When it comes to truly outrageous fashion choices in the music scene, no one is doing it quite like Doja Cat. Whether she’s accepting an award looking like a glamorous worm, wearing an outfit made out of astroturf, or sporting a bedazzled merkin, we can always count on the singer to be wearing something that has never been seen before. And it’s all thanks to Brett Alan Nelson. The creative director and stylist has been working with Doja for years, and is the genius behind so many of those conversation-starting looks, including the music videos for her latest album, Planet Her.
Nelson has also dressed famous clients such as Lizzo, Grimes, and Bebe Rexha, but it’s his prolific work with Doja Cat that truly goes unmatched. Read on for some excerpts from the conversation including how he and Doja come up with their imaginative visual worlds, taking risks for something that feels iconic, and advice on what to wear—and not to wear—to Coachella. To hear the entire Planet Her breakdown, plus how her custom Versace Grammys looks came together, make sure to tune in.
Photo:Courtesy of Brett Alan Nelson
You've said you have a common language with Doja. Can you talk to me a little bit about how some of those early conversations went [for Planet Her] and what your process is like for putting together such a huge concept?
There has to be some sense of common communication because, especially in the music world, these girls can feel very forced into what they're wearing. For Doja, I was always like … "If you are inspired by anything, show me art. Show me movies. Let's look at nature. Let's find this." just to make something feel more fresh. When it comes to the creation behind these videos, I start having very early conversations with her, and then we'll talk to the director, and we'll get a nice streamline together with her first notes. And then I'll go deeper with them to really bring it into Planet Her because we really wanted everything to flow together. As different as each video is, there still is some sort of common thread. … If we wanted to release a film, they would all fit together.
But when it comes to the creation of clothes, it comes from being told "no" for so long. Obviously, I want my girl in the biggest names of fashion that I can get her in, but when you're a new artist, nobody cares. They just look at you. I was told no so many times that I was just like, "Screw it. I'm going to do everything on my own." So I would start sketching and reach out to different designers that I would very fully collaborate with. It all starts from the sketches. I'll make mood boards, but they're usually more visually inspired than they are fashion inspired.
For the video "Get Into It (Yuh)," we've got some incredible space galaxy moments. It's so creative and interesting in a way that it really feels like art. Can you walk me through that process and concept? And do you ever get to a moment where you're like, "Oh, no, we need one more look"? Is it really sorted all before you get on set?
I trained under B. Akerlund, who is a god, and she would have five hotel rooms filled with clothes, but I just can't prep like that. It stresses me out. It costs so much money. She does what she does, and she's the queen at it, and I grovel to her feet. But for this video, in particular, Doja, again, had a very short idea where she was like, "I want to build a story line about an alien stealing my cat." And so that's what [the director] Mike Diva did. And that video, for me… I don't know if this movie rings true—and Mike would probably kill me for saying this—but Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, it's like a more highbrow version of that. When it came to the costuming, I had a collaboration with Michael Schmidt. I just wanted to build this queen-commander look that didn't feel too masculine. For Doja, if she was the queen of Planet Her, which she is, we want something that feels sexy and cool. We 3D-scanned her body and molded this white bust piece on her that had this almost Victorian hoop that goes around her back. Originally, the clear parts that she ended up keeping were not supposed to be there. It was supposed to be skin. She's like, "No, I want to keep it clear." And I was a little nervous about it at first, but it felt like armor, which made it feel more commander, and it was perfectly paired with this beautiful pink satin. And then I got a pair of Pleaser 10-inch pumps that I just covered in fabric so they looked like a huge wedge.
How do you know how to do that?
Honestly, I fake it till I make it every time. I feel like I always have ideas of things that I know will work, and when I go to these people that I'm collaborating with, they're like, "It's not gonna work." But I go back and I'm like, "You can't tell me it's not gonna work if we don't try it." I will always want to take the risk of doing something that feels iconic because, for me, in the grand scheme of things—like when we're on our world tour—I want all of these looks in glass boxes. I want people to go back and remember. It's the Gaga effect. You want people to see these amazing creations that people have built because they are museum-worthy art pieces.
For our listeners who are getting ready for Coachella and want some practical style advice for all of their upcoming outdoor shows, what would you recommend? What feels fresh? What would you like to see people wearing?
This could not sit well with some people. But my only advice of what not to wear to Coachella is a flower crown. We've seen it, and unless you're giving me something special, I don't want to see a flower crown. But I'm a big fan of Coachella. I've gone for 10 years in a row. I think it is so fresh to see every different walk of different kinds of people dressed in what they feel comfortable in partying in. And obviously, it gets really windy and dusty, so you got to have your face covers. But for me, I think grunge is coming back. So give me Courtney Love. Give me a ripped-up babydoll dress with fairy wings and a crown made out of pipe cleaners. You can buy them at any arts and crafts store. My biggest thing, especially as a creator and as a fashion person, is to have fun and be comfortable in what you're wearing. Who cares what anyone else thinks about? Just do what feels cool to you. There are no rules. There are no limits. I mean, Euphoria has taken over the planet. I'm sure everyone will have glitter on their face and sparkles. Just have fun.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring our editors and the spring trends they're investing in.