Now Reading
Zendaya’s Best Vintage Looks Decoded

Zendaya’s Best Vintage Looks Decoded

There are no fashion headlines without talking about Zendaya – whether it is dressing on theme for the “Challengers” world press tour or wearing vintage outfits to awards ceremonies, she and her stylist Law Roach have fun with fashion and they put a lot of thought into each look. Furthermore, they work with the full spectrum of fashion – from the big brands to independent. Needless to say, this was also borne out of a necessity – Law Roach has shared it in multiple interviews that many big brands initially did not want to work with them. Therefore, they had to be creative and also work with smaller brands. But in the long-run, it actually worked out in their favour. This article decodes Zendaya’s best vintage looks – the polarising Mugler “robot”, a 1980s Yves Saint Laurent ensemble with an empowering story and the Galliano/McQueen Met Gala look this year to just name a few.

You can also watch my video here:

Law Roach’s handwriting is all over her looks as well. He started his career in fashion selling vintage garments out of a friend’s trunk. He subsequently opened a vintage boutique in Chicago which soon attracted famous clients. But Roach always wanted to become a stylist. In a recent interview with Imran Ahmed from in the Business of Fashion podcast, he shared that initially he had to kind of “fake” it and present himself as a stylist until he was hired. And one of his first partnerships was with Zendaya – who was a teenager back then working for Disney. The two of them have a year-long friendship and when Roach announced he would retire, Zendaya asked him to keep working with her.

“Robot Suit” by Thierry Mugler for the Fall/Winter 1995 Haute Couture Collection

In February 2024, Zendaya promoted her movie “Dune: Part Two” and wore Mugler’s iconic fembot suit to the London Premiere. It was all over the news, people were commenting and discussing for days, “How did she fit into this outfit? How did she sit down?” I found it really cool, because not only did it fit to the movie Dune but also was it one of the most iconic designs by Mugler and probably also one of the most iconic designs of the 1990s and fashion overall.[1]

Zendaya in an infamous “robot suit” by Thierry Mugler from 1995.

At the time, some journalists called Mugler’s 1995 show the “Woodstock of Fashion”. He himself had a reputation for drama and for being a showman which he incorporated in his runway shows. (He also designed costumes for movies and Cirque du Soleil by the way). Mugler’s designs often polarized, some say he bridged the gap between fashion and art. Some fashion magazines like Vogue reported about “aerodynamic details” but today, the show is mostly remembered for its performance character.[2] 

The Mugler Fall/Winter 1995 couture show went way beyond a simple runway show

Mugler’s show was not a short one – usually fashion shows are rather short, mostly around 15 minutes max and this was also the case in the 1990s. But Mugler kept people in their seats for almost an hour – they were there to experience a show, not just a catwalk. And this show was even broadcast on French TV – which indicates the significance of the designer and this event including a performance of James Brown.[3]

It was the time of the supermodels – and they also walked on Mugler’s runway: Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Elle Macpherson (carrying in a dog), Claudia Schiffer, Nadia Auermann – to just name a few and there were industry veterans such as Veruschka or Jerry Hall joining them. The “drama” also involved things we could not even imagine today: one model even lit up a cigar and smoked it.[4]

Zendaya’s outfit was Look 44 which was revealed while the model presented Look 43, a big coat and hat. She dramatically dropped the hat before dropping the coat. She then still wore a sheer black “skirt” over the robot outfit which she also lost during her walk to reveal Look 44, Zendaya’s outfit. The model wore a transparent headpiece, almost like a space helmet, giving an illusion of a different reality, something spacelike. The music was calm yet dramatic, it almost felt like a Hollywood production. Zendaya did not wear this helmet, but opted for a wet-hair-look which also matched the outfits very well. Mugler’s design was inspired by Hajime Sorayama’s “Sexy Robot” erotic illustrations. Mugler’s suit also reflected the changes in society overall. It was the beginning of the internet age, Y2K was just around the corner, space was a big topic and this suit inspired many other designers as well. It also has to be put in context – this was haute couture in the 1990s. I mentioned this in my other article about the Newspaper Dress by John Galliano for Dior – people were not used to the drama or this different take on couture. Mugler not only celebrated the female shape but he also accentuated it using latex – for couture. But this was the 90s, times were different and this was very much shocking. The suit became even more famous when Helmut Newton photographed it for Vogue the same year.[5] 

When people criticised Zendaya in this look and asked how she could sit, it was short-sighted. It was a statement, which was more important than being comfortable. It should reflect the drama and they may have also use the social media “outcry” to draw attention to the movie. It is a successful example of PR done differently; it also shows the power of fashion as a vehicle to market other products.

Zendaya in another vintage Mugler ensemble in 2024.

