Zendaya
Zendaya (Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Zendaya always knows how to capitalize on a moment. On Thursday, April 23, the Emmy-winning actress and producer was honored for her contributions to film and TV at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards. The 24-year-old accepted her award wearing a vintage Yves Saint Laurent ensemble with symbolic meaning. It belonged to Black business woman and fashion pioneer Eunice Johnson. Zendaya’s stylist  Law Roach provided the dress from his personal archive. “I’ve been waiting to share this look,” Roach captioned a video of Zendaya in the look on Instagram. “Zendaya wearing vintage YSL Haute Couture from 1982 (my personal archive) originally owned by the trailblazer Eunice Johnson! We pay homage.”

Johnson and her husband John H. Johnson, founded Johnson Publishing Company, which brought to life Ebony and Jet magazines, but also Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that brought haute couture to Black women from 1958 to 2009. The Wall Street Journal reported Johnson bought 7,000 items of clothing and accessories over her lifetime, for the show and for her personal collection. But it wasn’t always about the glitz and glamour. “We were the ones who convinced Valentino to use Black models in his shows back in the 60s,” Johnson told The New York Times in 2001. “I was in Paris, and I told him: ‘If you can’t find any black models, we’ll get some for you. And if you can’t use them, we’re not going to buy from you anymore.’ That was before he was famous.”

Law Roach has been candid about his struggle working with high-end designers, making the homage all the more meaningful. “I built my career and Zendaya’s career on not using any big brands at all,” Roach said at the Hollywood Reporter’s stylist roundtable in 2018. “I will tell you why, because in the beginning they wouldn’t touch her.” He went on to say: “Zendaya made it to the cover of Vogue, she has never worn Valentino, she has never worn Gucci, she has never worn Chanel. She only wore Dolce when she got a Dolce campaign. I built that girl’s career and my career using smaller brands and emerging designers to prove a point.”

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