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Celebrity Stylist Law Roach Says This Is What It’s *Really* Like Getting A-Listers Ready For The Red Carpet

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The Zoe Report's Best Dresser is a Q&A series that profiles top celebrity stylists, diving into everything from how they got their starts in the industry to their proudest fashion moments to date. For the series' first installment, Senior Fashion Editor Aemilia Madden spoke to Law Roach, a celebrity stylist and self-titled "image architect," about how he first broke into the business — and how he plans to change it.

Law Roach is a Chicago native who counts A-listers like Anne Hathaway, Zendaya, and Celine Dion as clients, but he says his climb to the top hasn't exactly been traditional. In his early career, Roach owned a vintage store in Chicago, Deliciously Vintage, that began to garner celebrity attention thanks to a chance visit from Kanye West in 2009. Roach used the buzz this encounter generated as an opportunity to pivot into the world of Hollywood styling, using his newfound stylist connections and exquisite eye for detail to establish his own roster of celebrity clientele that have come to trust his unique vision for showstopping looks — both on and off the red carpet.

Roach rarely slows down; the morning before this interview, he was busy prepping Hathaway for the Golden Globes. He spoke to The Zoe Report about how he got his start, the dresses that most excite him, and his take on diversity in Hollywood today.

How did growing up in Chicago and opening your store, Deliciously Vintage, in 2006 affect the way you think about fashion?

I have an affinity and a love and a deep passion for the way things were. Vintage always seemed a bit more glamorous than contemporary clothes. What attracted me to fashion is the glamour and the fantasy of it all, and this idea of what a woman is, and what a woman should be, that was shaped with the women I grew up around. The past weighed very heavily on my decisions and my aesthetic and the things I do as a stylist.

That was my way into fashion. I didn't have the traditional route. Usually people go to school, get an internship, the internship would turn into being an assistant, and then work as an assistant for a few years. My route was a vintage store in Chicago to boom, Hollywood red carpet — I skipped a few steps.

How did you connect with your first celebrity client?

When I had the store [Deliciously Vintage], we called ourselves stylists because essentially that's what we were doing. One time, Kanye West came into the store and it became this big story of a little black-owned vintage store on the south side of Chicago where Kanye came in, and he spent this amount of money. Because of that story, we started to have interactions with stylists from New York, Paris, Los Angeles — from around the world, basically. They would call and say, "Hey, I'm looking for this." Or, "Do you have this?" Or, "Can you tell me what you have in this color, or this silhouette?"

It became very interesting to know that this [job as a] stylist was a real thing. Where I came from, you go to college and you get a degree. The nontraditional jobs weren't as popular and there wasn't much social media. I started building relationships with stylists, and just learning a little more about what they did, which led me to just meeting people and networking. My very first client was Atlantic Records. They had just signed this R&B singer, K. Michelle. She was really my first client, and it was my first paycheck ever as a stylist.

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Around the same time is when I met Zendaya. Zendaya was funny, and we had this rapport from the very first day. She was a Disney girl, and not a lot of Disney girls were respected. Nobody wanted to dress the Disney girl, so I came up with this plan of attack for her. I was making money with K at Atlantic Records; Zendaya was my muse and my creative. I spent a lot of time to build this blueprint for how I thought I could garner her acceptance in fashion.

That's where the whole "image architect" came about. What I was doing was very similar to what an architect does when they first get a project. Surveying the land, doing this blueprint, sourcing materials, contracting different companies. [Zendaya], her parents, her agent, her publicist, everybody allowed me to be creative, not only with her wardrobe but with the places she should go, what she should be seeing. I did little sneaky things. I would only put her in clothes that other people had worn because I knew at that time, [magazine features on] people who had worn all the weekly styles were really popular. So, I would only put her in things that people had worn so that the designers would start to notice her and notice her name, and it actually worked out.

At the end of the day, the most beautiful thing — as cliché as it may sound — is confidence. I don't care what size, shape, color, religion, nationality. When a woman walks down the street and she is confident in who she is, the clothes are just the icing on the cake.

When you first meet a celebrity or consider taking them on as a client, how do you start that process of diving into how to dress someone?

I have a huge respect for women, and I don't think that anybody should dictate to a woman what she should and shouldn't wear. So it's very important to organically know who my clients are. I never try to change anyone. My job is to help them become the best them. Maybe a more elevated them, but at the core of the styling, it's always their style.

At the end of the day, the most beautiful thing — as cliché as it may sound — is confidence. I don't care what size, shape, color, religion, nationality. When a woman walks down the street and she is confident in who she is, the clothes are just the icing on the cake. That's what my job is: to help my girls be as beautiful as they possibly can when they walk out that door. It's not about changing them.

Do you think about your personal sense of style in the same way, or is it different than how you might help a client get dressed?

People don't work with me just because of the way I make them look. They work with me because of the way I make them feel. We don't always get out of bed every day as our best — sometimes it takes a beautiful outfit or a great jacket. So, those words of encouragement that I'm able to give to my clients, I encourage myself the same way. I'm in such a high-stress and high-demand job; I have to encourage myself.

I don't set out to make everybody happy with my work. I think fashion should be polarized, there should be as many people who hate it as [there are] people who love it. And if not, it's just boring, and you’re just skating. It should invoke some type of emotion. It's the most interactive art form. The women I work with want that fantasy, the glamour, the whimsy, but they also want undertones of intelligence and a story to the clothes. The way I approach my job is very cerebral, but I also want goosebumps. I want that to take my breath away. That's really what I live for.