This was not the only time Zendaya opted for vintage Mugler: she opted for a lime-green skirt suit after an appearance on Good Morning America in April 2024.[6]

Givenchy by Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1999

The “Circuit Board Ensemble” by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy 1999.

Let’s stay with the Dune press tour: For the premiere in Seoul, Zendaya wore vintage Givenchy by Alexander McQueen, the “circuit board” suit from the Fall/Winter 1999 collection. And there are some parallels to the Mugler collection. McQueen was showing Givenchy in a new light – the house had been famous for its elegance, rather quiet designs, Audrey Hepburn and the Little Black Dress. And here comes McQueen, the enfant terrible served as the brand’s creative director from 1996 until 2001. The catwalk was opened by a laser show on the mirrored runway. Journalists described it as “Tron-inspired”[7] or “android couture”[8] and Zendaya’s outfit was Look 43 with embroidery imitating circuit boards. Again, it was a strong link to the times, the late 1990s and it is a beautiful yet subtle reference to her Sci-Fi movie Dune.[9]

Givenchy by John Galliano 1996 and Alexander McQueen/Philip Treacy 2007

You are probably familiar with the following look: Zendaya’s second Met Gala 2024 outfit. The headpiece with flowers was vintage Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy from the Spring/Summer 2007 “Sarabande” collection and looked like an upside-down turned flower bouquet. This collection show-cased McQueen’s passion for historicism and theatrics – it involved 19th-century bodice-fitted jackets, chiffon jabot blouses and long skirts, corseted dresses and lace skirts. While the headpiece looked very dramatic on Zendaya, it was one of the less dramatic ones during the actual runway show. (I highly recommend looking at the archives and marvel at all the hats in dialogue with the garments.)[10]

Zendaya’s second outfit at the Met Gala 2024.

The dress was Givenchy – but this time by Alexander McQueen’s predecessor John Galliano for his Spring 1996 couture collection, his debut haute couture collection. This collection felt like a trip through fashion history and it received mixed reviews at the time. But seeing it through today’s lens, it is a very iconic collection. Before the show, there was heavy speculation about Galliano revisiting Hubert de Givenchy’s Audrey Hepburn era. But these rumours were refuted – it was very much Galliano’s own interpretation.[11]

Zendaya’s dress was Look 8 from the Spring/Summer 1996 Couture collection by John Galliano for Givenchy.

Firstly, the show did not take place in a grand salon, but in the outskirts of Paris, at an indoor stadium. Zendaya’s dress was most likely Look 8 from the collection. (Judging from the pictures available online, it is not possible to determine if the train was as long as for the version worn at the Met Gala). Galliano’s passion for historicism, similar to McQueen, is very obvious. The collection featured big dresses but at the same time, there were simple cuts when it came to suits and the hats added a pinch of dandy-ism . And sometimes, Galliano paired these historicist details with Givenchy’s elegance, for example a Victorian-inspired black puff blouse and black pants.[12]

Yves Saint Laurent 1982 Owned by Eunice Johnson

These big designs, especially the shoulders lead us to another very interesting vintage moment: In April 2021, Zendaya wore vintage Yves Saint Laurent from 1982. This was an important year for Yves Saint Laurent, it marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of his namesake label which he celebrated in a big way with his partner Pierre Bergé at the Lido Cabaret in Paris. Zendaya’s look very much reflects the famous Saint Laurent designs of the time, for example, the puffy sleeves. Saint Laurent loved using silk taffeta and silk velvet and they also were signature fabrics which he used throughout his career.[13]

Zendayas Best Vintage Looks Decoded Yves Saint Lauren 1982
An Yves Saint Laurent ensemble from 1982 which was owned by businesswoman Eunice Johnson; Picture Source: Law Roach Official Instagram Account.

But this dress stands for more than just an important design phase of Saint Laurent. Law Roach took it from his own archives and the backstory of this dress is very interesting: it belonged to businesswoman Eunice Johnson, the founder of Ebony Fashion Fair which is still visible on the label on the inside of the garment.[14]

Eunice Walker Jackson was born in 1916 and was the wife of publisher John H. Johnson and together with him she founded a magazine in 1942 modelled after Reader’s Digest and addressing a black audience. In 1958, she started the Ebony Fashion Fair which was initially a hospital fundraiser in New Orleans. which later on turned into an annual worldwide fashion tour which came to 200 cities in Northern America and the Carribean and raised over USD 50 million. It put the spotlight on black designers, models and later on also cosmetics.Law Roach called Johnson a “trailblazer” in his Instagram post. By wearing this particular outfit owned by such a trailblazer to the Black Women in Hollywood Awards, can also be interpreted as an important political statement.[15]

Valentino 1971 and Spring/Summer 1992

In October 2021, Zendaya modeled selected designs from the brand’s archive ahead of the Spring/Summer 2022 runway show. One of my favourite looks not only of this partnership but also of Zendaya is a beautiful dress with poppies from 1971. These flowers became a signature of Valentino and this dress must have some sort of meaning to the brand, as they also used it in their top picture for the Valentino archive online.[16]

Zendaya modelling a Valentino poppy flower dress from 1971.

