How a stylist turned Zendaya, Céline Dion, and Anne Hathaway into Instagram fashion icons

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In July, Céline Dion’s Instagram account delivered a truly unforgettable moment: sitting on a windowsill overlooking a Bangkok skyline, she’s dressed in a bright yellow Maison Rabih Kayrouz two-piece suit and Prada sunglasses, her legs splayed at a 90-degree angle. “Beautiful Bangkok…unforgettable,” she captioned the photo, and tagged her stylist: Law Roach.

The photo, iconic thanks to both its composition and the charisma of its subject, was instantly meme-able. “What’s the name of this mixtape?” tweeted filmmaker Matthew Cherry, attaching a screenshot of the image. He offered a suggestion: “Beauty and the Hypebeast.” More than 3,000 others chimed in with their own.

“The picture was funny, but the suit — like so much of the ensembles that he puts together, it was like, a suit that cannot be denied,” Tom Fitzgerald, co-owner of fashion site TomAndLorenzo.com, tells The Verge. “You couldn’t ignore it, you couldn’t forget it. It was such a brilliant shade of yellow. And like so much of [Roach’s] best looks, it’s so boldly declarative.”

The name Law Roach — or at least his Instagram handle, @LuxuryLaw — can be found under most of Céline Dion’s many buzzed-about Instagram looks of late (including that Vetements sweater). And these days, you’ll see his name all over the Instagrams of numerous popular celebrities — especially the ones beloved by the online masses. The famous stylist and one-time judge of America’s Next Top Model has earned a reputation for turning his clients into internet darlings, their looks immediately absorbed into the mercurial firmament of digital opinion and rendered instantly into virtual iconography, from street-style blogs to fan art and memes.

“He creates a moment. He creates an image; he creates a character for that celebrity.”

Roach originally made his name dressing Zendaya Coleman — before she was a movie star, and before he was a celebrity stylist. The pair met in 2011, at Deliciously Vintage, the vintage store he owned in Chicago. Then 14, she was looking for something to wear to Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never premiere.

At the time, Zendaya was the star of two Disney shows, but her name was still virtually unrecognizable in mainstream media. But if “dressing for the job you want” makes sense in any industry, it’s Hollywood — so Roach dressed her like a movie star wherever she went.

The fashion world is a highly political landscape, and social status determines each celebrity’s access to clothes from the most highly regarded fashion houses; cable TV stars rank below network TV actresses, who sit beneath film and pop stars. Most of the clothes you see on red carpets are borrowed, an exchange based on the premise that a celebrity’s star power will help sell garments or bolster a brand’s image (Céline, however, owns many of her pieces, a testament to her devotion to the industry). Stylists for film stars like Cate Blanchett or Angelina Jolie get first pick of a house’s offerings, while those of lesser personalities must sift through an off-the-rack selection. At the time, Zendaya had yet to earn the fashion cred she needed to be dressed at their level.

“She was a Disney girl,” Roach tells The Verge. “When we first started, no one wanted to dress Disney girls. They weren’t really thought of as real actresses.”

Then, in 2014, the pair showed up to New York Fashion week. While he may not have been working with the big fashion houses’ hottest items, Roach had a knack for picking all the right pieces to make a statement anyway: A few days into the festivities, at their hotel, Zendaya was dressed in a pair of simple jeans and a crisp white shirt. Roach handed her a bright blue and yellow Miuniku coat, and they went to Lincoln Center.

“She got out the car. Nobody knew who she was,” he recalls. “[But then] we started walking up the steps of Lincoln Center, and it was like one photographer, and then it was three photographers, and then it was six, and then it was 12. It was crazy.”

The next day, the photo was everywhere, including the homepage of Women’s Wear Daily, the ultimate badge of fashion cred. Roach continued to trot her out in a series of show-stopping coats, including a black-and-white Dior and forest green Rebecca Minkoff she paired with jeans. A Bustle headline soon announced, “Zendaya Coleman is Winning Fashion Week’s Front Row and She’s Only 17.” “You may not know who this long and leggy teen is unless you’re under the age of 12,” the piece read, “But enough about that—more about what the girl is wearing.” The writer went on to praise Zendaya’s “bold sense of style” and work of her “genius stylist, Law Roach.”

Soon enough, it was impossible to escape either of them, and Zendaya was eventually invited to the most illustrious red carpets; each of her looks became the stuff Tumblr photoset dreams are made of. Meanwhile, she was receiving attention from casting directors at higher levels; she appeared on Black-ish, and then became the subject of casting rumors surrounding the new Spider-Man remake. In 2015, she was invited to her first Met Gala, and immediately established a reputation as a starlet who not only knew how to dress for a gala, but a girl who knew how to dress to a theme — showing up in a gorgeous Communist-red Fausto Puglisi gown that defied gravity. By then, her incredibly photographable looks had earned her more than 52 million followers on Instagram, making her one of the most followed actresses on the platform.

“It was one photographer, and then it was three photographers, and then it was six, and then it was 12.”

“Most stylists tend to just dress celebrities: they wear a pretty dress … and that’s pretty much it,” says Lorenzo Marquez, the other half of TomAndLorenzo.com. “[Law Roach] creates a moment. He creates an image; he creates a character for that celebrity. If you look at Zendaya, she’s always playing a different character on the red carpet.”

