A few hours before Boss’s waterside—and waterlogged!—show in downtown Miami this evening, Law Roach was backstage, working. What he wasn’t doing, however, was his usual job—the job that has made him one of the most visible and celebrated creatives in fashion—as a celebrity and editorial stylist. Instead he was in town to walk as a model for the very first time.
It’s currently around 36 hours since Roach dropped an Instagram post announcing his retirement, citing “politics and false narratives.” The news sparked widespread dismay across the industry, and also prompted a slew of unsubstantiated suggestions and questions as to what might be the reason for his decision: Was it because he was seated second row at a fashion show? Had he had a beef with one of the clients for whom his work has been so positively transformational? Was he quitting the industry entirely? WTF? Instead of speculating, Vogue asked Roach to speak about his decision for himself.
Congratulations on your new career—you’re about to make your debut as a runway model!
“Yes! I am excited and nervous. And deeply grateful. I’m grateful that the Boss team sees me as more than just someone who dresses all these amazing celebrities.”
You are the one being styled today, not vice-versa. That must be interesting because instead of telling the story, you are part of that story that someone else is telling…
“I’m releasing the power, and the control. Which is fine. Because I’ve done it so many times, I understand. You know, I’ll use Naomi [Campbell], who’s here tonight as well, as an example. When I’ve worked with her, it’s always: “What do you want me to wear?” She doesn’t come into the room saying: “I’m gonna wear this, this, and this.” It’s the professional in her. She’s always like, what do you want me to wear? What do you want me to do? So I picked that up from people like Naomi and other legends and icons I work with—that you trust the professional, and you let them do their job. And so that’s what I came into this [Boss show] with: whatever you want, whatever you want me to wear—I have no opinions about it at all.”
It must feel liberating to relax that creative muscle you have been flexing for 20 years…
“Twenty years? I’m not that old! My age on the internet is all over the place, so no one really knows! But I count me working in this industry as beginning from when I moved to LA. And I moved to LA in 2014—that’s when my career started.”
Please accept my apologies for the terrible math! So that’s nigh on a decade. In your Instagram post you used the word ‘retire,’ but what we’re seeing tonight feels more like a transition?
“I’m not saying I’m retiring from fashion. I love fashion. I love the businesses, and I love being creative. What I’m retiring from is the celebrity styling part of it: the being in service and at service of other people. That’s what I’m retiring from, yeah.”
You were quite enigmatic in your post, which created a vacuum into which a lot of love has since flooded…
“Yeah, it’s been overwhelming the amount of love. Because I also work and live in a bubble, in which my clients are my priority, more so than my own health and happiness. And, in my mind, you know, I was doing this [making his statement of retirement] just to relieve some pressure for myself, right? I was riding in the car and I made a decision. I said: “You know what, I’ve done everything I wanted to do in this career. I’ve received all the awards, the accolades, I’ve changed people’s lives…And I just feel like, I’ve had enough, you know? So that Instagram post wasn’t a PR stunt. It was really me giving myself the grace to say: It’s okay. You can do something else.”
So a form of self-care?
“Yeah. And that kind of became this other thing that I wasn’t quite ready for. I have had an outpouring of support, text messages and DMs that I haven’t gotten back to yet because it’s just overwhelming. Even fans saying that watching my work brings them joy. And people I’ve worked with like: “No, you can’t leave because, you know, we love working with you.” And just all these things… It’s beautiful. And it made me even more excited about today and working with Boss and them giving me an opportunity to to be shown in a different light, you know?”
As a stylist, you have that particular skill of colliding clients with clothes in a context, or in a combination, that creates a catalyst for storytelling…
“At the core of it, and I say this all the time, I am a storyteller. And I just use the clothes as the words, right? When I work with anyone, and when I do any editorial, there has to be some type of narrative: I have to know what I’m trying to say, and I just use the clothes to do so. At the end of the day, I am nothing more than a storyteller.”
Are you thinking about how to adapt that skill into a different corner of fashion? It’s great to hear you are not quitting the industry. And of course you should not be putting work, or clients, before your own wellbeing…
“If you have never experienced being a child and going to bed hungry, you will never understand the reason why I work the way I work. I still wake up every morning with that gut-wrenching feeling that this can be over and I can go back to where I came from. And where I came from was nothing, you know? So that’s the reason why, in my own mind, I felt like it was okay to put myself on the back burner for everybody else. Because I feel I have to work harder and be better than everybody else. And because I’ve been that little boy that went to bed crying because there just wasn’t enough food for me to be full. So that’s the bag I work out of, you know? And everyone’s like: “well, you don’t have to think that way.” But if you’ve ever felt that feeling, it never goes away.”
That’s a profound existential fear. So what you’re saying is that fear motivated you to become a workaholic to suppress it from possibly manifesting, and then that strategy itself created a negative consequence?
“Yeah. And when I made that decision yesterday, I stepped back and looked at my life and realized I don’t have anything but that career. I don’t want that to be the legacy… So to answer your question, what I plan on doing is other things. Like what I’m doing today with Boss. I also plan on teaching: I want to be more involved with people who look like me who want to figure out how to have the opportunity to do things that I’ve done, right?… I want that to be my legacy, a legacy that I really helped change people’s lives—and not just the celebrities’ by putting them in the best dress, you know?”
And there is your television work. Plus we are colleagues—you are West Coast Editor of British Vogue. So maybe we’ll see more of your work there?
“I’m trying to figure it all out, you know? This just happened yesterday. I’m soul searching and I’m speaking to people that I trust, like Edward [Enninful], and I just have to figure it out. But I’m so excited that today I get to release. The Boss team has been really supportive of me: sensitive and kind. I really appreciate that and it makes me want to do the best job on the runway that I possibly can do.”
So how are you facing the challenge of walking the runway?
“I don’t think I have any challenges. I’m a fucking diva! Even if they were to put me on a 10-inch high heel I would be walking that runway. The little gay boy in me—I’m living out a dream! The hair, the makeup, the look they chose for me: it’s literally a dream!”
Immediately after what would prove to be an absolutely nuts show—Law shared the runway with models including Pamela Anderson, DJ Khaled, Naomi Campbell, Khaby Lame, and Precious Lee, all of whom were thoroughly drenched by the killer combination of a fountain backdrop and high winds—we caught up with him backstage. So how did it go? Roach said: “For my first time walking to be in a production as big as this was incredible. I have so much more respect for the models: to be able to walk in these elements, in those puddles… In my mind I was saying, “Think Naomi. Think Naomi. Think Naomi!” And I think the spirit of Naomi and her being here really pulled through. So it was fine! That water was aggressive, but I think it was beautiful.” If you can walk the show Boss challenged its models to this evening, then there aren’t many runways you can’t master: Law Roach’s next chapter has begun.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.