The Joan of Arc-inspired look Zendaya wore to the Met Gala was one of my favorites because it has all of those elements that you're talking about. Do you think that dressing your clients for the Met Gala is different than other red carpets?

It depends on who I'm dressing. Zendaya is fearless. She can fall into these characters, and when she gets on the red carpet, it's a whole new person every single time. It was a goal of mine to do that carpet, and now we are challenged because the day had so many great moments. We're challenging ourselves to think bigger and greater, and I love playing with the scene.

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Zendaya likes to let me take the lead, so she left it up to me to choose which house we would go to the Met [Gala] with. I knew I wanted to go with a house that had the manpower to do whatever we dreamed of. Versace had asked very early on, and it’s such a strong house. They sent me amazing sketches, maybe 20 [of them]. I showed them to Zendaya and I went to bed — and I'm a dreamer. Joan of Arc kept just coming to me, and I woke up and I called Lucio who works with Donatella and I said, "I think it's Joan of Arc, and I think it should be very literal." So, they sent another round of sketches, and Zendaya and I sat and looked at them. We took away one and added to another, and that's what we came up with.

Do you have any tricks you’ve picked up along the way to keep your clients comfortable on the carpet?

It's so different for each woman and each occasion, but I do try to be very respectful of my clients' feet. At this point, I know the difference between a two-hour shoe and a four-hour shoe.

When it’s a gown and you won’t see much of the shoes, I’ll use a thick, sturdy platform, and I know that my clients can get through the entire night and not have to be uncomfortable or worried. I don't want anything to take away from their moment. Whatever I can do to make sure everything is perfect so they don't have to think about if something is too tight or their shoe is uncomfortable.

What is one of the most exciting pieces that you've ever gotten to work with for a client?

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I’ve had some dresses that I thought were incredible. Celine Dion at the Billboard Awards [in 2017]. That dress, when it came and we unboxed it, it was a cloud. I always get nervous because I know my clients and I know the dress, but I always get butterflies to know if they’re going to see what you see in a dress. That night, for that performance, there were a lot of dresses, and it wasn't the first dress she wanted to wear. I left the fitting and I called the team and said, "Whatever we do, we have to convince her to wear that dress." She walked away, and it hit her that it was the dress. So the next day when I spoke to her, she knew definitely it was the white cloud dress. That was one of my greatest accomplishments as a stylist.

Do you find that there are things that people always ask you or assume about your job that aren't true?

People always assume that there will be magic. If you want your style to be identifiably yours, you have to work, we have to build — that’s a relationship. I've had experiences where people called me and they want the magic the first time I dress them. Sometimes the first time is magical, but for the most part, you have to be patient enough for our souls to join.

One of the biggest compliments I got is from Anne Hathaway, and she was like "I never met somebody who got me so fast in a short amount of time." But, when Anne reached out to me, I had already studied her — she's iconic to me — there were things I knew about her. After one fitting, she was so transparent. Watching her try on the clothes, she's a real fashion girl. I understand cuts and silhouette, and she understands tailoring. I watch all that and I see what made her eyes light up, I memorize all that. So, the next time we had a fitting it was, "Oh, I love all this. How do you just get it like that?" And I was like, "I just pay attention to everything."

Was there a moment for you when you felt like you had made it?

The cover of The Hollywood Reporter [editor's note: Roach covered the magazine's 2017 Stars & Stylists issue, and was the first African-American stylist to do so] was major, not just for me but as a creative of color, because I know that nobody who looks like me had ever been featured on that magazine with their clients. I’m only one of four or five African-American stylists that had ever made that list. That was a moment I was very proud of, not for me but for people who look like me and have aspirations and dreams to do what I do. That one was very emotional.

I came from nothing. I came from South Side Chicago, very poor. I want to use my career as an example to show people to take a chance, and to give somebody a chance.

But in my everyday life, I approach every job the same. I approach all my work like I'm a new stylist; I try not to be jaded. When you first get in [to this industry], it's your dream to go to shows and you probably meet the designers and some of them become your friends. I want to still be excited, so I try to remain as humble as possible. I do that by telling myself every day that as much as people put me in a high regard, I tell myself that I am in the service industry. I am the equivalent of a housekeeper or babysitter, the nanny, the chef, the security, the driver. [Clients] want me at their house at this time, the exact way they want the nanny or the chef. When you remind yourself of that, it's hard to be big-headed — it's like, girl, calm down, you're packing suitcases.

What are you most excited about in the fashion industry?

I've done pretty much everything that I set out to do as a stylist. So, my next step, I have to be able to help other people. I've struggled with the question, is it talent or is it opportunity? Why don't we see more black stylists working with A-list Hollywood actresses or being included in the conversation? That’s really important — to use my career as an example, to let people who don't include us in that conversation or in that narrative. I'm able to change that perception.

I came from nothing. I came from South Side Chicago, very poor. I want to use my career as an example to show people to take a chance, and to give somebody a chance. Stop hiring people who look just like you, stop giving your internships and your assistant jobs to people who look just like you. The next me could be out there, so I just urge people to do that.

I wasn't fighting with A-list Hollywood to get an internship or trying to be an assistant or work for six years under somebody else, but there are a lot of people who would love to have those opportunities. All the new people that get on that list are assistants of women who have already been on the list for 10 years. If you really pay attention and you take a magnifying glass and you really start to look, you start to see this reoccurring face of what Hollywood and what this industry is.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.