This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.
This interview was also released as an episode of The Cut podcast. You can listen below.
Almost five years ago, I wrote a story for the Cut titled “What It’s Like to Be Black and in Fashion.” More than 100 Black fashion-industry professionals, from assistants to executives, described a field that frequently proclaimed itself “progressive” while doing very little to make fashion genuinely inclusive.
One of the people I spoke with was image architect Law Roach. As Hollywood’s most powerful stylist, Roach has been a creative director for the biggest names in the industry — Zendaya, Céline Dion, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Anne Hathaway, Ariana Grande, and Anya Taylor-Joy, to name a few. He is one of the first Black stylists to work with A-list talent, and his background couldn’t be further from his peers: He grew up on the South Side of Chicago as the oldest of five siblings and was on his own by the time he was 14, returning shopping carts for the quarter deposits just to have enough to eat. Shopping for himself at thrift stores started his love affair with fashion, which grew into the now-defunct Deliciously Vintage boutique in Chicago, a hub for celebrities hunting for archival designer clothes. Law eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue styling, where he was introduced to the then-14-year-old Zendaya, his first major client.
Roach recently won a CFDA for his work, and he seemed to be at the top of his game. Then, this past weekend, just after the Oscars, one of the busiest times for a top-tier stylist, Law posted on Instagram a stamp graphic of one word: “Retired.” The caption read, in part, “The politics, the lies, and false narratives finally got me.” Roach sat down with the Cut to talk about what the politics look like from the inside and what the future holds for him now that he is, as he says, “free.”
Lindsay Peoples: Okay, so let’s get into it: First, are you retiring?
I am definitely, 100,000 percent retiring. Nobody can say what’s forever and what will happen, but at this moment, and in my mind, I’m definitely retiring from celebrity styling. I’m not retiring from fashion, because I love it so much. But styling, in the way that I’ve been of service to other people, I’m retiring from that.
You’re just coming off dressing some of the biggest celebrities at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. You also won the CFDA Award for Best Stylist. You’re at the top of your game right now — so why do this now?
Isn’t it always best to leave when you’re on the top? [Laughs.] I think the real reason is that it’s been building for a while because, you know, I looked up one day and honestly realized that I’m not happy.
I haven’t been happy, honestly, in a really long time. And the culmination of everything that’s been happening in my career these last few days kind of just pushed me over the edge. And it’s just like, You know what? I’ve done everything. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to move and climb in this industry the way I have. But I can’t say that I didn’t do that without suffering. And I think as Black people in this country, it’s embedded in us to suffer, right? We feel like to be successful, we have to suffer. You suffer through things to get to the other side. You know, you suffer through Earth to get to heaven. You know what I mean?
And I think that’s just in our DNA as African Americans, and I’ve been suffering for years, and I woke up, and when I made that post — and shit, it’s like it’s been so long ago, but it was literally the day before yesterday? Monday? I made that post because I felt like I couldn’t breathe and me releasing that and letting the world know that I’m done with this was the first time that whole week that I really felt like I took a breath, a deep breath.
I don’t wanna suffer no more. I don’t wanna be unhappy. I don’t wanna be at the beck and call of people and their teams. I wanna take some time and figure out, you know, how to live.
What was going through your mind when you put up that Instagram post?
You know, last week, for us, Oscars Week and building up to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, is some of the most stressful times in the world. And I’ve always been a stylist that did multiple clients, so I’m trying to prepare for multiple clients that week. And I had a lot of pressure because of Meg [Thee Stallion] — it was her first time coming back and anybody seeing her since the trial. And so that was a lot of pressure, you know, because I wanted to make her feel secure and comfortable and make her feel and look as perfect as possible so that she can have the strength to do what she had to do.
So that morning I got a call from one of my clients, and it was her, her publicist, and somebody from a brand that I’m supposed to do project with, and I found myself on the phone with these three women, and I felt like I was defending myself because the one woman from the brand was like, “Oh, he’s not communicating, and you’re not gonna have a dress,” and all these things. And it was just a lot of things that were not true.
And that’s how we lose clients as stylists — somebody from a brand will say something to the publicist, then the publicist will say something to the client, and then, it’s this thing. I thought I had a really strong relationship with this client, and I thought that she knew that my goal always is to protect my clients.
And at that moment I just didn’t feel like I was being protected, because there’s no one who can ever say that they’ve worked with me that I didn’t pull my whole heart and soul into them or that I left them hanging and they didn’t have a dress. It’s never happened. No one can ever say that about me. And I was like, “Okay, yeah. Whatever, we’ll do whatever. We’ll work it out.” And then I got off the phone, and I was like, I’m literally depleted from the day before. I’m an extreme empath, and I give everything to the point, after that night, I could barely finish a sentence. I had given so much.
That call was very early the very next day after [the Oscars]. And the client was one of the clients that I dressed that night. And it’s just like, I got off the phone and I felt like I’m still fighting. I’m still fighting. I’m still defending myself. And one thing people who work with me also know is I don’t like to be managed or feel like I’m being chastised. You know what I mean? That just doesn’t work for me or my personality and especially when I feel like I’m giving so much.
