Last year, Hollywood glamour came to a halt in the wake of a global pandemic. Gone were the days of couture gracing the elite days after a runway show. Ballgowns made-to-measure for A-listers gliding across the red carpet at a movie premiere ceased to exist. But that didn’t mean dressing up lost its luster—at least not for Law Roach.
The self-proclaimed “image architect” thrives off creative energy, from styling celebrities like Celine Dion, Hunter Schafer, and Zendaya (whom he has been dressing since she was 14) to judging HBO Max’s Legendary. In comparison, his time in quarantine was relatively unproductive. “I did not join TikTok. I did not cook banana bread. I didn’t work out. I did not do anything. People came out of quarantine with new skills and new bodies—that was not me,” he tells ELLE.com over the phone. “When you put somebody in that situation who literally works every day and whose whole life depends on him being creative, [then] not having anything to pour into…that was very, very tough. I am not one of those people that came out of quarantine on top.” But 2021 begs to differ.
With Malcolm and Marie, the Netflix film directed by Sam Levinson, Roach is adding costume designer to his resumé. The charged film was born from the COVID-19 pandemic and written and filmed during the summer of 2020. Roach styles Zendaya for her role as Marie, the girlfriend to rising director Malcolm (played by John David Washington, dressed by Samantha McMillen), and offsets the intensity of the film’s black-and-white palette with glamour dripping off Zendaya’s glistening custom gown.
ELLE.com spoke to Roach about creating the film’s soon-to-be iconic dress via FaceTime and his Black Fashion and Beauty Collective, which aims to support young Black creatives. Read on for more.
How did you feel when you were asked to be part of this film?
I was so flattered. When Zendaya told me Sam wanted to talk to me about being a part of it, I was really, really excited and a bit overwhelmed because I’ve never been part of any of her movies or her TV shows. I always get to do the premiere, all those types of things, which is great. That’s what a lot of our relationship is based on.
How is dressing Zendaya as a person different from dressing Zendaya as Marie?
I think there are some similarities. It’s still Zendaya’s body. It’s still Zendaya’s physicality, which is beautiful. When we do things together, we always create a narrative or a character. There has to be a story behind why the clothes are chosen. Who is she at that moment? It’s always been my job to create that narrative, to bring the pieces to the story. Then she takes them and becomes whoever it is and evokes whatever emotion we decided on. I put that into designing for Marie, too.
Why did you choose that dress style specifically?
The dress is custom. I worked with Jason Rembert from Aliette, a fellow stylist and great friend. Sam and I went back and forth. It was so organic. He said he wanted us to create a dress that was timeless. That, when people watch this movie 20 years from now, the dress will still be relevant and beautiful. He really wanted to create an iconic piece of fashion. And I was like, “thanks a lot, Sam. That’s a lot of pressure.”
That’s what I conveyed to Aliette. Jason went back and he did some sketches based on things I knew would be flattering to Zendaya—a costume that will help her become sexy, become Marie. One of Sam’s notes was that the dress needed to have movement. The fabric needed to be able to carry light. Jason and I went to the fabric store—on FaceTime, of course.
I think he made three versions of it. I sent those all back. We had a fitting. Then we made notes. We sent some dresses back to Jason with the notes. He did all the alterations. Then the final dress was created. And there you have it.
How would you describe Marie’s style?
I think Marie is a fashion girl. I think Marie also knows she’s beautiful. Marie is very, very, very strong-minded and opinionated. When it comes to fashion, she knows exactly what she wants. She knows how she wants to look. There is a very obvious sex appeal to her, which the stockings lend themselves to.
What was the most challenging part of working on this project? Especially since it was done over video chats?
I think just not being able to physically be there. But, I think as creatives, what we pivot. We are human beings, we’re faced with an obstacle or adversity, then we pivot. We make the best of it. We make what we have work for us.
I think it was also a testament to my creativity. I was able to do it. I wasn’t on set. I wasn’t physically there to see the dresses. It challenged me in a way that I actually enjoyed.
How do you approach each celebrity client differently?
I collaborate with my clients. I always hope I get my way with them. I think one of the best compliments I ever received about my work is that all my clients look like themselves. None of them look alike. They all have their own identity. I think that comes with work. That comes with collaboration. That comes with me really listening and watching, and a lot of research on the client.
What was the most challenging part of 2020 for you?
I think my challenges aren’tt different from anyone else in the world. The beautiful thing about what happened is that we all went through it together. We all went through it. No matter how rich or poor or famous or what your job is, we all went through the exact same thing at the same time. I think we all pretty much shared the same concerns and worries and emotions at the same time.
It is actually a really beautiful thing to see how, as humans, we were able to all virtually hold hands in a way [and] pray for each other to get through it. We were all just trying to get through it. I don’t think my experiences are any different from yours or my friends who were in Milan or Paris or Africa. We were all just going through the same thing. You have to find some type of solace in that.
Can you update us on what’s happening with the Black Fashion and Beauty Collective?
What happened is that we were so excited and so motivated by what was going on in the world that we kind of moved a little too fast. We just put everything on hold for a second and are internally working it out. We want to make sure our mission is spot on [and] we’re able to really make a change when we come back.
What are you most excited about for fashion in 2021?
I’m excited, like everybody is, for things to feel normal. I’m excited that, hopefully, this year we’ll get back to carpets and the chaos of it. The photographers and the glamour and the opulence and all that. When I say us, I mean the fashion industry comes back in a way that is respectful and not tone-deaf. People are also missing the glamour because it’s so aspirational and it makes people feel good. I just want us to come in and back in a way that’s delicate and sensitive. I want us to come back in a way that’s respectful and thoughtful.
But I miss it all. I miss the chaos. I miss the stress. It’s why I got into this business. It’s why I became a stylist.
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