yours!”
Scarlett spoke on her pay vs. her male co-stars & was shamed by other women as well. WakeUp! This is our work place! Just like u have yours!
— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) February 3, 2017
Minaj is 100 percent correct that women are under-compensated for their work contributions whether at a paying job or managing a home, but the additional layer is the glass ceiling that exists for the acceptance of female rappers, especially of color, within the fashion world.
While Minaj has busted through a female rapper ceiling for fashion magazines with Elle, Teen Vogue, GQ and Allure magazine covers (and let us take a moment to applaud her for that, though #whatsgoodvogue), she hasn’t been able to land the same caliber of prestige fashion collaborations and ad campaigns of fellow island girl Rihanna, whose list includes Manolo Blahnik, Puma, Stance, Dior, Balmain, MAC, Armani and Cartier.
She also comes in under fellow New Yorkers Jennifer Lopez, who has worked with Giuseppe Zanotti. Gucci, L’Oréal and Louis Vuitton, and Lady Gaga, who can claim Tiffany, Tom Ford, Versace, MAC, Gucci, Shiseido, Thierry Mugler and Supreme. All three have collaborated with big volume retailers: Rihanna with River Island, Lopez with Kohl’s, and Gaga with H&M.
Minaj is not without prestige fashion associations and has done campaigns with MAC, Roberto Cavalli and Adidas. She also collaborated with big-box retailer KMart. However, given her following and known love of luxury fashion and a commitment to always showing out with a gorgeous ensemble on the red carpet, her list is weirdly thin compared with her peers who have a similar reputation.
One could argue that Beyoncé‘s fashion list isn’t exactly amazing (Ivy Park, H&M, L’Oreal, Emporio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, House of Deréon), though in her case it appears once she cut ties in 2011 with her father as a manager, she began to pick and choose her brand associations much more carefully with the expectation of either a massive paycheck like the $50 million she garnered from Pepsi or partial ownership as is the case with Ivy Park.
Could it be Minaj lacks the same level of influence of her peers? Hardly. Minaj clocks in with 73.1 million Instagram followers versus Rihanna with 48.6, Lopez with 57.7, Lady Gaga with 21.3 and is only shy of Beyoncé’s following of 93.6 million. Plus, Minaj is just coming out of a year in which she headlined a successful global tour in support of her highly-charted The Pinkprint album.
Any push back that Minaj misses out because the genre of rap is viewed as problematic for brands falls flat when one looks on the other side of the aisle. As unpredictable and off script as male rapper Kanye West has been known to be, he can still claim a massive collaborative deal with Adidas that includes back-end payment, plus he has worked with Balmain, APC, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Bape and yes, even Giusseppe Zanotti.
Even if one could argue that West has a top of the pyramid fashion status akin to Rihanna, there’s also A$AP Rocky with Dior, Adidas, JW Anderson, Raf Simons, DKNY, Guess, Salvatore Ferragamo and All Saints. Meanwhile, music and fashion mogul Pharrell, who owns his own label, Billionaire Boys Club, and 50 percent of G-Star, has more fashion campaigns and collaborations than Ye and A$AP combined.
Then again, at least Minaj has deals. Between Remy Ma and Cardi B, both of whom had a very relevant 2016, the only fashion sponsorship they landed was with with Fashion Nova. And though 2016 was a breakout year for Young M.A. she garnered no love from the fashion world at all. Meanwhile, newbie male rapper Lil Yachty was not only tapped by Alexander Wang for a campaign, but is collaborating on a collection with Nautica.
Part of the issue for female rappers is of course color. Before Iggy Azealia fell off the face of the earth, vis-a-vis her white-woman passport she landed deals with H&M, Steve Madden, Levi’s, Revolve and Bonds. None of them high status, but still, that’s more sauce than all three of the aforementioned (much more talented) female rappers combined.
One has to conclude that fashion labels want to be down with the bravado and swagger of rap as it relates to males, but find the assertive and independent image black female rappers project as out of sync with their more fragile standards of beauty and femininity. It’s okay for women to seem strong, yes, just not powerful.
In the end, Minaj and all over female rappers are fighting multiple fronts. On top of battling for recognition as women within a genre that has never been female friendly (though rock ‘n’ roll as a format was just as bad), as women of color they’re also dealing with unfriendly standards of beauty and behavior.
As it often is, the high-end fashion world is dead wrong to freeze out Minaj and other top female rappers. It’s a very new world out there, one in which powerhouse Michelle Obama is beloved and arm piece archetype Melania Trump is not only reviled, but can barely get anyone to dress her.
And in case anyone needs a reminder, Minaj laid it all out very neatly in the intro (watch it below) to a performance just before the election when she poured her entire soul into an attempt to avert a disaster aka Donald Trump being elected president.
Like Minaj said, don’t be so fucking weak, fashion, and have the audacity NOT to be intimidated by queens.