Law Roach Has No Fear

Law Roach Has No Fear

Story by Andrew Nguyen / Interview by Mickalene Thomas / Photography by Micaiah Carter / Creative and styling by Law Roach / Hair by Kim Kimble / Makeup by Centerria Nicole

In this moment, Law Roach’s greatest power is accepting that he simply does not know.

It’s an underrated thing to surrender to the unknown, let alone admit it to millions of people. In fashion, you’re always supposed to know exactly who you are, know what you bring to the cultural conversation and know what your vision is that makes you stand out from the rest. But Roach is no stranger to uncertainty. Long before he reached the top, all he knew was that he had something special to offer. His queerness: a superpower. “I just didn't know what the vehicle was going to be to make everybody else see that,” he tells legendary artist Mickalene Thomas over Zoom while on a staycation at a hotel in LA.

More than a decade ago, Roach started his career in his Chicago hometown, where he grew up the eldest of five siblings, learning early on to do anything necessary to survive. His love for fashion began by shopping at thrift stores, which turned into selling vintage out of his car’s trunk before the hustle grew into the Deliciously Vintage shop. Once Kanye visited the store in 2009, it became a destination for celebrities and insiders to discover vintage designer gems.

Eventually, Roach moved to Los Angeles to pursue styling, where he was introduced in 2011 to his first big client: a 14-year-old Zendaya. The image architect kept his head down in the years that followed, giving his blood, sweat and tears to become Hollywood’s most powerful stylist to some of the biggest names in entertainment and fashion: Zendaya, Céline Dion, Ariana Grande, Anya Taylor-Joy, Naomi Campbell, Bella Hadid and more. He was also one of the first Black stylists to work at such a caliber. In 2022, Roach received the first-ever Stylist Award at the CFDA Fashion Awards.

Coat: 1988 Jean Charles De Castelbajac, Shoes: Vivienne Westwood, Jewelry: Swarovski

A year later, Roach posted a now-deleted image on Instagram with one word: RETIRED. “I don't know when I wrote that post if I really meant that I wanted to retire, but at that moment, I wanted the phones to stop ringing,” he admits. “I just wanted to be left alone, because I felt like I had given everything away, every piece of me. And to be quite honest, that blunt post really changed my life.”

The fashion industry loves to tell us to be ourselves and use our voices, but only in a way it sees acceptable. Don’t rock the boat! Be careful what you do and say! Don’t do too much! This is what Roach suspected people in industry were saying about him, intimidated by his talent and unapologetic confidence. “They want you to have a façade of being happy, when it's not really real happiness,” Roach says, “and if they feel like you have that, they want to take it away from you, because they want you to live in the same depth of misery that they're living in. I figured that out when I retired.”

But Law Roach doesn’t have to fake anything or be quiet anymore, and he definitely doesn’t need anyone’s ideas of what success looks like thrust upon him. He’s free. Sure, he doesn’t exactly know what’s next for him, but that’s okay. “I want to try it all,” he says. “When you are a true creative, that creativity bleeds over to a lot of things. It's not one-dimensional.So who knows? We'll see.”

Read PAPER’s full conversation between Law Roach and Mickalene Thomas, below.

Jacket: Dion Lee, Shoes: Vivienne Westwood (From Pechuga Vintage), Rings: Swarovski

Mickalene Thomas: First of all, I want to start by saying congratulations on your book. I purchased mine. It's not coming until September 24. I'm like, “Why I gotta wait that long?”

Law Roach: Well, thank you! They had given me a book deal and were really banking on a memoir, but I wasn't ready to write a memoir because I felt like I wouldn't know how to end it. But I did want to give people who have followed me and supported me and loved on me something. What I have done in my career is more than put pretty dresses on pretty girls. It is helping people find real confidence.

Mickalene: It’s empowering. That’s what we need.

Law: People think just because you're tall or thin or talented or traditionally beautiful, that all those things automatically guarantee you confidence, and it doesn't. The book is basically everything that I've shared through my career and learned from every woman that I've worked with, starting with my grandmother. I just wanted to give something that was positive and hopefully can help. We all need that.

Mickalene: Whatwould you say is the one thing from the book that you want people to take away? This is what you need to know. This is the ingredient. If you don't have this, nothing else matters.