While Zendaya was getting Insta-famous, Roach was acquiring new clients at lightning speed. Demi Lovato came first; Ariana Grande followed. Today his roster includes the likes of Tiffany Haddish, Mary J. Blige, and Anne Hathaway. After enlisting his expertise, Hathaway showed up on the Ocean’s 8 red carpet wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier dress that made many fashion bloggers and journalists very happy and inspired the internet to rediscover her hotness.

One viral Tweet with more than 200K reactions features two side-by-side photos of Hathaway in a pastel green dress with a very deep neckline with a caption that reads “ANNE??!?!! WHAT THE FUCK.” Anne Hathaway has always been beautiful, it’s true, but it’s only when she started being dressed by Law Roach that she began exuding the kind of confident sex appeal that separates conventionally good-looking people from hot people. It’s evident not only in her red carpet photos, but in her Instagram postings as well. Anne Hathaway is feelin’ herself, the internet is feelin’ Anne, and it’s at least partly thanks to Law Roach.

For this year’s “Heavenly Bodies”-themed Met Gala, Roach styled four women, but one was easily one of the most striking looks of the night: Zendaya’s Joan of Arc gown. Working collaboratively with Versace’s Lucio Di Rosa, Roach says he helped design the dress after the Maid of Orléans came to him in a dream, riding a horse and waving a sword.

“I called Lucio, I said, I think we should do Joan of Arc, but I think we should do it really literal,” says Roach. “I don’t want it to be an interpretation — I wanted it to feel like textbook Joan of Arc had walked off the page. And that’s what we got.”

If you search “Zendaya” and “Met Gala” on Twitter, the results yield a deluge of fan art inspired by the look. Among the countless looks that have gone down in Met Gala history, Zendaya’s Joan of Arc instantly became the stuff of legend, not least of all thanks to the way its dramatic profile lent to her literal mythologizing from online fans.

‘What would I love to see? When I scroll on Instagram, what’s going to stop me?’

For Roach, social media, especially Instagram, is a great barometer of an outfit’s success, be it the work of others or his own. “I approach everything as a fan. I’m a fan of fashion; I’m a fan of red carpets. I do sometimes think, ‘What would I love to see? When I scroll on Instagram, what’s going to stop me?’” he says. “Everything’s about that ‘Explore’ page on Instagram. You know when the looks are going viral, because you go to the ‘Explore’ page and it’s just like, Mary [J. Blige], Mary, Mary.”

That’s how he caught Céline Dion’s attention. After losing her husband in 2016, Dion had retreated from the spotlight, but she’d been following Roach’s work with Zendaya, so when she was preparing to reemerge in the summer of 2017 for Paris Fashion Week, she enlisted Roach to dress her for a whirlwind press tour. Within a month, he had put her in the now-famous $885 Vetements Titanic sweater. That year marked the 20th anniversary of the movie, and the piece had been sold out everywhere, but Roach asked the fashion brand to borrow the sweater from their archives — this was for Céline Dion, after all.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Huffington Post

“I was actually afraid to show it to Céline because this was our first month working together — I thought that she would think that it was too kitschy or silly, in a way,” he says. Céline, however, was sold instantly. She wore the sweater with jeans and sandals, but the statement it made could not be dressed down. “She walked out and the world went absolutely crazy. It was like all eyes were on us from that point.”

That outfit was only one of dozens of outfits that were obsessively catalogued by fashion blogs and fans that summer. Roach calls it the “Summer of Céline”: she was stepping out of her hotel stunning in bright green Gucci; in neon-yellow Balenciaga and thigh-high boots; in a stunning Off-White brown leather coat.

“File the following under ‘Words We Never Thought We’d Write,’” blogged Tom and Lorenzo at the time. “We have a newfound respect for Céline Dion.” attaching photos of her in leather pants and gloves at the Dior show. Vogue France called her a “rising style star.” Vanity Fair profiled Roach in an article they headlined “How Céline Dion Became a Fashion Icon at 49.” Her Instagram audience swelled by 169,000 followers.

“She walked out and the world went absolutely crazy”

“This is a woman that’s been around for 30 years, and all of a sudden people are respecting her in a different light outside the music industry,” says Roach. His looks told a story about Céline Dion the internet could seize and immediately obsess over: that after suffering a devastating loss, she had emerged from grief completely remade, born anew as a fashion star. When she showed up to the Billboard Music Awards last year to deliver a show-stopping performance of “My Heart Will Go On,” Roach put her in a white Stéphane Rolland dress with tumescent shoulders that rendered her silhouette in the shape of a heart. Online, the photos were impossible to escape.

“I think it’s very clear when you look at his portfolio of looks that he’s someone who listens to these women and sees these women,” says Fitzgerald. “His client list loves him. You rarely hear a celebrity list so willing to talk about their stylist. But I really think he pulls these emotions out of these women, these personas that they want to cycle through, [that help] them through this process of presentation.”

It’s a talent that landed him on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter, as the first black stylist to do so, for their 2016 “Stylists & Stars” issue. Zendaya and Céline appeared beside him, draped elegantly to frame his image. It’s a testament to the intimate relationships he’s built with all his clients. It’s also a testament to his ability to create conversation with a single dress or pantsuit — or a single Instagram photo.

“[When] I traveled the world, people really stopped me to have debates about Céline’s looks,” says Roach. “Or they stopped me to tell me, ‘Oh my god, I was at work and my coworkers and I were arguing about the white outfit.’ This had really become something that entertained the world. When I stopped to think about that, I got chills.”

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