And I’m doing the job, I’m getting paid to do the job, and that’s the real of it. But the care and the love that goes in me to do my job, I just feel like I should sometimes be a little bit more taken care of, if that makes sense.
Yeah. So after your Instagram post, did people reach out to you? Did your clients reach out to you? What have the past couple days been like?
I’ve gotten so much love. And I think some people, you know, they want what they want, they wondered like, “Well, what does this mean for … me?” Like it means you have to get another stylist. It’s really weird ’cause people are like, “Oh, it’s PR stunt.” Or, “He’s just throwing a tantrum.” And it’s like, No, I’m not. This is real. Again, I don’t wanna suffer anymore. I don’t wanna suffer.
I know you personally, and I know that you’ve talked a lot about how your upbringing is so different from most people in fashion — as a child, you went to bed hungry. You’ve always worked so hard. I think that there’s a lot of trauma that we, as Black people, deal with, but specifically Black people in fashion have to push through that people just don’t understand why you work the way you work. How has that played into this feeling of you still feeling like you’re suffering?
I was having dinner with some other stylists, and they were like, “You don’t have to work like that. Why do you work like that? Why do you put yourself through that?” And I was just like, “Well, if you’ve never experienced what it feels like to be a child and to go to bed and cry because you’re still hungry ‘cause there’s just nothing else, you will never understand the reason why I work that way.”
I’m really a street kid, right? My mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I was the oldest of five, and she decided one day to take my brothers and sisters and to leave me, right? And so I literally lived in an abandoned house. She also told me when she left me, “Well, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” And so when you tell a 13, 14-year-old that, you know, that means you have to do whatever you have to do to survive and to eat.
And so that mentality never left me. I literally survived from the kindness of other people and being a hustler, and like going to the supermarket and pushing the cart back and keeping the quarter or helping people put their groceries in the car — you know what I mean? So I’ve always, always, had that feeling of, You have to figure it out. You have to work. You have to work. You have to work. I know a lot of people have this, that feeling of It could be all over tomorrow, so get as much as you can today. And so that’s why people also say, “Well, you could just do Zendaya and be successful,” but for me, that wasn’t enough. And then, I also had that burden of showing people like I’m not a one-trick pony.
You said in your Instagram post that you were tired of the lies and false narratives. What did you mean by that?
I end up having a real connection with the client, and it very quickly becomes a thing where they trust me and understand me and we have this relationship. And that’s not the way it goes, especially in Hollywood. You have the gatekeepers, right? You have the person that’s in between you and the client, and all the scheduling, and you have to talk to this person to talk to this person. And I think what happens is a lot of times, they become intimidated by the relationships I’m able to have with the clients personally.
And so what happens is it becomes a thing like I just don’t hear from the client anymore. Or I’m booked for jobs and then, all of a sudden, I’m released.
And then I’ll bump into the talent at a party or an event or whatever, and I’m always like, “Hey, what happened? I haven’t heard from you.” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you know, I know my team reached out a few times, but you were busy. Our schedules didn’t match up.” Or, you know, “The whoever said that you were way too expensive,” and it’s always that.
It’s always the narrative of, “Oh, he’s never gonna treat you the way he treats Zendaya. You’re gonna get what she doesn’t want.” And that’s not true, because none of my clients ever look the same. Like, I don’t use edits.
I don’t walk around with suitcases of edits that Zendaya didn’t want and offer ’em to other people. It’s always those narratives, and I’ve lost a bunch of clients that I really care for and really wanted to work with because of the gatekeepers.
How did you even get into fashion, and what was that experience like?
When I talk about being from the streets and kinda hustling my way — what happened was, out of necessity, I started to go and shop at the thrift store because it was something that was familiar for me from my childhood. And I just kinda made my way back, and so I just started buying stuff and collecting stuff, and one day I had it all in the trunk of my car, and one of my friends, one of my girlfriends, she was like, “Oh, my God, that bag.” She was like, “Oh, what are you gonna do with that? Can I buy it from you?” And so that turned into me going to the thrift store, changing a hem or cinching the waist of a dress — you know, I’ve always hung with a lot of beautiful women and having ’em all come in. We had these little parties … So that got me into selling vintage.
And then eventually I had a brick-and-mortar store in Chicago. And then the stylist thing started to happen, and then Rachel Zoe came around, that show came around, and I was just like, “I want, I wanna be, I want that.” And so that’s how, when I came to Hollywood, that was the goal: to be able to go sit front row at fashion shows and to know the designers. And I remember one episode, [Rachel Zoe] went back to say hello to Mr. Armani, and I just thought that was … I’m like, I want that life. I want that career.
From point A to point B, when a publicist calls you, what is that like? What is the wrangle like?
