Magazine Feature

Don't Call Them Stylists: 'Image Architects' & 'Fashion Activists' Explain the Name Change

Law Roach
Silas Vassar III

Law Roach

For one month this summer, 37 Avenue Hoche in Paris became the most novel runway in the world. That was where 48-year-old chanteuse Celine Dion emerged every day from the lobby of her hotel in an ever more surprising outfit. One day, the star, previously known for Las Vegas-style sequins and gowns, wore a stark yellow Jil Sander coat with towering Gianvito Rossi boots. Then it was a red leather jacket from Off-White, and finally an $885 sweatshirt from Vetements that bore images from Titanic on the front. By season’s end, the singer had become a style icon.

However, the man behind Dion’s transformation doesn’t want to be called a stylist. “I’m an image architect,” declares Law Roach, a Chicago native who also dresses celebrities from Ariana Grande to Ruby Rose. Roach is among a cadre of what used to be called stylist who now dismiss that designation as restrictive. “I came up with ‘image architect’ a couple of years ago,” he says, prompted by his work with Zendaya.

KCS Presse/Splash News
Celine Dion leaves the Royal Monceau Hotel in Paris.

Through strategic design choices, he says, “I created the blueprint for her fashion career.” Moments like the 20-year-old actress-singer’s appearance at the 2015 Academy Awards, in an ivory Vivienne Westwood dress, morphed her from Disney girl to style star.

Others eschewing the label of “stylist” include Sia’s “style artist” Samantha Burkhart and B. Åkerlund, a costume designer, stylist and longtime collaborator with Madonna, who prefers the term “fashion activist.” Having grown disillusioned with what she saw as the tyranny of big fashion on the red carpet, Åkerlund decided to champion emerging designers, like Kuwaiti couturier Yousef Al-Jasmi, who created a bodysuit for Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album. “I got involved in trying to understand the [designer’s] struggle. These people need a voice,” she says. “Someone needs to lead the troops.”

Ekaterina Belinskaya
B. Åkerlund

But not everyone is sold on these new designations. Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, sighs when she hears “image architect.” “How pretentious is that?” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with being a stylist, is there?” But there might be more at play than just a nifty-sounding title — like money. A traditional stylist, someone who dresses a star for a red carpet appearance, can easily make $2,000. A “style architect” who invents a new image and increases a star’s visibility to brands can charge more. “A lot of these artists aren’t getting paid as well as they used to, and they want to get into new businesses like fashion,” says Marc Beckman, CEO of advertising and representation agency DMA United. “For artists, relevancy creates meaningful revenue streams.” 

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of Billboard.