What Does Law Roach’s Retirement Say About the State of the Fashion Industry?
Lurking behind celebrity stylist Law Roach’s retirement is a sinister reminder of the dire state of the fashion industry.
Following the Oscars, celebrity stylist and creative director Law Roach announced his retirement. It was a shock for many who have followed his work religiously. He breathed life into the fashion industry with his innate ability to alter A-list stars and their relationships with fashion on the red carpet specifically. Zendaya, Megan Thee Stallion, Kerry Washington, Celine Dion, Anya-Taylor Joy, and others have worked with Roach. Most recently, he was responsible for the stunning look Megan Thee Stallion wore as she attended the Vanity Fair Oscar’s party.
Law Roach’s announcement was riddled with statements such as, “You win… I’m out,” which he wrote in the caption of the now-deleted Instagram post. Alongside a large stamped graphic that read “Retired,” he also wrote, “The politics, the lies and false narratives finally got me.”
Law’s transformative fashion abilities took him from the South Side of Chicago to Los Angeles. The self-proclaimed “image architect” worked tirelessly to make his dreams come true. He went from living on his own by 14 to being a super-stylist. His beginnings in fashion included opening his now-defunct Chicago boutique Deliciously Vintage. In 2009 Kanye West walked into the boutique and it was no longer a hidden gem.
A few years later, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles where he was introduced to Zendaya, who would become his first major client. Roach is mainly known for ideating pivotal style moments for stars – his largest being Zendaya – one distinct moment in particular for the actress was the custom blue light-up Tommy Hilfiger dress she wore to the Met Gala in 2019. He also was responsible for the Schiaparelli Haute Couture dress she is seen wearing on the cover of Instyle’s November 2022 issue.
Immediately after Roach posted on Instagram, industry insiders expressed their thoughts publicly on Instagram. Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief wrote the following on Instagram, “You will always have a home at British Vogue.” Photographer Nico Kartel tweeted, “Hopefully law roach’s instagram post creates healthy dialogue around fashion and how nasty that industry is.”
Watching the fashion community react to Law’s retirement led to an urgent soul-searching moment to figure out the story behind the story: what Hollywood’s most regarded Black stylist announcing his retirement says about the state of the fashion industry. This moment is even more urgent as Roach spoke with Lindsay Peoples, the editor-in-chief of The Cut about what drove him to retire; he was tired of being tired.
From the expansive conversation, one quote, in particular, stood out: “I haven’t been happy, honestly, in a really long time,” Roach said. This rang loudly and so did his sharing: “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 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 to be successful, we have to suffer.”
His remarks are a testament to the journey he’s been on as a Black gay man who has given his whole self to an industry that is notoriously known for being harsh. Giving himself the space to finally rest after dedicating himself to his clients has to feel difficult, but also freeing. “I feel a freedom that I don’t remember ever feeling,” he said.
Though Roach has been highly successful, he has felt that he’s “been suffering for years.” This speaks to how pouring constantly into an industry run by capitalist leaders can often lead to feeling depleted, which is largely relatable for many African Americans.
Because of the prestige and glamour that are often associated with roles in the fashion industry, many individuals dream of making it within the space. What often isn’t said to eager Black and brown novices is how you can work twice as hard to reap opportunities and roles that your white counterparts will be given due to connections or resources you do not have. You’re expected to work your way up from intern to assistant to whatever you dream of becoming with little to no resources. That’s where community comes in.
A stance that is firm is that while the Black fashion community is constantly advocating for change, some of the industry’s movers n’ shakers who are neither Black or brown aren’t doing that. There was a period of time when stylists, photographers, and other Black creatives were being embraced. Even now, that’s still happening. But these are isolated incidents of a larger picture. What does the masthead of your magazine, creative agency, or digital platform look like? What does your directory look like? Racism is why it’s not diverse.
Advocating for dismantling racism looks like referring people from underrepresented backgrounds for roles, and also mentoring them. It also looks like setting up “accountability check-ins” with decision makers at your company to ensure folks that don’t look like you are given chances to intern and also work at the executive level. Taking things even a step further, it also consists of looking outside your network for contractors and advocating for their fair pay and wages. Also, acknowledging the mean-spiritedness that’s allowed to thrive in fashion and creating steps to eradicate that culture from your own company or where you work is another meaningful step in the right direction. It appears that after a brief pause nearly three years ago whites in powerful positions went back to business as usual rather than embracing the previously mentioned steps.
The idea that the protests of 2020 altered things and opened the eyes of gatekeepers to understand how they are complicit in allowing racism to thrive is a fallacy. And Law’s retirement is a direct response to him being tired of working so hard and feeling as though it wasn’t enough. Even with respect and recognition by white institutions, he dealt with blatant attacks on his character and outright lies which caused him to lose clients. “I never feel protected,” he shared with The Cut. Roach’s announcement also nails down the notion that no matter what level you’re at as a Black person in fashion, you will still be bludgeoned with mistreatment by those in power.
Law plans to leave celebrity styling for the foreseeable future as it was a space that pushed him into a major depression and also isolated him from having relationships. Behind this choice, it’s especially important to note that his leaving points to how unsustainable the fashion industry is for Black people. Prestige and money didn’t shield Roach from instances that are seen as normal to many within the fashion community, and that’s exactly why he is choosing himself this time.
“I hope people start to see me more as me, as Law, as the person,” he told Lindsay Wagner. “I just, I just wanna breathe. I wanna fly; I wanna be happy. I wanna figure other things out.”