So sometimes what happens is a talent will just DM me: “Hey, would you work with me? Can we talk about working?” I started working with this client and she had this really big movie coming out and she said, “You know, I wanna be a fashion girl. I want to take risks, and there’s nobody else that I want to work with but you.”
And I was like, “Okay.” So I took a meeting with her. And we sit down, we are having coffee. And she said, “I wanna tell you something.” She was like, “My agency, I told them exactly what I just told you. I told my PR, I told my agency …” And they gave her a list of five people and I wasn’t on that list. And this is an agency that I’ve worked with, an agent actually that I’ve worked with, with other clients. And they said, “These are the five people that if you really want to have a career in fashion, you have to work with one of these five people.” And you can assume what those five people look like.
And so she said, “I’m new. I don’t know any better. So I take their advice, and I picked one of the five people.” And she said that it was the worst experience that she had ever had in her life. She said she was doing a press day, they sent clothes, the clothes weren’t altered. Somebody else’s stylist has to help safety-pin her clothes. And she was like, “I wasn’t a priority to her. I just wasn’t a priority to her. And it made me feel so bad that it made me almost not want a stylist. And I kept saying your name, and they kept ignoring me. So I just reached out to you myself.” So that happens a lot. And then the other way, the more traditional route, is that the agent, they’ll reach out to my agent, and we’ll go that way and try to make sure it happens. But I’m also really honest with people when I work with them for the first time. I say, “We can actually fall in love and create magic or it’s not gonna work.”
If it’s somebody new, I start by looking at every single thing they’ve ever worn in their career. So I literally go Google, Instagram, and what I’m trying to do is trying to have some connection with who I think they are. And then after that, the process is finding the right clothes. Finding the clothes that I think will help tell that story. And then the very first time that you fit with me, I have rails and rails and rails of clothes. And so what I ask every person to do is to go through every single piece and pull out everything that they love, but also pull out everything they hate.
Because showing me what you hate and dislike helps me build in my mind and helps me to be able to look at clothes from your perspective. That helps me edit moving forward. So the next time you come, there could be ten dresses, but every one of those dresses will work because I’ve pulled them and I’ve found them based on my perception of who you are and what you’ve shown me and my research.
My work is spiritual to me. And I know people are gonna be like, “Oh, that’s so bullshit.” But no, like, if you talk to anybody who ever worked with me, they say, “Oh, you have to let him dream about it.” If it’s three dresses, they’ll say, “Call me in the morning because I know you gonna dream about it.” Because it’s so in my spirit and my soul that I’ll not only see the dress, I see the finished look. I see the hair and makeup. I even can see the press the day after.
I do wanna bring out something since we’re talking about the press — Priyanka Chopra Jonas. And specifically, there was a quote in People the other day where she said, “I’ve been told many things that are difficult to hear. In my job the pressure is so intense, you can’t really show the chinks in your armor. Someone told me yesterday that I wasn’t sample sized. I was hurt and disgusted with my family, and I cried to my husband and my team, and I felt really bad about the fact that I’m not sample size and that that’s a problem apparently, that most of us are not a sample size, which is a two.” You obviously now have worked with her for the past couple of years. What is it like, though, when you read things like that?
It was a little bit hurtful in a way that it ended up in the press, you know? Because that wasn’t the real conversation. I’ve never had that conversation with her, ever. So again, it is her gatekeepers, how they presented what I said to her to make her feel that way. And if that made her feel bad, that wasn’t — it was taken out of context.
But I’m sure it was taken outta context to get her to be like, “Oh, okay, I’m not working with him no more. He’s insensitive to my body.” Which I’m like, “How is that possible? I’ve been dressing you for literally pre-pandemic, and it’s been nothing but great things.
Did you feel like her agents were trying to make you look bad?
I think sometimes what it is with them is that they have an agenda and I need to be the bad guy because I’m the one who’s dealing with the clothes and the body. Like, I need to be the one who says, you know — and I’m not talking about her. I’m just talking about in general, like, I need to be the one to say, “Oh, you know, be careful because, you know, the pictures aren’t as beautiful because you coming across, you know, a little thicker than you used to be.” It is, like, so they’ll say that to me or have a discussion with me but then take it back as if I was the lead in the discussion. And I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened, but that’s what feels like happened to me.
But I was really surprised that — I love Priyanka. When you are around her, there’s only so many women in this industry that have that thing. I’m constantly inspired by women, and she has this thing that’s very Old Hollywood, Sophia Loren — it drives me crazy. She has a twinkle, she has a wiggle, and I love her, like, even as a person.
You’re also one of the few stylists who dress a lot of celebrities who aren’t sample size.
My whole career. When I dressed Anne Hathaway, she had just had a baby. She wasn’t sample size. When I was with Tiffany Haddish, Tiffany Haddish would fluctuate all the time. And when she would fluctuate, she understood that she wasn’t sample size and she would buy her clothes. So I’ve always, always, dressed people that weren’t sample size. I was literally, when Lizzo got her deal, I was one of Lizzo’s first stylists. Like, I’ve never shied away and said that everybody I have to work with has to be tall and a size zero. So that was hurtful.
