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Zendaya Getty 2.jpg

The Thrilling Method Dressing of Zendaya

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | April 30, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | April 30, 2024 |

Zendaya Getty 2.jpg

Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers is a total blast. The romantic drama about a trio of young tennis players and their sexual entanglements with one another is fast-paced, extremely hot, and fascinated by the various ways that power manifests in our lives. It’s no wonder that it’s ended up being one of the most talked-about films of the Spring. Even if it sucked, however, we’d still be talking about it, I’m convinced. This isn’t just a film, after all, it’s a platform for a press tour centred on one of our most charismatic young actresses. And with her comes the thrill of a sartorial celebration that nobody else is pulling off these days.

Zendaya is only 27, but the former child star and two-time Emmy winner is already a household name. Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2022. She’s a Met Gala regular who has had brand deals with Bulgari and Valentino. Her boyfriend is Spider-Man. Earlier this year, she starred in Dune: Part Two, the highest-grossing film of 2024 so far. With Challengers, which is inexplicably her first film as the lead, she has garnered some of the best reviews of her career and further confirmation that she is a true contender for this generation’s biggest capital-M Movie-star. She is undoubtedly talented, but her rise to the top has been a great labour, combining not only her acting abilities but her business savvy. The most evident aspect of that has been through her fashion. Nobody dominates the red carpet like Zendaya.

One cannot talk about Zendaya’s fashion without mentioning her stylist Law Roach. The pair met when Zendaya was only 14 and still a Disney Channel girl. As he told The Guardian, about the first outfit he picked out with her, ‘We were like, ‘People are either gonna love it or hate it, but we love it.’”

At the time, she wasn’t well-known enough to command big fashion bucks or the attention of the couture makers. Fashion is a major way that actors make their living, and being a clothes horse during one’s press tours is an expected part of the job. Actors can command a lot of money to wear a specific designer’s work. Making big bucks to advertise some handbags allows many of these performers to do smaller indie projects, as Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst have both previously admitted. What this often means is that we see a lot of risk-free stylistic choices, or a straight-up poor fit of designer to star (hello, Margot Robbie and Chanel.) The job is to sell clothes, and that works better when you play things safe. Zendaya and Roach, however, had far greater freedom. She was relatively unknown, didn’t have the weight of major franchises or projects on her shoulders, and she was in a position where getting more attention was the intent.

Zendaya went big, often literally: Moschino butterfly dresses; a Tom Ford shocking pink breastplate at the Critics’ Choice Awards; a giant Arbys-esque hat at the 2014 Teen Vogue party; a multi-coloured ’80s-style Marc Jacobs suit with a David Byrne-style oversized blazer. She was impossible to look away from. Not every look worked but the fact that she even tried them was exciting. As she garnered more interest, the invites got more prestigious, and with them the opportunities to be even more daring. This is where Zendaya’s impeccable skill for themed dressing came to the forefront, and this is what has made her so specifically fascinating as a fashion figure.

At the Met Gala, the theme is everything, but it’s all too common for the high-profile guests to sit out the esoteric demands of the evening in favour of something they would wear at any other party. Not Zendaya. She and Roach took every theme and ran with it, from her Joan of Arc chic during the Catholic art season to the light-up evolving Cinderella dress for Camp. It was over-the-top yet on point, stylish yet uninterested in trend-chasing, and crucially, it was all fun as hell.

Soon, it extended to Zendaya’s own project promotions. Oh, she’s got some Spider-Man movies to promote? Crack out the spiderweb chic. She’s in a Space Jam sequel? How about a vibrant print shirt and shorts that wouldn’t look out of place on Lola Bunny? Dune is a thing? Say no more. We’ve got wet look Balmain, sci-fi cut-outs, and the iconic Mugler robot one-piece. With Challengers, it’s been full-on tennis chic, including a plunging Loewe gown with the silhouette of a player mid-serve emblazoned on the front. She and Roach paid tribute to the Williams sisters with another dress, bringing to the forefront the Black women who changed the game for the sport of tennis.

It’s not just about clothes. As a young Black woman in the entertainment world, Zendaya’s fashion choices are intentional in terms of her body, hair, and politics. She and Roach often focus on Black designers, who remain a tiny minority of the high-fashion world. When she collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger on an acclaimed capsule collection, she pushed for legendary Black models and icons like Grace Jones to walk the runway. In 2015, she appeared at the Oscars with her hair in dreadlocks, which the ghouls of the E! Network’s Fashion Police claimed made her looks as though ‘she smells like patchouli oil and weed.’ Zendaya, who was only 19 at the time, responded via Instagram to call out the ‘ignorant slurs and pure disrespect’ of the moment. Fashion Police shortly thereafter revamped its panel but this moment drove home how that era of Joan Rivers-style cruelty was dying out in the fashion world. It had no place in the new time of risk takers and young Black women whose choices couldn’t be shoved into a ‘starlet versus streetwalker’ binary (yes, that was the name of a segment on that damn show.)

Zendaya has a lot going for her as a fashion maven. She’s beautiful, thin, and has the kind of natural poise that a generation of nepo baby models would kill for. But so do many other stars and they don’t dress this well. There are more risk-takers doing the theme dressing that Zendaya perfected. Margot Robbie kicked absolute hot pink a*se with the Barbie press tour, although her non-doll outfits are seldom as interesting. Anya Taylor-Joy dabbles too. But it’s Zendaya’s consistency, commitment, and high-level hit count for Looks that makes her the stand-out. It helped to lift her to the A-List and made her impossible to turn away from. Fashion shows no mercy, but Zendaya is always in charge of it.