A few months later, in January 2022, Zendaya wore archival Valentino again, this time another icon: it was a black and white striped gown which was worn by Linda Evangelista for the Spring/Summer 1992 show. This collection featured multiple black and white designs with geometric shapes. Shrimpton Couture had a “sister dress” in white in the shop and described some of the details that each panel has some piping along the edge and it overlaps with the neighbouring panel and where the panels meet, the dress has a three-dimensional feel. The scalloped trims and hemlines are also a Valentino signature.[17]

Zendaya in archival Valentino in 2022.

I really like when Zendaya wears Valentino, because it is quite known that Valentino when he was young, he loved to go to the movies and to marvel at the garments. He said, “For me, a young guy of 13, to see this sort of beauty—I think from that moment I decided I wanted to create clothes for ladies.”[18]

The dress was worn by Linda Evangelista on the runway in 1992.

Pierre Balmain 1956

If we want to discuss very old vintage, we need to mention a 1956 Pierre Balmain Dress to the NAACP Image Awards, it was designed by Pierre Balmain himself. He opened his own label in 1945, after working for Lucien Lelong together with Christian Dior. And the structure of his designs with simple lines reveal that he actually studied architecture. His clientele was the upper class and they had to attend evening events for which they needed ball gowns. Like Christian Dior, Balmain can be credited with bringing French fashion back to life after the war. Zendaya’s dress also reflects the fashion trend of the time – very feminine shapes, similar to Dior’s “New Look”.[19]

Beautiful red and green A-line dress by Pierre Balmain himself from 1956.

Gianni Versace Fall/Winter 1996 Ready-to-Wear & Versace Spring/Summer 2003

As a fan of Versace, of course, I always am excited when I see Zendaya in vintage Versace. In October 2020, she wore a gown from the Fall/Winter 1996 ready-to-wear collection, the year she was born, for the Green Carpet Fashion Awards which took place online. It was worn on the runway by model Anna K. Similar to what I said about Mugler and McQueen, the Zeitgeist of the time was heavily linked to Y2K, but Versace used tried and tested silhouettes. He used more experimental colours and also the rhinestone studded mesh fabric like on Zendaya’s dress are a nod to the future.[20]

Gianni Versace Fall/Winter 1996 Ready-to-Wear

This was probably my favourite because it is a design by Gianni Versace himself. Zendaya and Law Roach seem to like Versace because there were quite a few vintage moments but it was mostly Versace after he passed away in 1997. In February 2023, at the NAACP in Spring/Summer 2002, in April of the same year at CinemaCon’s Big Screen Achievement Awards, she wore a brown lace dress featuring leather panelling from Versace’s Autumn/Winter 2001 collection which was worn by by Karolína Kurková on the runway. From the post-1997 looks which Zendaya has worn, I prefer the purple dress for the BET Awards in 2021. I really like the colours, it is a beautiful and fun dress and it is an homage to Queen Beyoncé who wore a shorter version for her first solo performance at the BET Awards in 2003. Similar to the dress which was owned by Eunice Johnson, I really like the backstory of the style. Again, it shows the effort and thought put in by Zendaya and Law Roach.[21]

In a 2003-Versace dress at the BET Awards in 2021 – an homage to Beyoncé who wore a short version of the dress at the same awards in 2003.

Bob Mackie Fall/Winter 1998

In 2022, Zendaya wore a beautiful velvet gown by Bob Mackie from Fall/Winter 1998. Law Roach had seen this design in the designer’s atelier. Mackie started his career as a freelancer for costume designers Edith Head and Jean Louis. During this time, he sketched Marylin Monroe’s dress for the song “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”. Together with Ray Aghavan, a costume designer who also became his life partner he designed costumes for Hollywood and became a household name when he started to dress Cher and Diana Ross. Archival Bob Mackie items are hard to find, because a lot of the designs were custom-made.[22]

In Bob Mackie Fall/Winter 1998.