I mean, obviously, your hustle has been a grind. But we often talk about nepotism in the industry, so what was that like for you to be able to actually hustle and get clients versus seeing other people get clients and get booked in your early days without much effort?
Well, I think I was able to do it my own way, and I also had someone that we had made a promise to each other that we would do everything in our power to elevate each other, and that’s Zendaya. The way that we came into the industry, nobody wanted to touch either one of us. Like nobody wanted to lend me clothes. Nobody wanted to dress her ’cause, at that time, Disney girls wasn’t considered real actresses. So we pinkie swore to each other that I would do my part. She would do her part. And we would do it together. And I think that allowed me to circumvent all the other ways that people become successful, the nepotism. I’ve never assisted, never interned; I kinda fought my way and hustled my way. I think the famous story is that I will only put Zendaya in clothes that other people had worn because, at that time, the weeklies were like a big thing — who wore it best? And I figured out it’s about press. It’s about whoever gets the most press gets the dress. And so I just kept figuring it out, you know? I just kept using everything I learned on the streets to figure it out. But the nepotism, especially on the Hollywood side, it’s so strong because these stylists, these white female stylists, they grew up with these white publicists and agents. And they went to summer camp and you know what I mean? It’s this network that I was able to penetrate.
If we use the Oscars as an example, right? So every year, the industry knows the girls that’s gonna have a movie that’s gonna be in the running, right? Those girls, when they come in, like especially when it’s their first film and they’re new or whatever, they come and they’re automatically introduced to one of the ten. To be a stylist at my level, you have to be able to work with one of those type of girls. That doesn’t happen for Black stylists. You could look at the landscape, and you can look and see the Black stylists that were able to reach a certain height, it’s because of Black talent.
That’s why it hurts me so, so bad, when I see a Black talent work with a white stylist, it’s because they have everything else. Like, all we have is you, for the most part. And those women have everything else and everybody else. I always say it’s like two bookstores next to each other, and they have the exact same books, but you choose to go to the bookstore that’s owned by the white person.
We cannot elevate and expand without the Black talent. I was able to do it because one, the way I work, I think, is different. And the way I see my job is different … and also because of music. Because Ariana Grande gave me a shot when I was very green. But music is different from Hollywood; it’s not a lot of that nepotism, or racism, or the good ol’ girls club — like, Ari gave me a shot and then Celine Dion called me and changed my fucking life.
So the industry had no other choice but to respect me and to let me in, because I had did it a different type of way. I’m super-grateful to Ariana Grande. I’m super-grateful to Jesse J. It’s like, these women … I was green. Like, I was so green, and they literally trusted me and gave me a shot. And then Zendaya becoming who she is, so I had the best of both worlds, actually.
Like, look at everybody who was nominated and all that, and see who the stylist was, and then go back and look last year, and see everybody who was nominated, who the stylist was. It’s the same group. It’s the same group of women.
I mean there is Zendaya, there is Anya Taylor-Joy, Ariana Grande, Hunter Schafer, Kerry Washington, Celine Dion, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Anne Hathaway. I’m missing a lot of people, but I’m naming a lot of people because you’ve completely changed the narrative. And you’ve changed their careers, you’ve changed what people think about fashion and styling, and I don’t think that people also understand just how, at the very granular level, how difficult your job is and that it’s not just pulling a look.
What does it look like, start to finish, and paint a picture for me of how it looks as you’re consulting on more than just what they’re wearing?
When I started working with Anne Hathaway, I was the first Black stylist that was working with A-list white talent. And it was a big deal. It was a big deal in the community of Black stylists. I think what it did was show the industry that we are just as talented and that we can do talent other than Black girls. That was a really important moment in my career, and it was a really important moment for other people’s careers. ’Cause it just wasn’t happening. It just absolutely wasn’t happening, and you know, I didn’t dress Anne at the beginning; I dressed Anne when Anne is Anne. Anne is Oscar-winning, like, Anne is a movie star.
And so what that did was gave other people hope that, and other stylists, that they can do it, too. And I think we saw Jason Bolden go on and style Angelina Jolie — see, people don’t understand, like, it’s a pack of us. A very small pack of us. And every time we have a win, one of us has a win, it’s a win for everybody else. Because at the end of the day, everybody wants the most successful career, and the most diverse career that they can have, right?
And everybody wants the opportunities, and unfortunately, you get more opportunities when you get to the place where you’re dressing white women. Just like everything else in this country, right? You’re validated.
Even my career, I’m validated by white Establishments. I’ve never been — well, I won’t say never — but I’ve never been invited to the BET Awards. I’ve never been given an award by Essence, or NAACP … I wasn’t even invited to NAACP. [Laughs.] With all that with Zendaya, like, I’ve never been invited. I’ve never been celebrated by my own people. It doesn’t matter until you’re validated by the white Establishment. And I’ve been lucky to get that validation, but it would mean so much more to me, to be validated and appreciated from my own people.
