Nicki Minaj, Donatella Explain Hip-Hop’s Versace Obsession

Minaj, the new face of Versace for H&M, and the fashion icon chat with MTV News about brand's enduring appeal.

NEW YORK — Back in the late ’90s, Versace was to the Bad Boy camp what Supreme is to Odd Future — nothing less than a uniform. Of course, whereas Tyler and crew can set up shop at the Los Angeles outpost, the ultra high-end Italian label hadn’t exactly been marketing to new-money rappers from the ‘hood. But that didn’t ruin budding mogul Sean Combs‘ (then Puff Daddy) appetite for the couture line. Espousing his “ghetto fabulous” ethos, Combs outfitted his roster in the colorful prints with those gold Madusa details, and an enduring hip-hop love affair was born.

When MTV News heard that Nicki Minaj had teamed up with the house of Versace as they rolled out a collection for fast-fashion retailer H&M, we couldn’t wait to ask the Harajuku Barbie what the brand meant to her. We caught up with her on the red carpet of the launch last week, and it turned out one of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s finest was on her mind.

“We can remember Biggie Smalls talking about Versace,” Nicki, dressed in a multicolor beaded pantsuit topped with a palm-frond accented wig, told us about the late Bad Boy MC. “It’s something that as a little girl, growing up in hip-hop, you never really think you’ll get a chance to — I never thought I’d get to model for Versace, you know what I mean?”

Although Versace shades quickly became a status accessory among rising rappers in rap’s glossy, shiny-suit era, it was Diddy and Big who truly cemented the brand’s place, name-checking it in songs like the “One More Chance” remix and J.U.N.I.O.R. Mafia’s “Get Money” (My Mo-schi-no ho, my Versace hottie, Big rapped on the Lil’ Kim collabo). Indeed, Biggie and Puff donned matching silk Versace shirts for ’97′s “Hypnotize” video, which would become the final visual offering from the late rapper.

“It’s just a big deal because they’ve been clothing the hip-hop generation for a very, very long time,” Nicki added about the line founded in the late 1970s by Gianni Versace. “Whether we could afford it or not, we wanted it.”

Fashion icon (and sister of the late Gianni) Donatella Versace told MTV News she was flattered by how right-now rappers and pop stars like Lady Gaga, Big Sean and “fantastic” Nicki continue to embrace the brand. And the platinum-blond designer had a theory about why.

“I feel all the [artists like Gaga and Sean] … are people who like to dare and to take risks, and [it's the same] in fashion so that combination works,” Versace said.

Earlier this summer, Gaga announced to a U.K. style site that she planned to feed her fashionable fixation by wearing “only Versace for, like, the next two months.” Around the same time, G.O.O.D. Music breakout star Big Sean ordered up vintage Versace threads and shades on the Hype Williams set of his sexy “Marvin & Chardonnay” vid. “If we gonna have Versaces, it’s gonna be the OG Medusa-head Versace,” he insisted.

Donatella could clearly sense nostalgia was in bloom. “It’s a moment that I felt was the right moment,” she said of launching the mass collection. “It’s a lot of requests for Versace iconic pieces like printed shirts, and everybody is doing homage to Versace so I decided to give them the real thing to H&M, to the kids!” she smiled.