The person behind today’s biggest red-carpet superstars announced he’s stepping down. This points to an industry-wide problem.
In the tricky business of conjuring viral red-carpet moments, no one is more prolific than image architect Law Roach. Zendaya’s famed stylist — and FASHION’s November 2022 cover star — has over the years become a celebrity in his own right, shining brighter with each new creative endeavour. This is why shockwaves were sent through the fashion industry on March 14 when he announced his untimely retirement.
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“My Cup is empty,” he wrote in an Instagram caption, under a graphic that read “RETIRED” in all capital letters. He went on to thank his supporters and “every person that trusted me with their image.” But it’s what he said next that really spoke volumes: “If this business was just about the clothes I would do it for the rest of my life but unfortunately it’s not! The politics, the lies and false narratives finally got me! You win … I’m out.”
Law Roach’s influence cannot be understated. Alongside his well-documented work with Zendaya, he transformed Celine Dion’s style. He’s responsible for iconic ensembles worn by the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, Halsey, Tom Holland, and Kerry Washington. He’s tapped exclusive designer archives to deliver heartfelt homages, including Zendaya’s tribute to Beyoncé at the 2021 BET Awards and Bella Hadid’s ’80s Gianni Versace look at Cannes 2022.
This awards season, Roach was the person behind some of the most memorable red-carpet moments. We had Zendaya’s rosette-festooned Valentino gown at the SAG awards. We had Hunter Schafer’s risqué Oscars after-party Ann Demeulemeester feather top. We had Megan Thee Stallion’s viral Bach Mai strapless dress at the same event. As FASHION has long noted, Law Roach is the sartorial mastermind of the moment.
So why, at the height of his career, has he announced that he’s stepping down altogether? On social media, the prominent line of speculation points to an incident at Louis Vuitton’s Paris Fashion Week show on March 6. In a now-infamous video, Zendaya — who is rumoured to be the brand’s latest ambassador — is seated front row, while there is seemingly no spot reserved for Roach. Fans have speculated that this is an intentional snub at the stylist on the part of a legacy fashion house.
But whether or not this awkward occurrence factored into his decision, there’s clearly more going on. In his caption, a drained-sounding Roach alluded to very real systemic flaws. And it points to a larger conversation that needs to be had about mental health in the industry, specifically for people from marginalized communities. It’s no secret that the lack of Black representation (and behind-the-scenes inclusion) is deep-seated in fashion. Since Roach’s announcement, insiders have come forward to discuss the burnout that comes from being Black in a white-dominated field. “Working in this industry for over 13+ years [has] taught me that being Black, confident, verbally honest and opinionated can be a tough battle,” tweeted creative director Von Childs, adding that “the fashion industry makes it so hard for us to function and stand up for ourselves.”
In a business rife with racism, Roach has never shied away from discussing the strain of widespread performativity. “Being a Black stylist is the same as being Black in any industry: You are born with a sense of burden and trauma,” he previously told FASHION. “If you want to be respected, you have to be 10 times better than everyone else.”
Roach didn’t come from a background of privilege or access to exclusive designer spaces. As reported in FASHION’s cover story, he’s completely self-made, having entered into the industry selling vintage clothes and accessories collected from thrift stores. His success is significant — not only as a testament to his talent but as a source of inspiration for those who have long been left out of elitist institutions.
Perhaps the most treasured rarity to Roach’s technique is his dedication to personal touches. He takes into account who his clients are, as people, and skillfully melds their image with brands to tell a story. It’s this intentionality that gave us Zendaya’s transformative Cinderella moment at the 2019 Met Gala, signifying her evolution from Disney darling to Euphoria star. Beyond creating outfits that look good, Law Roach crafts a personal arc for his clients. It’s why he coined the term “image architect” — which accurately describes his all-encompassing role of sculpting a celebrity’s public persona. Through it all, he has impacted the way the world interacts with fashion culture.
Unsurprisingly, there’s widespread skepticism questioning if this is really the end for Law Roach. Could it be that one of the greatest minds in red carpet magic is walking away, less than two months before the Met Gala? That answer, ultimately, isn’t really the point. Regardless of whether he stays silent for months or resumes working tomorrow, the fact is that Roach has been pushed to such extremes that he feels depleted and unwelcome in this business.
In his FASHION cover story, Roach reflected on his career. “Being complacent is never an option for me,” he said. “There’s always something else coming my way.” One thing’s for sure, Law Roach will always be a force in fashion. But a more complicated question remains: How will the industry do better?