But what does that look like, specifically when you’re working with these big A-list people, because it’s not just picking out a look for this premiere. You’re consulting on so much, so what does that look like, overall?
I own my look. It’s called the gestalt theory. It says the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And I have to control the whole, right? Because, again, it comes from my vision and my dreams, and I see it, right? And so, I have to see it in real life, the way I see it in my mind. So it’s exhausting, and it’s exhausting if you have a client in London, and it’s, you know, four, three a.m. in L.A., and you have to be up and be alert and talk to hair and makeup about the look, and make sure that the earring is right, and all that. People say, “Well, you don’t have to do all that.” I was like, “I do, because that’s my crazy, right? And it’s also my vice.” Like, I don’t do drugs, I don’t party, I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t have a dog, I don’t have any kids, like. It’s literally all that I have.
But you also consult so much on image, overall. It’s not just the specific of clothing. It’s also career.
It’s a story. I have to be able to create a narrative. I’m just a storyteller, honestly, Lindsay. At the end of the day, I am a storyteller, and I use the clothes, as the words, to get across the narrative, get across the story. I want you to feel like you’re Dorothy Dandridge in the way you touch your hair, and the way you bevel, you know what I mean? I do all of that. I’m really close to my clients; yes, we do talk about career moves and brands and that type of stuff. But then, that’s another thing that the gatekeepers don’t like. They don’t like that. That I’m gonna make this amount of money for consulting about the whole thing. So, yeah, they don’t like that.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to gatekeepers in general. I know the Vuitton video has been circulating a ton. I was there, but I didn’t even see you there. But I saw the video of you and Zendaya coming up to the front row. What actually happened?
So we left on time, but I don’t know if our driver went the wrong way, but we got stuck in traffic. Also the way we came in, it was a long walk actually to get your seat. It was a long walk. So it was a lot of anxiety, because Zendaya is really respectful and she doesn’t like people to have to wait on her, and so it was just anxiety. So the Vuitton team was like shuffling us as fast as possible to the seats. And so what happened was — we have to remember that we just came from a house where she was the only face, the only ambassador. Even for years, like, I’m always used to sitting next to her. And so, in my mind, my seat was next to her. So when I got there and it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t a problem, but there was nobody to tell me where my actual seat was. And so the seat behind her, when you see her turn around and touch the seat, it wasn’t her telling me to sit there, it was her telling me like, “That’s Darnell’s seat,” which is her assistant. I’m not gonna sit in Darnell’s seat. So then where does he go? And so I was standing there — I was really just kind of confused. And remember, we had just made a mad dash to get there, so it’s anxiety, like, you sweating. I got this suit on, the hair, and we hot, you know, I was trying to make it. And so that’s what this thing was, because I’m programmed. I’m coming from a house where I know where my seat is, right? It’s right next to her, and it’s always right next to her, because that’s part of our relationship and our interaction, seeing the clothes together. And you know, the little cues, and little such, like, that’s the look. You know, and so when that didn’t happen, it just … And somebody was like, “Law, you have to sit,” and I was like, “I don’t know where I’m sitting.” That became really tough, because it made people think that Zendaya wasn’t taking care of me and wasn’t making sure I was taken care of. And then it became this thing with Delphine Arnault. I was like, Where did that come from? And so, now I have a beef with LVMH, and there’s no beef with LVMH. Delphine and the Arnault family have been so kind to me. Like, even after the show, we went to the after-party. I had a whole conversation with her and congratulated her on her move to Dior. She sent me a beautiful bag, and it’s like, there’s no beef. And I also think that played into it, because everybody thinks that I have this beef. That I’m just beefing with LVMH for what people think. Which is crazy. But this beef from the Anya Taylor-Joy thing. And me kind of standing up for myself against Dior … ?
And what were you standing up for yourself against Dior for?
I collaborated with Dior on a couple of dresses for Anya. And when the looks came out, there was no credit to the stylist. People have to understand when we do customs for clients, there’s a process, right? It’s a back-and-forth. It’s a collaboration between the designer, the atelier, and us, right? Because we are the liaison between them for the client, and to make sure they are happy, because we know what they want, more than the house does. I had worked really hard on looks for Anya. And so it came out, and it was just like, “Oh, you know, this took 40 hours, and this fabric, and all that, and this design,” and they show the sketch and all that. And I felt a certain type of way, and not just for myself. Don’t erase me. Don’t erase my contribution to this look and to this dress. Don’t erase all the phone calls, emails, and text messages, and going back and forth, and me working to make sure that my client is happy. Don’t erase that. And when I did do that, I got so many DMs from other stylists, like, “Thank you for doing that, because they did the same thing to me.” Or, ‘They’ve been doing the same thing to me for years.’ And my biggest thing, and anybody who knows me knows, I don’t mind being the first, or taking a hit from something, to make sure that people don’t have to go through the same things. And when I say people, I mean, Black people.
