Why stylist to the stars Law Roach quit at the peak of his career

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Nicholson/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Tom Nicholson/Reuters

Last week the Hollywood stylist Law Roach announced he was retiring. You may not know his name, but you certainly will have seen Roach’s work.

The “image architect”, as he calls himself, is responsible for making Céline Dion’s appearance at couture fashion week go viral, putting Ariana Grande in a giant grey tulle Giambattista Valli dress at the 2020 Grammys and transforming Zendaya into a bonafide red-carpet star.

A trailblazer in the industry, Roach made history in 2017 when he became the first Black stylist to feature on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter’s annual “most powerful stylists” issue. He has also been a judge for America’s Next Top Model and HBO’s voguing competition show Legendary. Last November, he won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s first-ever stylist award.

Roach’s announcement – just days after the Oscars, where he had dressed many attendees – shocked fans and insiders. In an interview with the Cut, Roach explained that the industry’s underlying racism and overt nepotism drove his decision: “I haven’t been happy, honestly, in a really long time … I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to move and climb in this industry … 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?”

Roach says he is proud to leave behind a “reference point of a successful Black man in the industry”. But while he is retiring from styling, he’s not leaving fashion – in fact, he plans to put himself rather than his clients front and centre.

He’s not the first to make a shift from being a celebrity stylist to a celebrity in one’s own right. In the early 00s, Rachel Zoe’s clients such as Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan dominated the fashion press with their signature boho dresses, oversized sunglasses and even bigger handbags, earning them the nickname “the Zoe-Bots”.

Zoe embodied the aesthetic her clients championed, and as she regularly accompanied them, she began to get photographed too. In 2008, the reality show The Rachel Zoe Project catapulted her to fame and she quit styling others to pursue her own business ventures.

However, the arrival of Instagram in 2010 is what really transformed the careers of stylists. They went from working behind the scenes to allowing followers to access the celebrities they worked for in a way that had never been done before. Prior to social media, only those directly involved in the industry knew, for example, that 100 pairs of shoes might be called in for a celebrity attending a red carpet event, or what was served for lunch on a magazine shoot.

Celebrities and stylists alike were quick to realise that the more access they gave, the more followers they gained and, in turn, the more they could monetise their feeds.

Hailey Bieber’s former stylist Maeve Reilly now has her own clothing brand. Karla Welch, whose client list includes Tracee Ellis Ross and Justin Bieber, has collaborated with brands including Levi’s as well as hosting a Masterclass on how to succeed in the industry. The musician Stormzy even paid credit to his stylist Melissa Holdbrook-Akposoe (above) in his song Mel Made Me Do It, a reference to the hashtag her fans post when they buy something she has suggested.

Roach, who already has more than a million followers on Instagram and relationships with designers from key fashion houses such as Valentino and editors such as British Vogue’s Edward Enninful, is in a strong position to explore new options. In fact, just 24 hours after posting about his retirement he kickstarted his new career by walking the runway alongside Naomi Campbell for a Boss fashion show in Miami. And while he was keen to clarify it had been a long term plan, not a PR stunt, the show’s hashtag – #BeYourOwnBoss – couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.

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