Law: It's really self-love, right? It's also the ability to say, “I don’t give a fuck.”

Mickalene: I'm that bitch! [laughs]

Clothing: Luar, Hat: Willy Chavarria, Shoes: Vivienne Westwood (From Pechuga Vintage), Rings: Swarovski

Law: Yes! And you can become that bitch when you really don't give a fuck about what anybody has to say about you, about their opinion of you, their opinion of what you're wearing, how you’re wearing it. It's really the power and finding out the “I don't give a fuck.”

I use this example: We've all been in New York, and you see that person walking down the street, and they may have on one red shoe, one orange shoe, white glasses, and at first glance, you’re like, “This person is out of their mind. What are they wearing?” But then when you look deeper and closer, there's something in that person that allowed them to put on that outfit and to walk into this fucking crazy, judgmental world and smile. When you figure out that's just confidence, that makes you smile and then turn around like, “Well, damn. Can I wear one red shoe, one orange shoe and white glasses?” That person has found that self-love, has found that “I don't give a fuck” and has used clothes as the words to tell that message.

Mickalene: That is so important. I've actually had to learn much later in life what self-love is and how to hold that and keep that for myself. Oftentimes, do you find in this industry that people just take? They want so much from you. They want your self-love, too. They want to take that.

Law: People do that because they're missing it themselves. You know the old saying, “Misery loves company,” right? They want you to have a façade of being happy, when it's not really real happiness, and if they feel like you have that, they want to take it away from you, because they want you to live in the same depth of misery that they're living in. I figured that out when I retired. I don't know when I wrote that post if I really meant that I wanted to retire, but at that moment, I wanted the phones to stop ringing. I wanted the emails to stop. I wanted the text messages to go away. I just wanted to be left alone, because I felt like I had given everything away, every piece of me. There was nobody at the particular time to give me a little something back. I was dehydrated. I was starving. And to be quite honest, that blunt post really changed my life.

Suit: Vivienne Westwood, Jewelry: Swarovski, Glasses: Vintage

Mickalene: You've moved so seamlessly, effortlessly, gracefully from a mogul behind the scenes to a prominent role in fashion, to an industry cultivator, shape-shifter, luxury brand collaborator. Now, you got your book. What's next on your list for you?

Law: I've been exploring lots of different things. I’ve been doing some little acting and some improv stuff.

Mickalene: I know! I’m excited about that!

Law: I'm trying to figure it out. I just feel so free. I have time for myself to figure other things out.

Mickalene: Were you feeling like the industries only saw you as one dimension? Like, “That's who he is. He's the stylist.”

Law: Yeah... he’s the stylist, and we're only going to give him the opportunity to style. The dark part about it is that I also had the feeling of, Shut up and style. It's kind of like the way that reporter said it to LeBron: “Shut up and dribble.” It was like, “Oh no, no, no. You don't get to have a voice. Yes, you get to pick out these clothes, and you get to carry these trains on the red carpet. But you don't get a voice, so just shut up and smile.”

Mickalene: These industries want you to be humble and well-behaved all the time, right?

Law: Yes! I'm just not a humble and well-behaved person by nature. I'm a disrupter. I keep saying this over and over again, but I've never felt so happy. I don't think I've ever felt this happy in my entire life. Every decision that I'm making is my decision to make. It's such a blessing to wake up that way. But as far as other opportunities, I want to try it all. When you are a true creative, that creativity bleeds over to a lot of things. It's not one-dimensional. So who knows? We'll see.

Clothing: Loewe

Mickalene: Do you get in your industry people always try to box you in by saying you're doing too much?

Law: I think people say that behind my back all the time, or when other people write about me or speak about me, it's always like, “He thinks he's the celebrity. He thinks he's the star.” And you know what? If I do, then good for me. It used to bother me. When I started to be photographed on the red carpet with my clients, it was because I was invited into that space by my client. For years, you would see me behind my clients with my head down because it was work, but if I want to take other opportunities that are coming to me, then so what? If people don't like it, then oh well.