Even you publicly saying, “Hey, Dior, you need to give me credit,” that takes a lot of bravery.
It takes a lot of bravery because, again, LVMH is very powerful in this industry. And I have to be okay and have no fear of saying, ‘It’s just not right.’ For award season, we get dresses from houses and we take the dresses apart. We add here, take this, do that. And there should be some appreciation for that, and they should also pay us for that. It’s work. And you should pay us a rate that is attractive and shows your gratitude. We all should be paid for that. Why should we do it for free because it’s this big house? That’s not the way it should work. And the one thing about me, I’ve said this before, I need to know what the rate is. What’s the rate?
Have you had situations like this with other brands where you felt like they weren’t giving you the respect that you deserve?
No, I haven’t. I have the most incredible time and working relationship with Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino; he has no ego. He is a true talent with no ego. And every time we did something, the first thing would be, “Thank you, Law.” Tagging @luxurylaw; sending text messages and flowers. I never had that with anybody else.
As Black people in fashion, we have to deal with so many gatekeepers. And it’s frustrating, because the industry says, “We love inclusivity, we love diversity, we love all these things,” but there are so few of us that actually have an understanding of what it’s like behind the scenes. What has your experience been like in trying to get past the gatekeepers, or to do the work that you want to do, regardless of the gatekeepers?
Some of the gatekeepers don’t care about the clothes. Right? You know, if it’s an agent/manager/publicist, some of them don’t care; they’re like, you know, “We trust you, she trusts you, as long as she’s happy, I don’t care.” But then there are some that want to come to the fitting, and want to have an opinion, and want to pick the dress, or say that that’s not the right dress, and all that, and I don’t work like that. At this point, I’m proven, my work is proven, and if you are a girl that wants to tell a story, or have a huge moment, then you come to me. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows my work, and everybody knows what my work does, and how that impacts someone’s career. Honestly, some people are like, “I don’t care. I’m managing this press tour. I’m setting up these interviews, and you know, I’m making sure all this that is there,” and the other person’s like, “We’re working on a deal,” or whatever; they don’t care about clothes. And I’m not going to the publicist and saying, “Um, did you make sure that she has that interview on the BBC?” Like, I’m not trying to do your job, so don’t try to do mine. And I’m very outspoken to say, “No, you can’t come to the fitting.” You’re not a stylist. I’m not a publicist. So, our jobs shouldn’t overlap in that way. Your job is to let me know the schedule, and my job is to take the schedule and make sure that I have all the clothes, and the client feels beautiful.
This is the worst, and this also happens when I’m working with non-Black talent; it’s this emotion of, “I’m supposed to be grateful,” because I’m dressing the white girl. I’m supposed to be grateful. But I’m like, “No, she’s supposed to be grateful that she’s working with me, because I’m changing her life.” [Laughs.] I mean that as humbly as possible, but like, it can’t be debated. Like, it can’t be debated. I’m one of the only stylists that really, actually changes, and helps change the trajectory of people’s careers through fashion. It’s a club, these women that have been working with each other for 20 years, and the thing about it is that I won’t say that’s always racism, right? To be really honest with you. People like to work with people they are comfortable with, but if you are a person of privilege, of power, you have to be okay to release that, every now and again. You have to be able to be secure enough to give somebody who doesn’t look like you an opportunity, and that’s what doesn’t happen. They want to work with the same stylists. We get it, right? You’re comfortable, you know the job is gonna get done, but if you are really going to be progressive, and forward thinking, and not be a part of the problem, you have to release some of that power. And that’s the only way that the dynamic and the landscape of what I do is gonna change. Some of these stylists, these white stylists, have to say, “You know what? That’s not for me. This Black girl, who I don’t understand her body, or her hair texture, or all this, it’s not right for me. Let’s give this to someone who’s building, who we know can do the job, and let’s give it to them.” But that’s not the way it works, because it’s a money thing, right? To really be our ally, and to really stand strong to all these things that people have been talking about, you have to release some of that power. You have to make the decision to say, ‘This ain’t for me. This ain’t for me.’ This would be better there.
What are some of these narratives that you feel like people have perpetuated about you in the industry? Because I know you were saying that, you felt like, specifically, the PR teams are really difficult to work with.
Not all of them.
Not all of them. But they can be difficult when you are communicating with talent. What are some of the narratives that you have experienced or you feel like have happened behind the scenes that people don’t realize?
It’s the — I’m difficult. I’m a diva. I’m my own celebrity, so I’ll never really have time for you. I’m nasty. I’m mean. But again, first of all, my last name is Roach. I’ve always been a very feminine boy, right? Growing up, I’ve always had to defend myself. I’ve always had to fight. So if I feel disrespected in any type of way, I’m ready for a fight. You know? And they don’t understand that, so when that happens: “Oh, he’s — he’s difficult,” or “He’s disrespectful,” or something; it’s like, “No, it’s just my defense mechanism.” If I feel attacked, I’m going to attack back. I’ve never learned the diplomacy of, like, “Oh, just let it go.” It’s like, “No, if I hear you saying something or you’re doing this thing, I’m going to call you and say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’” Like, “What are you doing? Like, no, that’s not true.” And that’s what I was doing on that phone call that kind of pushed me over the edge. Telling this woman, like, “You’re lying to my client.” And this is the way we lose clients. But in this turn of events, it’s the reason why the client lost me. I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t have to always defend myself.
