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“These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes,” Cardi B raps in the opening lines of her record-breaking hit, “Bodak Yellow.” “Hit the store, I can get ‘em both, I don’t wanna choose.” Shortly after its release back in June, Cardi’s debut single became the surprise smash hit of the summer; in September, she became the first solo female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart since Lauryn Hill in 1998. And the following month, Cardi scooped up five BET Awards, including the Made-You-Look Award and Hustler of the Year.
And hustle she has. Twenty-five-year-old Cardi (née Belcalis Almanzar; her professional moniker comes from her nickname, Bacardi) was born in the Bronx to a Dominican father and a Trinidadian mother. Following a brief stint as a grocery-store cashier while studying at community college, she began working as an exotic dancer; her first pair of Christian Louboutin heels were a 19th birthday gift from a strip-club admirer.
Today, as “Bodak Yellow” makes perfectly clear, she buys her own red bottoms — in bulk. “She has to have over 90 pairs,” Kollin Carter, the stylist Cardi’s worked with since last summer, tells Billboard. “She usually buys a pair or two every couple of weeks. Where she’s from, when girls are ready to get dressed up, that’s what you wear. And in real life, before ‘Bodak’ blew up, she wore red bottoms because that’s what it means to make it in the Bronx.”
And by buying and rapping about Christian Louboutins, Cardi’s boosted the brand’s pop cultural currency in a big way. According to a recent report from Business of Fashion and Lyst, searches for the luxury label’s heels have increased by a staggering 217 percent since “Bodak Yellow” first hit the airwaves. Pull up Google’s search data for “red bottoms,” and the spike is even more impressive.
What’s more, despite having zero fashion campaigns or collaborations (though rumors of a Steve Madden partnership have been swirling for months), BoF reports that Cardi currently holds an estimated $4.5 million in media value, a figure that takes into account both her Instagram following and the content of her social posts themselves. (In comparison, Nicki Minaj’s earned media value stands at about $14 million.)
So how does Christian Louboutin — who, incidentally, got his start creating shoes for showgirls — feel about all this? According to a recent interview with the New York Times, he appreciates the shoutout, but isn’t too familiar with Cardi B. “She’s a rapper? This ‘Yellow’ song?” he asked. “I don’t know much more than that, to be honest.”
While Christian Louboutin declined to comment for this story, I connected with several Cardi B fans who shared that the rapper has inspired them to consider buying red bottoms of their own — and that Louboutin could be missing out on a business opportunity by shrugging off her endorsement.
Yasmeen, 23, says that while she’s always liked the designer’s heels, the way Cardi “rocks affordable Fashion Nova ‘fits with these classy shoes” makes them seem more accessible. “Seeing her rocking [them] carefree made me think to myself that I should just finally treat myself and buy a pair,” she explains via Twitter DM. “It would benefit [Louboutin] to have Cardi on his team and possibly even sponsor her,” she adds. “She could be a valuable person for his brand.” (It’s worth noting that Fashion Nova, the only other label Cardi shouts out with quite as much frequency, reportedly pays the rapper $20,000 per month for promoting its clothing.)
For Ali Hentzel, there’s a more personal connection at play. “I’m a dancer at a strip club, so we all worship her,” the Oregon resident explains. “She’s just so real, and it’s really refreshing. She’s unapologetic (as she should be) and so open about her past in the industry. It’s very empowering!” So has Cardi inspired her to invest in some Louboutins? “There’s a nude pair that’s been sitting in my Nordstrom shopping cart,” Hentzel confirms.
Cardi B is far from the first to write Louboutin’s trademark scarlet soles into a song, of course; everyone from Kanye West to Iggy Azalea to Jennifer Lopez has paid musical homage to the shoes. But few artists have incorporated the fashion brand — or any fashion brand, really — into their own personal brand quite like Cardi. When “Bodak Yellow” hit number one, she celebrated with a cake shaped like a Louboutin shoebox, and over the past few months, she’s been spotted several times at the Christian Louboutin section at Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York flagship, shopping for new pairs to add to her collection. (Saks Fifth Avenue declined to comment for this story.)
During a recent weekend outing to the department store, Forbes staff writer Clare O’Connor was browsing the shoe floor when she came across what seemed to be a party in the Louboutin section. “[There were] lots of young women, and a more diverse crowd than the rest of the store — it seemed to me, at least,” she remembers. A Saks security guard was doing double duty as bouncer.
A nearby salesperson noticed O’Connor’s shocked face, she adds, and laughed. “Yeah,” he told her. “It’s the Cardi B effect.”