Louis Vuitton 1999, 2004 & 2013

Zendaya has also worn quite a few vintage Louis Vuitton ensembles: a puff-sleeved blouse and the iconic multi-colour Monogram bag from Spring/Summer 2004 in 2023. For the recent Challengers tour, she wore a chequered green and white coat from the spring/summer 2013 collection by Marc Jacobs and a silky green button-up shirt and matching trousers from Marc Jacobs’s spring/summer 1999 collection.[23]

In vintage Louis Vuitton with the iconic Multicolour Monogram Canvas bag.

Zendaya Meets Carrie – Vivienne Westwood Spring/Summer 1994

I also quickly want to show you Vivienne Westwood. As you may know, I am a big Westwood fan and would love to see more of her designs on Zendaya because I think this is a match made in heaven. Also for the Challengers press tour, she wore Spring/Summer 1994, the Café Society collection – it recalls a green miniskirt which Carrie Bradshaw also wore.[25]

Carrie Bradshaw wore the same skirt in a different colour in Sex and the City.

Redefining “Americana” – Ralph Lauren Spring/Summer 1992

And lastly, she also wore vintage Ralph Lauren – I really like this one from the Spring/Summer 1992 collection. Not only because it was originall worn by Cindy Crawford on the runway and because Zendaya looks stunning. But also because it is something Law Roach referred to in his interview on the Business of Fashion Podcast: He talked about redefining “Americana” – a term often associated with white Americans. He talked about it with regard to a collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger but I also think that this dress also symbolizes this successful redefinition of Americana.

Redefining “Americana” in the “king” of Americana fashion – Ralph Lauren.


Footnotes

[1] Vogue 2024.

[2] Dazed Digital 2024, The New York Times 2024, Vogue 2024, Vogue Runway 2024a, YouTube 2024.

[3-5] ibid.

[6] Vogue 2024.

[7] Vogue Runway 2024b.

[8-9] ibid.

[10] Vogue Runway 2024c.

[11] Vogue Runway 2024d.

[12] ibid.

[13] Musée Yves Saint Laurent 2024, Shrimpton Couture 2024, Vogue 2024, Law Roach Official Instagram 2024.

[14-15] ibid.

 [16] Vogue 2024, Valentino Archive 2024.

[17] Bloomsbury Fashion Central 2024, Shrimpton Couture 2024a.

[18] Vogue Runway 2024e.

[19] Law Roach Official Instagram 2024, Reddit, V&A Museum 2024, W Magazine 2024.

[20] Vogue Runway 2024f.

[21] Vogue 2024.

[22] Shrimpton Couture 2024b, Vogue 2024, Vogue World 2024.

[23] Vogue 2024.


Sources

Bloomsbury Fashion Central, Valentino, Spring/Summer 1992, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Dazed Digital, Five reasons why Thierry Mugler’s AW95 Couture show was so #iconic, published on 15thFebruary 2024, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Dame Pat McGrath, DBE Official Instagram, Post about the Mugler AW 95-96 show, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Luxury Law Instagram Account, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent, 1982, Twenty-Year Anniversary of the Haute Couture House at the Lido, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Philip Treacy Archive Instagram Account, Post about Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen’s 2007 “Sarabande” collection, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Reddit, Zendaya in the 1956 Pierre Balmain Dress, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Shrimpton Couture, Yves Saint Laurent, Fall 1982 Yves Saint Laurent Iridescent Purple Silk Taffeta Gigot Sleeve Dress, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Shrimpton Couture, Bob Mackie, Dreamiest Fall 1989 Bob Mackie Runway Silk Chiffon w Metallic Leaf Print Underlay Strapless Dress, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

The New York Times, ‘The Woodstock of Fashion’: Remembering Thierry Mugler’s Most Legendary Show, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

V&A Museum, Collections, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Valentino Archive, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue, 21of Zendaya’s Best Vintage Moments to Date, published 24 April 2024, last accessed on 23 June 2024. 

Vogue Runway, Mugler, Fall 1995 Couture, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue Runway, Givenchy, Fall 1999 Ready-to-Wear, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue Runway, Alexander McQueen, Spring 2007 Ready-to-Wear, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue Runway, Givenchy, Spring 1996 Couture, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue Runway, Valentino, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue Runway, Versace, Fall 1996 Ready-to-Wear, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Vogue World, Bob Mackie Talks That Miley Dress and Becoming an It-Girl Favorite, published 6 February 2024, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

W Magazine, Zendaya Goes for True Vintage in 1956 Balmain, published on 28 February 2022, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

YouTube, christisanzh Account, Thierry Mugler Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1995 Full Show | EXCLUSIVE | HD, last accessed on 23 June 2024.

Picture Sources Title Image

Law Roach & Zendaya Official Instagram Accounts


Disclaimer

This article is based on the personal, views, experiences and research of the author, no fees were received by the organisations and people mentioned above. All information as of the date of publishing/updating.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top