What has it been like to try to communicate and defend yourself when you know that your counterparts, other stylists, don’t have to deal with that at all?
It’s really tough. And it’s like I never feel protected. You know, I mean I have certain clients that it’s like, “Leave him alone.” You know? Like, “Leave him alone. Let him work. He doesn’t work in a traditional sense. Let him be the artist that he is.” And when it’s that, you can always tell. You can look at the work and know who are the clients that let me create, right? And I remember with Celine Dion one day, she pulled me to the side and she said, “If anybody ever tries to stagger you or your creativity, let me know, because I want you to fly.” Same thing with Zendaya. You know, people think that she wears whatever I want. She doesn’t. It’s a collaboration. But if I say, “Zendaya, my spirit says this is the dress,” she’ll say, “This is the dress.” You know, it’s only so many that really give me that. And those are the ones that the work becomes iconic and legendary, and people talk about it, because it’s the synergy that I need, and it’s the ability and the allowance to be able to fly, right? It’s always the best.
A lot of other stylists don’t have to hustle or work as hard. Financially, what has that been like to fight for your pay equity? To say, “Look, this is what I deserve.” What have you heard about other stylists and what they’re making versus …
I know the impact that my work has, what this look and the picture means financially and how it equates to marketing dollars and all that. And I know that I bring more to the table when it comes to that than a lot of other people. It’s instinctual that we’re not worth as much. There has been programming in this country that we don’t deserve the same amount or the same pay. But when I’m telling you I’ve heard from a credible source, I’ve seen the deal memo. So I’m not telling you I feel like [another stylist] is making more money than me. I’m telling you that I know she’s making more money. And for you to say you don’t believe it. You don’t have to believe it, because I’m showing you the proof. So what your job is as my protector is to go and say, “Hell no. We’re not taking that.”
But that’s this country, right? We are still fighting to show that we are worth just as much or more than them. I mean it’s the same thing we’ve been doing as Black people for the last, what, 300 years? Still trying to make a space for ourselves, still trying to make spaces for people that’s coming behind us. It’s the same thing. It’s just fashion, right? It’s no different than any other industry. It’s no different than the fight of, you know, Black actresses, fighting to make the same amount as their white counterparts. It’s the same thing. It’s like, it’s no different for us, right? I want to advocate down. I don’t want to just advocate for myself. I want to advocate to make sure that when I’m on a set, there’s someone on the production team that’s working that looks like me, or the photo team that’s working that looks like me, or the PAs, or, you know, something. So I don’t have a problem using whatever power or platform I have to advocate not just myself and across the board but down as well. I’m never gonna take the same amount of money as a hair and makeup artist. I don’t do the same job. I shouldn’t have to. When I talk about money and I talk about race, then it’s like, “Oh, he’s greedy.” When you get a real ally at a brand, and it’s happened, it’s happened to me a bunch of times where they’re like, “Oh, well, just to let you know … I’m not trying to be messy, but such and such, such and such, you know, this is what they made. And, you know, Law, we think that you did a better job.”
What would you say is one of the most racist experiences or things that’s happened to you working on set or in fashion?
It’s twofold. Early on, I used to be privy to, like, emails where they’re like, “Well, who’s this Black boy?” You know? Stuff like that. When I really first started getting invited to the shows, because I was so excited, I was early. I didn’t know, like, Oh, this show’s gonna be 30 minutes late. Like, I’m on time. I’m sitting, I’m waiting, and very excited, very grateful. And the PR person would come and say, “Can I see your ticket?” [Laughs.] Or somebody would be sitting in the wrong seat, and they automatically come to me and say, “I need you to get out of that seat. That’s not your seat.” And I’m like, “But it is my seat.” And then I’ll say, “Well, why did you pass everybody else to get to me?” Because the Black boy can’t be sitting front row. And you know, the dynamic has changed with that front row over these last few years. It used to be — I mean, it’s still not a lot — it used to be Edward [Enninfiul, editor of British Vogue]. So when they saw me, I had to be the front-row crasher. Like, I just had to be. I would watch, and I would know what they were doing. I would watch them walk past everybody else. And it still kind of happens. You know, now, the main person will run over and basically be like, “Are you fucking crazy? That’s Law Roach.” You know what I mean? And I’ll just sit there. But yeah, like, for years when I started to go to the shows, especially in Europe. They have a way of making you feel like you’re not supposed to be there.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten to a point where you feel appreciated?
