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Celebrating Zendaya, Newly Crowned Fashion Icon

Rory Swann takes a look at Zendaya's iconic styles

Zendaya began working with legendary stylist Law Roach a decade ago, who has guided her on a path to becoming one of the most important celebrities in the world of High Fashion today. In celebration of her being chosen to receive the CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award, I thought it a fitting time to take a look back on some of the most iconic fashion moments of her career.

Zendaya’s style evolution began as a teenager in the late 2000s when she embraced Y2K trends to its fullest. As her celebrity grew, she began working with Roach to develop a sleek and sophisticated style. The simplicity of her looks, however - she rarely wears over the top avant-garde or lots of jewellery - is offset by their beautiful craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as a sense of playfulness, often embracing vibrant colours, unorthodox motifs and up-and-coming designers (as well as major fashion houses). Her style may not be as instantly recognisable as that of contemporaries such as Billie Eilish or Janelle Monae, but rather invokes a timeless modernity; her looks demonstrate a close attention to the most recent collections and trends, and she is unafraid to push herself in new, modern directions, but, unlike Billie’s oversized Gucci suits, it is hard to imagine that in 50 years they will look dated. The following looks date from 2015 when she first began to gain recognition from the fashion world, to 2021, an outstanding year for her, and her best yet.

12. In Vivetta at the 2017 Fashion Awards

Zendaya isn’t afraid to take risks. Four years ago, she began to show us this when she wore a sheer fabric covering her chest, protected only by a pair of horse heads. The rest of the look may be simple, but its elegance is a reminder of what Zendaya does best: timeless with a twist.

11. In Vintage YSL Couture at the ‘Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards’ Event 2021

For her first red carpet after lockdown, Zendaya took an exciting step into vintage Couture with this beautifully tailored ensemble in baby blue and black. It is a testimony to her (and Yves Saint Laurent’s) classic style that she can make a piece from 1988, eight years before she was born, look refreshingly modern.

10. In Marchesa at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards

For the 2016 Golden Globes, Zendaya opted for a tiered gown in a flower-embroidered fabric by the house of Marchesa. Not only is it stylish but it's…adjustable? It was actually shortened into a two-tier gown for the afterparty!

9. In Tom Ford at the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards

Continuing with her blend of daring simplicity, Zendaya wore a fabulous pink moulded breast plate for the Critics’ Choice Awards. Unfortunately, breast plates are notoriously difficult to style, and here the skirt feels neglected, even if the top half is awesome. Still, it is rightfully one of her most memorable red-carpet moments.

8. In Armani Privé at Paris Fashion Week 2019

Donning a simple reinvention of the tux, Zendaya showed she could look professional even in a crop top.

7. In Valentino

Zendaya has worked extensively with Valentino’s creative director Pier Paolo Piccioli, even starring in his latest campaign, so it only makes sense that some of her finest red-carpet looks were from the brand. A voluminous orange ball gown skirt is particularly mesmerising as is a joyful yellow bandeau and matching ruched skirt, both Haute Couture.

6. In Loewe at the Women in Film Honours 2021

Seen on the runway less than a week before Zendaya wore it to the ‘WIF’ Honours, the second breast plate Zendaya wore on the red carpet is more sophisticated, if less iconic. This cooky yet elegant dress by Jonathan Anderson of Loewe fits perfectly into Zendaya’s aesthetic and is a personal favourite of mine.

5. In Tommy Hilfiger for the 2019 Met Gala

Embodying the princess fantasy to its extreme, Zendaya arrived at the 2019 Met Gala in a literally magical Tommy Hilfiger gown that, as the Fairy Godmother - aka stylist Law Roach - waved his wand, was gradually illuminated all the way up to the crazily puffed shoulders. The slight clumsiness of the bodice can be forgiven for this spectacularly camp performance (although the ‘who wore it better?’ battle against Clare Danes rages on).

4. In custom Versace for the 2018 Met Gala

Serving up ‘Modern Joan of Arc’ in this dazzling Versace gown, Zendaya used the Catholic martyr and feminist icon to explore the relationship between fashion and religion. An interesting spin on the Met Gala theme, and a beautifully constructed garment in itself, this was undoubtedly one of the highlights from a well-lit night.

3. In Vivienne Westwood at the Oscars in 2015

Ah….where it all started. In their glowing review for the dress, Vogue called the young star ‘one to watch’. A white body-hugging, off the shoulder gown, this was the look that launched Zendaya into the fashion spotlight, and it remains one of her most beautiful red-carpet moments to date.

2. At the ‘Dune’ Premieres 2021

‘Dune’ has been a long time in the works. But if it is anywhere near as good as Zendaya’s looks for its premiere, it will be a magnificent film. A dramatic burgundy mermaid dress from Alaia and a gritty, industrial ensemble from Andreas Kronthaler were in themselves outstanding percussors to the main event: an incredible, sculptural, galactic Rick Owens column gown, coincidentally (or perhaps not) in the same vein as her look from the Oscars in 2015.

1. In Balmain at the 2021 Venice Film Festival

And finally, to round off the list, ‘the wet look’. It may only have debuted a few months ago, but it has already achieved iconic status. Just a couple of weeks before the Dune Premiere, the Space Queen put her intergalactic stamp on the Venice Film Festival in this leather skin-tight design by Olivier Rousteing, cleverly channelling the future through a look reminiscent of statues from the Ancient World. It is simply breathtaking.


Words by Rory Swann

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