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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Law Roach on the law of style 

He is one of Hollywood’s hippest stylists and a judge on ‘America’s Next Top Model’, but Law Roach tells 'The National' a look is not about the labels, but making the right choices – and owning them

Law Roach is one of Hollywood’s top celebrity stylists, with names such as Ariana Grande, Anne Hathaway and Tiffany Haddish his client list Chris Whiteoak / The National
Law Roach is one of Hollywood’s top celebrity stylists, with names such as Ariana Grande, Anne Hathaway and Tiffany Haddish his client list Chris Whiteoak / The National

I’ll admit it – I’m an avid viewer of the reality television series America’s Next Top Model. So as I prepare to meet one of the show’s judges, Law Roach, during his trip to Dubai for last weekend’s Simply Stylist Conference, part of the World of Fashion event at Mall of the Emirates, I make sure I am looking my best. During my preparation, I recall moments from the show when he lectures aspiring models for wearing tacky shoes, too-short skirts or outfits he deems tasteless. And upon shaking hands with him, I get a once-over from the stylist, who makes only one comment about my appearance: “Nice hair,” he says. I breathe a sigh of relief – I’ve passed.

Roach is one of Hollywood’s top celebrity stylists, with names such as Ariana Grande, Anne Hathaway and Tiffany Haddish his client list. A celebrity’s image, says Roach, is more important now than ever, mainly because of apps like Instagram. “Because of social media, we crave a new image every 10 seconds, especially with a new artist; before we even know what they sound like or what their talent is, we want to know what they look like and what they’re wearing,” he says.

In 2011, Roach came up with the term “image architect” to describe his profession. “I’m a very self-reflective person,” he tells me, sitting back in the Ski Chalet suite of Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, where he’s dressed in a sleek yet casual ensemble: white T-shirt, navy trench, tartan-patterned shoes, bowler hat and round black-rimmed spectacles. “I started to think about my process and what I did: researching, surveying, building a plan and, after that, sourcing the materials, so it felt a lot like what an architect does. Instead of doing it for buildings, I was doing it for people and building their images,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be a stylist who was just a one-hit type of thing; I really wanted to be a stylist who grew with my clients and helped to increase their fashion footprint.”

Roach’s job includes dressing celebrities for all sorts of occasions. “I do everything because I have such a range of clients. I do performance clothes, red-carpet dresses, press junkets and premieres,” he says. And while he indulges the obvious big brands, such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph & Russo, Roach says that style is not about simply piling on the designer names. “It’s not about expensive or inexpensive, it’s just about making the right or wrong choices,” he says. “People shouldn’t be lazy when it comes to getting dressed. Give it 100 per cent.”

Roach’s personal aesthetic is informed by his love for vintage clothing, and while he says he’d do anything to get his hands on vintage Dior from the 1950s, he can’t name his all-time favourite luxury labels as they keep changing, and are interspersed with new and up-and-coming brands. “I don’t have favourite brands; I just love clothes,” he says.

Roach started off in the industry as an owner of the Chicago boutique Deliciously Vintage, which was frequented by celebrities and their stylists. But his career skyrocketed when he moved to Los Angeles and aligned with then-Disney star Zendaya eight years ago, moulding her into a fashion force to be reckoned with.

“Zendaya is a very old soul,” says Roach. “I always call her my fashion soulmate because I finally found this person I could share and bounce ideas off and create with. She’s a sponge when it comes to fashion; she wants to learn and she wants to know what your references are.”

What really catapulted the image architect’s career, however, was his style transformation of Celine Dion. “I don’t think people ever thought of her as ‘cool’,” explains Roach. “She’s a legend, and people love her songs and her voice, but nobody thought she was cool, and when I met her I thought: ‘She’s a cool chick’ – so it was my personal mission to show the world that other side of her that they had been missing out on.” The breakout look he styled Dion in, which went viral, was a Titanic-themed hoodie by French label Vetements, which the singer (who recorded the film’s theme song My Heart Will Go On) wore with skinny jeans and Gucci heels in 2016 – the 20th anniversary of the movie. “I want to help my clients be their best them. And I don’t think the world had that opportunity to see Celine Dion until she wore that Vetements sweatshirt,” says Roach.

No longer wanting the singer to be associated only with ageing couture labels, Roach put Dion in trendy, upcoming athleisure brands that would have previously been unexpected choices for the star. Her new outfits, which incorporated labels such as Off-White and Balenciaga, had her dubbed “streetwear’s new hero” by popular street-fashion blog High Snobiety. “People were so shocked by it, it went viral, and it became the summer of Celine,” says Roach.

Zendaya and Dion accompanied Roach on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter’s Power Stylists issue in 2017, marking the first time an African-American stylist was featured on the magazine’s cover. And while Roach is thrilled about the accolade, he says that embracing diversity is still an issue in his field.

“I’ve been doing this for a while, so I’ve been privy to magazine shoots, music videos and ad campaigns, and usually when I walk on set, I am the only black person,” he says. “I only like to talk about the part of the industry that I think I’m an expert in, so I am speaking as a Hollywood-based celebrity stylist – and I don’t think that my small portion of the industry is changing as rapidly as it should.

“I am an African-American and there are not a lot of people who look like me, doing what I’m doing at the calibre that I’m at, and it’s not because of talent, it’s purely opportunity. So I’d like to see people who control the opportunities, not just hire people who look like them.”

I realise that living in Dubai, one of the most diverse cities in the world, we’re somewhat ignorant when it comes to the diversity issues that continue to plague fashion and entertainment industries abroad. From across the globe, we may see headlines on the web about ethnic, plus-size and even hijab-wearing models shattering glass ceilings, but runway trends don’t necessarily dictate the goings-on within each segment of the industry. This leads me to ask Roach about the global modest-fashion movement, and whether it has influenced his styling work. His response catches me off guard.

“I have to be honest, I had never heard that term until yesterday,” Roach tells me. “I understand the concept, but I had never heard the term. America isn’t the most modest country in the world.”

It’s 2018, and though we may applaud ourselves for promoting diversity in fashion and films, there’s still a lot of work to be done. In an effort to raise awareness of this gap in opportunities, Roach has started the hashtag #morethan1 on Instagram, to show there is no reason he should be the only African-American to star on the cover of a particular magazine, or make it on a specific list of achievers. “My personal platform,” he tells me, “is to walk into a room and see more than one, and opportunities for more than just one – to get to a place where I’m not the only one.”

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