Kollin Carter, Cardi B.'s stylist, hasn't had a day off in what feels like forever. Wearing a white slicker-style raincoat with its collar popped, he's just touched down from an overnight flight to NYC from London and settles into his seat at a coffee shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, excitedly launching into what a whirlwind his job styling the breakout hip-hop star has turned into.
Carter, 27, says he's "always told myself make the impossible possible somehow [for my clients]." It's a lesson he learned from his former boss, Law Roach, who works with A-listers like Celine Dion, Zendaya, and Demi Lovato.
"I remember one day [Law] told me to find a [fitted Yankees] hat for Zendaya," he says. "I had 15 minutes to do it, and the [closest place selling the hats was 15 minutes away]. By the time I got back to the hotel, he was already gone. When she made the appearance she had the hat."
He still doesn't know how Zendaya ended up with the hat, but he remembers the sit-down he got afterwards. "He said, 'Just so you know, I could never go to my client and say, 'Oh well we don't have the hat because Kollin couldn't get the hat.'" Carter says. Law continued, "'Nobody cares about how long it takes or how much trouble you have to go through to get it. People only want the end result. You have to be a magician.'"
He worked for Law for three years, learning many lessons, before striking out on his own. Here, he discusses fashion process with Cardi B., how political she gets with her outfits, and why diversity in the fashion industry is about more than just seeing an inclusive runway.
How did you start working with Cardi B.?
I had a friend in PR at Atlantic Records, Ashley, who I met when I worked with an artist named Justine Skye — she was my first client. [Justine and I] ended up parting ways, but Ashley at Atlantic was just like, 'You are special. I'm gonna find someone for you one day.' At the time, I had even kind of given up on celebrity [styling] but Ashley called me and she was just like, 'I have someone for you. It's Cardi B.' This was before the single ['Bodak Yellow']. It was spring of 2017. [Styling Cardi] was different from who I worked with in the past, and who I [thought] I would take on as a muse for me. My first job with her was the cover of Fader, and it went great. We vibed, we connected.
How has her access to designers changed since the release of "Bodak Yellow"?
I feel it grow every day. Most definitely it has changed from the beginning until now. Roberto Cavalli just started lending. Versace has been lending the past couple of times. Certain names are finally coming around, because they [are starting to] get [her star power]. But we still have a lot more designers [who] need to become believers.
Did you ever have a hard time getting brands to lend to you?
There was definitely a point [when I first started styling her]where the responses [from brands] weren't as good. I would loop back around and just say like, 'Can I ask you why? I want to know why — is she not your typical muse? Is it the event?' Sometimes you have to be a little aggressive and pry: 'Why are there no samples available at this time?' There's nothing wrong with that. I'm always gonna push for the thing that I feel would work best for her. You know, in a very nice way.
Has fashion always been your calling?
I've always had a vision, I could look at [an outfit] and critique it, know whether I like it, or didn't, what I would do differently. But it wasn't until my freshman year of college [at Jackson State, in Mississippi], when I was 17, that I realized, like, [styling] is something that people do for a living.
Can we talk about Cardi's Cinderella moment — that Christian Siriano gown — at the Diamond Ball in September?
He has always been someone who has supported her. We [Cardi, her team, and I]wanted her to have a princess moment, and I wanted it to be dramatic. The night before, we went to his studio and we had a fitting. Then he was just like, "Well, I just want to add a little more tulleing.You guys are going to love it." The next day, his assistants came to drop off the dress, and it took three girls even to bring it up! Honestly, it was about five times bigger [than when we tried it on].
Was it hard to move?
Getting her around — she couldn't even fit in the [car]. We had to let down the back seats of the SUV and pick her up and sit her in it. It wasn't functional at all [laughs], but it was a moment that everybody seemed to love. When we got there, it took me, both of my assistants and her hair stylist to actually get her out of the car and pick her up and put her on the ground.
Did Rihanna say anything about the dress?
I know afterward she [told Cardi], "Whoever styled you is killing it." I was like, "Oh my God. I need to go somewhere and just cry." I was like, OK, I'm done.
Does Cardi ever push back on you with styling choices, or do you always agree?
Cardi most definitely has a sense of style. She has her own vision, and I have mine. Sometimes I have to come in and say, "Let's try something new, let's step out of the box." But sometimes she does that with me, too. One of the key things I've learned, though, is only to pull things that I want to see her in. Because there may be things that I pull, and she's like, "Oh my God, I love this." It's her favorite thing on the rack and I'm like, "Oh my God, why did she go with this?"
What kinds of outfits does she like to wear?
Cardi is a woman, and naturally she wants to be sexy. But if it was up to me, I feel like you can be sexy with a turtleneck on. Sometimes she'll gravitate toward something a little more sexy than I would normally style. I try to sit back and just find that balance, because this is a woman with an amazing body, and she does want to show off her curves. There's nothing wrong with that.
Is there something she never wants to put on?
Cardi's not big on accessories. She feels like things are on her. Because she's such a big personality, I think sometimes she feels like adding anything, any other accent, can just come off as a lot. Her hair is always interesting — it's either super long or colored — [and] her nails themselves are accessories, so sometimes it's like less is more with her. But sometimes, I'm like, let's gaud it up! It's mainly rings, though. Her fingers are really, really small, so they flip or they're uncomfortable.
Cardi loves budget-friendly e-retailer Fashion Nova. How do you combine that brand with Versace or Christian Siriano?
Fashion Nova will always be super close to her. That was a brand that was lending to her before anybody believed in her. They worked together way before [she hired] me. I always have respect for her Fashion Nova moments, because it is a part of who she is. They have amazing basics. If I can't find a go-to denim, which I normally can't find go-to denim for her from a high-end designer, Fashion Nova always has a perfect denim for her. They cater to women with curves.
Has she ever not worn an outfit because of a social or political issue?
In general we always pay attention to [controversies in the fashion industry]. You have to be super conscious about the message that you're sending wearing certain brands, and make sure your message correlates with their brand as well. Like, there was a designer we had on set who has recently been in a lot of controversy over some [racially insensitive] commentsthat they made, and we decided that it would be best if Cardi just didn't wear them because of what we believe in, what she believes in, and what everyone believes our rights are.
What do you think about the climate for diversity right now in the fashion industry?
I pay attention. We love Gucci, and a couple seasons ago, they did the all-black campaign with all black models. I thought it was amazing, but I really wanted to see how many black actors and actresses they lent to after that. And they lent to a lot of people [who] I've never seen wearing Gucci before. And, again, if you[r brand] doesn't correlate with our beliefs, then I just kind of try to stay away or give it a little break. It's something we're super conscious about.
What's the biggest difference for you between Cardi's performance looks and her red carpet style?
Red carpet should be a little more timeless, but the performance [looks] are our gateway to have fun and really express ourselves, no matter how tacky — because tacky is good sometimes! Tacky is gaudy and [trendy]. Like, for the VMAs, [we decked her out in sparkles] and those $10,000 YSL boots. [Some publications and Internet commenters] made the joke that she looked like a disco ball, but I took that as a compliment.
Do you know what Cardi will wear to the Grammys?
I cannot say what we'll be doing and I'm not even exactly sure about who she'll be wearing, but she will have a huge moment at the Grammys, I'll just say that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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