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Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 8:06 PM

in Nicki's World she cando whatever she wants

PERHAPS IT WAS the brightly coloured surgical mask that covered Nicki Minaj’s pout at the MTV Video Music Awards last August. Or maybe it was the neon puffball tunic, which made her look as if she’d fallen into a bowl of Dippin’ Dots, that she wore to Carolina Herrera’s spring 2012 show in September. But few in 2011 could take their eyes off Minaj, the Technicolor Barbie with the big voice and an elastic smile.

Part sweet Lolita, part street-smart punk from Queens, N.Y., Minaj has been the most talked-about young rapper to settle into the front row at New York Fashion Week since Marc Jacobs embraced Lil’ Kim as his muse in 2005. She is a sought-after cover girl, with spreads in Elle, Cosmopolitan and W magazine. Minaj sang hits from her debut album, Pink Friday, at recent shows for Victoria’s Secret and H&M. She could even claim Halloween last fall, judging from the scores of tutorials on YouTube for fans seeking her fluorescent look and ice cream swirl tresses.

A year ago, Minaj was making dresses for herself in her basement, said John Demsey, group president of Estee Lauder Cos., which owns MAC Cosmetics, the brand that worked with her on a lipstick. "Now others want to get their hands on her."

Those "others" are companies hoping to get in the Nicki Minaj business. And business is booming, thanks in part to Minaj’s behind-the-scenes moves. Like Lady Gaga before her, she wants to be a high priestess of style.

Last spring, she split with her manager, P. Diddy, and began working with the hip-hop veteran Gee Roberson and Cortez Bryant, who also manages Lil Wayne, the rapper who helped secure Minaj’s record deal in 2009 after hearing an early mixtape. A priority of his, Bryant said in a phone interview, is to negotiate a deal with a fashion house so Minaj can sell her own line of clothes. (She already has a nail-polish line with OPI.)

Some pop stars are born, others made, others spring fully formed from the Internet. Minaj, 29, whose birth certificate reads Onika Tanya Maraj, moved from Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, to Queens with her parents when she was five.

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