Celebrity stylist Law Roach on dressing Zendaya and faking it ’til it’s done

Written by the author Leah Dolan, CNN

Even if you don’t recognize Law Roach’s face, you’ve seen his work, whether you’ve picked up a fashion magazine in recent years or filled your Instagram feed with A-listers. Think Zendaya’s 2015 Oscars outfit — a delicate white Vivienne Westwood satin gown offset by a cascade of purple dreadlocks, the response to which prompted a conversation about discrimination against black hair — or a 20-foot-wide gray Giambattista Valli tulle. The dress that Ariana Grande wore to the 2020 Grammys, or the Bob Mackie wedding dress that Anya-Taylor Joy wore to the premiere of the movie “Emma” in the same year. These enduring looks, to name a few, are the work of Roach, a Chicago-born stylist who has found a knack for engineering moments that cut through the noise of a typical red carpet.

Zendaya attends the Oscars on February 25, 2015 in Los Angeles Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Tonight, Roach will become the first recipient of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s first stylist of the year award, his second professional award in two months. (In late September, she made the TIME100 Next list of new leaders shaping their industries.) Last year, Roach made history as the first black person on The Hollywood Reporter’s annual “Most Powerful Style” list, a title she held. He took it again in 2022.

“I’m a little nervous, I think it’s too close to me,” she told CNN Style in a phone interview ahead of the CFDA Awards. “I live in a bubble where my work is fundamentally the most important thing. So I think I don’t give it enough time to understand how big these things really are. It’s always, ‘Oh, I appreciate it. I’m really humbled, but I have to go to work.'” .

Anya Taylor-Joy attends the LA premiere  "Emma" in February 2020.

Anya Taylor-Joy attends the LA premiere of ‘Emma’ in February 2020. Credit: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

That’s a responsibility that can be traced back to Roach’s humble retail beginnings. After selling his used car parts to friends, he opened a vintage shop, Delicious Vintage, in Halstead, Chicago. A crazy 2009 tour by Kanye West earned TMZ store coverage as his first career style debut. “We started getting all these calls from stylists and it was all over the world. New York, LA, London or Paris. I was so surprised that so many people had this job.”
Soon after, he opted for a strategy of bluffing and self-belief. “It was literally faked until it was made,” he said. “That’s what I would say when I met people. I would say ‘I’m a stylist’.” Today, there are no fakes. Roach now has over 1.2 million followers on Instagram and has a team of six assistants in the US and Europe to help manage her impressive client list, including Grande, Taylor-Joy, Bella Hadid, Megan Thee Stallion, Keke Palmer and of course . , Zendaya.
Roach and Zendaya attend the Valentino Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 show on October 2 during Paris Fashion Week.

Roach and Zendaya attend the Valentino Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 show on October 2 during Paris Fashion Week. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

His career is intertwined with the Emmy-winning actress, who he affectionately refers to as his “annoying little sister.” The couple met when Zendaya was 14, on the first season of Disney’s “Shake it Up.” Through their creative relationship, Roach says, she began the real work of learning the everyday reality of celebrity style. “I worked very hard to figure out what it was like to be a stylist because I had no mentors, I was never an assistant or an intern.”

Roach is the only stylist Zendaya — who made history as the youngest recipient of the CFDA’s Fashion Icon award in 2021 — has worked with. “We grew up together and built our careers together,” Roach said. “We’re still working together and probably will be working together for the next 30 years if we choose to. In a way, we’ve become this model of what people want to have a talent-stylist relationship, which is a beautiful thing.”

Together, they have built something of a fashion empire. In numerous Met Gala looks, including a Joan of Arc-inspired look in 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies”-themed custom Versace gown and chain tier, and subversive red carpet moments like a hot pink Tom Ford chrome bust in 2020. Critics Choice Awards, the couple’s wardrobe is as daring as it is successful.

Roach relied entirely on the film’s narrative to create Zendaya’s “Dune” press tour outfits. “All her clothes were inspired by the movie, but I didn’t see it until Venice. So it was about being very descriptive,” she said. According to Roach, Zendaya chose the Balmain fur dress she wore to the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere two years earlier at the fall-winter 2020 ready-to-wear shows in Paris. “When that collection ran, he said, ‘This is very Dune,’ and I got in touch with Olivier and his team.”

Ariana Grande attended the 62nd Grammy Awards in January 2020.

Ariana Grande attended the 62nd Grammy Awards in January 2020. Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage/WireImage

Even if it’s fleeting, the right viral moment can have a big impact — a trend that Roach has often taken advantage of on social media (and beyond). In 2016, a street style look by her client Celine Dion wearing a super self-referential Vetements hoodie from Titanic rejuvenated the importance of the singer’s outfit overnight. (Dion’s song “My Heart Will Go On” was the main soundtrack to James Cameron’s 1997 film.) Today, he’s seen as a centerpiece of playful fashion.

“I think I’m definitely a social media do-gooder,” Roach said, though he maintains that virality isn’t something he consciously thinks about. “Sometimes we get caught (thinking) that you’re only as good as your last appearance,” he added. “There’s a mental pressure (not just) to be successful, but to stay successful and relevant and do things that attract new people to want to work with you… It’s not just about finding the prettiest dress.”

Zendaya walks the red carpet ahead of the premiere of 'Dune' at the Venice Film Festival on September 3, 2021.

Zendaya walks the red carpet ahead of the premiere of ‘Dune’ at the Venice Film Festival on September 3, 2021. Credit: P. Lehman/Future Publishing/Getty Images

While he could easily see himself leaving his work behind, Roach himself has become a celebrity in his own right. He previously served as a judge on the reboot of “America’s Next Top Model,” and is currently a judge on the HBO Max show “Legendary,” where he is nothing but critics and commentaries. (HBO and HBO Max are both owned by CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery).

Many may find the spotlight daunting, but Roach’s sense of duty to improve representation in fashion is greater. “I didn’t have a reference point for someone who looked like me, where I’m from,” he said. “I was a poor black boy on the South Side of Chicago, so the little black boys that I am now can say, ‘Well Law was a hit.'”

With the awards starting to pile up and much of Hollywood on speed dial, a natural question might be who is on Roach’s red carpet wish list? Aside from a quick lament about never being able to dress Prince, the powerhouse’s response is quite simple: “I wake up every morning grateful that I still have a job.”