Mickalene: As busy as you are, because I've seen how you’ve shown up for me, you always show up for others. Always. I love that about you. The space that you make for the people you care about is immeasurable, and I don't think people often see that and know that. It doesn't even matter whether they know it or not; the people who know you, we know that, and we see you in that way. I was just talking to my friend Kimberly Drew and she said, “Audacity is a tool of empowerment. We need to radiate that with our own grace and compassion.” And that's how I see you. It makes me shine and smile when I see you doing that. But I also want to know, did you ever imagine your younger self being who you are today?

Law: I always knew that I was special in some type of way. Even being queer, it always made me feel different, but it also felt like a superpower. I just didn't know what the vehicle was going to be to make everybody else see that.

Mickalene: What is your superpower?

Law: My hair has kind of become my superpower, to be quite honest. [laughs] I'm starting to use the phrase, “When I'm up in my drag,” because that's what we all do, right? We all put on clothes to help us show confidence or become whoever we need to become. In the book, I talk about having that one piece that's gonna make you feel good. For my mother, it was this black dress she would wear all the time, and every time she would put it on, you could see her change into whatever person she needed to be. And when I put my drag on, when I got my hair on, it is so incredible that it has become so synonymous with everything else about me. I just let it flow. I think it's also something else about my true love for black people, actually. And you know, we became friends because of Legendary, and I was such a villain on that show.

Coat: 1988 Jean Charles De Castelbajac, Shoes: Vivienne Westwood, Jewelry: Swarovski

Mickalene: Oh my gosh! That show, that show. I live for it! It was everything for me. But why did they cancel it?

Law: They came in and canceled everything that was Black or queer on that channel, and we were the first original programming on HBO Max. The show was doing really well. The third season was the highest rated.

Mickalene: The show was doing really well. It just goes to show you that when they could see our superpower, because they couldn't handle it. They couldn't handle it! The fact that people were actually watching this show to the levels that it was, it’s embarrassing for that industry to cancel it.

Law: That was a whole demographic and subculture of people that had never got any type of opportunities before, and a lot of those kids went out and were in high fashion campaigns and were dancing around the world and being seen on a level that was incredible for them. It also gave other people in the culture something to aspire to. A lot of people were like, “I cannot wait to be on season four of Legendary.” And it was just snatched away. It was heartbreaking. But the point I was making was that even with me being such a villain on that show, people saw my true spirit.

Mickalene: You were just being yourself unapologetically. You knew your shit. You knew what you were talking about, so people couldn't question you. And that's the thing, when you are creative and have talent and know what you're talking about, what else are they going to say?

Law: Thank you for seeing me.

Clothing: Luar, Hat: Willy Chavarria, Rings: Swarovski

Mickalene: Let’stalk a little bit about the red carpet. I feel like it hasn't really shifted or changed. It seems like there's this prescription to it. It's this theatrical moment. It's a spectacle. But I feel it’s its own runway, in a sense.

Law: It's become all of those things. What it also has become is a great marketing and promotional tool for big brands and movies. I'm very proud of my work with Zendaya on Challengers because there were metrics and analytics to prove that the way I shaped the press tour — and made this fictional character almost become a real person — had never been done that way. The way that I saw companies and brands start to push tennis-core was really incredible, to see the real power that fashion and red carpets could have.

I just hope that now gives other people leverage with the studios and people in power. I just want people to be able to be paid correctly for it. If I'm bringing this amount of money to your project and filling this many seats in the theater to watch your film, and you're making money off of it, I would love [us] stylists to be able to get a nice bonus or something. I did it and worked so hard because I'll do anything for her. That's my sister, and she has changed my life. It was her first big movie as the leading lady so I was like, “I'm gonna do everything in my power to make sure people see this film.”

Mickalene: Now that you’re very free, what are some of the challenges that come with that? Are there any?

Law: I don't think I'm challenged by the freedom at all. I'm more challenged about the world's perception of what being successful is. As a stylist, I was able to reach the top of the top. But if you stay in that mentality, like, I can't do something at this level because I was at this level, then you will set yourself up to fail. Sometimes you have to start all over again.

Mickalene: Are there some affirmations that you have that you say to yourself?

Law: “The universe will protect and provide” is my mantra anytime I feel shaken or insecure or uncertain. It will protect me from anything that could harm, and it will provide me with everything I need.

