Zendaya's Cutout Dress in Malcolm & Marie Has a Pretty Complicated Backstory
Costume designer and image architect Law Roach tells us how it came to be, and to look that good in black-and-white.
If you've ever spotted Zendaya wearing an outfit that made you physically react with excitement — as in, gasping, squealing, and immediately Googling for similar options — chances are it was chosen by Law Roach. The Image Architect has been dressing the actress for events and appearances (as well as dreamy InStyle photo shoots) for years. And now, he's added yet another impressive credit to his ever-growing resume: Costume Designer for the Netflix film Malcolm & Marie.
"I've been working with Zendaya for so long, but I've never had the opportunity to work with her in this capacity — her films or television shows," Roach tells InStyle over the phone. "I thought maybe one day that it would happen, but I'm so happy it was this. I am just so grateful that she introduced me to Sam Levinson [the film's writer and director, who is also behind HBO's Euphoria], and that I was a part of this little movie that's becoming this huge thing."
Malcolm & Marie centers around a couple who have recently been reunited, only to have their relationship tested by certain revelations. With a cast only consisting of only two people (the Malcolm to Zendaya's Marie is played by John David Washington), Marie's outfits get a whole lot of screen time. And, on top of creating looks that memorable and meaningful, Roach had to make sure Marie's costumes would able to wow on black-and-white film.
"The [design] process was a little bit different because physically we couldn't be together," he tells us, reminding us filming happened in the midst of the pandemic. "Sam would send me inspiration, and then we kind of went back and forth. It was very natural and organic. He sent things, and I would send things back, and then we would get on a call to discuss them."
As for what Levinson had in mind when it came to Marie's looks? Roach says his instructions were plain and simple: create something "iconic."
"He wanted us to create a dress that would be timeless and could stand up against some of the great iconic dresses from movies that we all know and love. It was more about mood and lighting, and more about emotion than actually a physical garment."
For a portion of the film, Marie can be seen wearing a metallic, crisscross dress with a large, torso-baring cutout. The custom costume is no doubt stunning — which is unsurprising, since it required serious virtual teamwork to create.
"I got to work with a fellow stylist, Jason Rembert from the brand Aliette, to create the dress, so [the process] was in three parts," Roach says. "It was me, here in LA, Jason in New York, and Sam was in Montecito, a few hours away from LA. But, it's what creatives do, right?"
Once Roach shared his knowledge of what looks best on Zendaya, along with what he knew about the character of Marie, he and Rembert went back and forth with sketches before diving into one of the trickiest parts: finding fabric. They needed something with movement, that would still be attention-grabbing in a black-and-white film, and had to brainstorm via video.
"Jason went to the fabric store while I was on FaceTime and we picked out fabrics," says Roach. "Then, we sent the fabrics to Sam and Zendaya, who did a camera test with the fibers to see which one was, I guess, the most spectacular with the lights. Then, we chose the fabric. Once the dress was produced, it was sent to Zendaya and Sam, and then we had a virtual fitting and made notes. We sent the dress back to Aliette, who made corrections, and the dress was born."
While the dress' design process sounds heavily involved, deciding Marie's second outfit — a white tank top and a pair of briefs — was a lot simpler.
"That reference actually came from Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut," Roach reveals. "That was in Sam's references that he sent, and it also felt really youthful but still sexy. And, it felt real. It felt like that's what Marie would go to bed in."
Malcolm & Marie is definitely a career highlight for Roach, but surprisingly, the Image Architect has yet to have an "I made it" moment — and it's unlikely he ever will.
"I do understand that I am successful and that I have had some really beautiful, major moments with huge stars, but I just look at it as work," he says. "I get up, get dressed, and go to the office every day just like everybody else, and I just love what I do. I think that's what keeps me humble; I put my head down and just do the work."
We can't wait to see what he works on next.