I do feel appreciated. And me announcing my retirement has kind of strengthened that for me. My career, I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’m happy with the accomplishments. I’m happy that I have been able to be a reference point of a successful Black man in this industry, in styling. Because I didn’t have a reference point. And people can make the comparison with André [Leon Tally.] But it’s really no comparison between my work and my career and what he did. So now, this younger generation and all my fashion babies have a real reference point to say, “Oh, well, Law was able to do that, so I know I can do it.” Because, you know, representation is everything. I was still chasing this white woman’s career and that dream, and now people can say, “Oh, I want to be able to do what Law did.” You know? Yes, I feel appreciated for that. And I have put my livelihood on the line to stand up for myself.
So what’s gonna happen with all your clients now?
They’re gonna find a new stylist.
And people will say, “Oh, you not gonna leave Zendaya.” But I don’t have to style Zendaya to be a part of her team and her creativity team, right? So maybe if I choose, you know, not to be her stylist, I can still be her creative director and I can still, you know, manage a stylist or however I choose to do it. I haven’t made a decision. She’s giving me the grace to be able to make that decision because we really have a kinship. Like, you know, we’ve grown up together. And that’s all I ever asked, was for people who I worked so hard for to just give me grace when I need it.
November — not this last year, but the year before that, when my 3-year-old nephew died — I never felt anything like that before. And I think that also has been pushing this retirement, because it kind of made me understand that I had no other priorities than my work, because when he passed away he was 3. I had only been able to see him maybe … I saw him when he was born, I saw him on Christmas, one time, and then I saw him around our birthday. So I had only been able to see him three times in his whole life. Not being able to ever know who he would be, I was on the verge of suicide, honestly. The guilt of not being in his life enough and not really knowing him enough had put me into a really dark depression. And I had never been depressed in my life. So my brain couldn’t really understand what was happening. He died a day before Thanksgiving. So I was on a retainer with a client and his manager, and I’ll never forget this — his manager said, ‘“Oh yeah, but you really didn’t do anything in December.” And I didn’t say anything, but it kind of haunts me that people don’t see me sometimes as human. And that I don’t deserve grace. So it’s been a lot of little things that’s been happening over the last couple of years that have been pushing me towards this decision of retirement. I need to learn how to give myself grace, and I need to learn how to let people know that I am human. Because I’ve been able to be in two or three places at the same time. Like, I’ve mastered that in my own little way. And I need to figure out, you know, how to love me, and how to accept love and how not to suffer.
We saw you last night walking in the Hugo Boss show. Congratulations. What else do you have coming up? I know the Boss thing was a long time in the works, when people thought it was random.
People thought it was a PR stunt. I was really releasing that I was retiring so that I could walk in the Boss show. I’m like, “People, you have to understand that’s been four or five months in the making.” They were really kind, and they were like, “Well, you know, if you don’t think you can do it, you know, we understand if you pull out.” And I say, “I’m a Black little gay boy. I’ve been learning how to walk in heels and pumps since I was 6.” [Laughs.] No, I’m ready for this show.
What was the most beautiful thing about it? It was about me. And I felt like it was about me and I really felt alive last night. Because I didn’t have to go in somebody else’s dressing room and get them dressed. Or make sure that I had everything or my assistant. It was about me as Law, and I felt almost born again, to be honest with you. I was so happy last night. I woke up this morning to get on my flight, and I had forgot what joy felt like. And I’m very grateful to them.
And now you feel that pressure is lifted.
I do. I feel, last night and this morning, I just — I feel so free. I feel a freedom that I don’t remember ever feeling. And no matter what, if I come back, which I don’t have plans on coming back —
So no Met Gala?
No Met Gala.
So what is this next era gonna be like for you? What are you excited about?
You know, so many other things I want to do. I got a book deal a year ago, and I have not been able to — I have a deadline that’s coming up, really, and I have had no time to work on it at all. It hasn’t been announced yet, but I’ve been made the creative director of a footwear brand. So I’m excited about that. Because now I really get to create in a different type of way. I wanna do more personality-driven stuff, so you might see me doing red-carpet correspondence, because I never had a chance to do it, because how can I be a correspondent when I’ve got 11 people at the Met Gala? I hope people start to see me more as me, as Law, as the person. I want to do more things with Boss. I want to do things and use my personality. I might have a talk show or a podcast or, you know, anything. I just wanna prove to myself that I can do more than be of service to other people.
I feel alive, Lindsay. I know it’s only been a couple days, but I feel alive. And I keep using the word suffering because it’s the only word that I can … I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any relationships; everything that could bring me joy has been suppressed because of the work. This persona of, you know, Luxury Law, Law Roach the Stylist, and not realizing that I was miserable. So I just, I just wanna breathe. I wanna fly; I wanna be happy. I wanna figure other things out. I think not doing that job is going to give me the time and an ability to just try some other stuff. And if I fail at everything else, then I fail at everything else. We know I’m a good stylist, so shit. I always got a job.
Video produced by Dayna’s House: Laila Iravani, editor; Shirley Cruz, DP; Nick Parish, lighting; and Christopher Comfort, sound mixing.