Mickalene: Because if you're being your authentic self, the universe will protect and provide. I love that. I'm gonna try doing that! [Laughs]

Suit and shoes: Vivienne Westwood, Jewelry: Swarovski

Law: I really believe in the law of attraction and that what you put into the universe, you'll get back. How could I have any doubt in the universe when it’s been so good to me?

Mickalene: That’s whyI love watching you. I choose certain people in my life, like you, who I want to model after. I watch how people treat other people, and I watch how they navigate the world. I don't need to know all your personal business, but I can tell how you make people feel, and that makes a difference. The glow in Zendaya’s eyes — there's a reason why you are in a relationship and have the friendship that you have. That goes a long way. Oftentimes, people don't understand that it is about relationships that can move the needle a lot of times. Are you doing anything for Pride?

Law: I hosted a party two nights ago at the iconic Abbey in LA, and I got to introduce Cher. My life is crazy! [laughs] That was Thursday. On Wednesday, I was with Naomi [Campbell] for her opening at the V&A [Museum], and she stopped in her tracks and was like, “Part the ways for Grace.” I looked and it was Grace Jones. I almost collapsed. Literally [Cher and Grace] have been on every moodboard, in every thought process and fashion decision. What made me want to be in fashion was those two, and I got to see them and touch them one day after another.

Mickalene: Does your moodboard change?

Law: I reference based on the way things make me feel. If something makes me feel something, I know it’s right. Every time I see a picture of Grace or Cher, it makes me feel something.

Mickalene: I want you to tell me about your interest and fascination with Azizi Johari.

Law: She was a Playmate in the ‘70s, and I have a great admiration and respect for women in general, but for Black women, it's almost an obsession. Years ago, when I lived in New York, me and one of my friends used to study Black models, and that led us into Black Playboy models. This magazine had primarily displayed and celebrated white women, so to see the beauty of darker skinned Black women is really beautiful. Jayne Kennedy and her husband made a movie, and she had a small part. She walked in, with this beautiful head of hair and these beautiful breasts, and was like, “Hi, I'm Pussy Galore.” It wore me out! [laughs] She was just a beauty. I went to Bali for a year, and I got her tattooed on my stomach. If I was a woman, then that's who I would want to look like.

Mickalene: I’ve been exploring my own interest with Black female erotica and bodies. I love that you introduced me to her, and I think people need to know about her more.

Law: That whole group of women who were in blaxploitation movies — those beauties and what they contributed to society and the world and fashion and film is going to be lost if somebody doesn't tell their story.

Clothing Luar, Hat: Willy Chavarria, Rings: Swarovski

Mickalene: What can people know about Law Roach that no one knows? Is there anything? I'm sure there's something.

Law: I don't know if this quite answers the question, but what people might find interesting is that I have no fear. I have no fear of success. I have no fear of failure. It's powerful just to walk through life with no fear, because fear is what holds you back.

Mickalene: I want to pivot to personal relationships. What is your love language? Are you in a relationship?

Law: I've never been in a relationship, ever in my life. I just always thought, and I said this on a show once before, that I was always put on this earth not to be loved romantically, but to be loved and adored by people for something different. I never craved romantic love. Every time I would try, something would remind me every single time that that's not for me. I just know what feels right and what feels good for me. The way I give love and receive love is satisfying to me. And it doesn't have to be romantic at all. Love yourself, love your tribe, whoever those people are, and have great sex now and again. I'm good! [laughs] That's all I need. I'm very happy. Allow yourself to love and be loved the way you choose. That's what Pride is about.

Jacket: Dion Lee, Shoes: Vivienne Westwood (From Pechuga Vintage), Rings: Swarovski

Photography: Micaiah Carter
Creative and styling: Law Roach
Hair: Kim Kimble
Makeup: Centerria Nicole
Set design: Sinclair Reddings
Set dressing: Nasheed Jones

Production: Sienna Brown, The Only Agency
Production assistant: Jaycina Almond
Tailor: Robrice
Digitech: David Morico
Lighting director: Nigel HoSang
Photo assistants: Chris Carder, Bryce France
BTS video: Chaz
Retouching: Picturehouse

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Managing editor: Matt Wille
Cover type: Jewel Baek
Story: Andrew Nguyen
Interview: Mickalene Thomas
Publisher: Brian Calle