MC Lyte (l) and Law Roach
Photo: Nigel DeGraff (Ford Motor Company/Essence Communications)

With the sometimes troubling narratives spun about Chicago, it can be easy to forget that America’s third largest city is also deeply rich with culture, beauty, style and great taste. But in all its complexity, Chicagoans intimately know how beautiful our city is, which is why even the expats always manage to come home, one way or another (says the writer who moved back after a 20-year absence).

Just ask Virgil Abloh, who’s back in town this week to celebrate his ongoing career success with an exhibit at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art—or his friend Kanye, who has teased a return more than once. Ask Chance the Rapper or Jennifer Hudson, neither of whom have left. Or how about Lena Waithe, who keeps Chicago centered in her work, and whose Insta-tag reads: “I don’t do it for the gram. I do it for Chicago.”

Hollywood “Image Architect” Law Roach also recently returned home, thanks to Essence magazine and Ford, who chose Chicago as a stop on their “My City 4 Ways” culture festival series, aimed at highlighting some of the best black talents in the worlds of food, music, art, design and more.

On Saturday, June 1, Roach joined co-hosts MC Lyte and Essence digital journalist Charli Penn, along with local influencers Chef Lamar Moore, illustrator Bianca Xunise, designer Jennifer Akese-Burney, and DJ Gemini Jones for an interactive, inspirational event at Chicago’s Geraghty event venue. Keeping the city spirit strong, BJ The Chicago Kid was on hand to treat guests to a performance as they shopped pop-ups from locally-based brands like Pear Nova and Hive Luxury Fragrances—in between dance-offs and test drives of Ford’s latest lineup, that is.

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The event was the kick-off to Ford’s road-to-Essence Festival (where they are the automotive sponsor) and their new “Built Ford Proud” campaign, featuring the inimitable voice of award-winning actress Angela Bassett. Also spotlighted was Ford’s “Paint the Future Proud” contest, which will award one lucky winner a set of tickets to the 25th Anniversary Essence Fest in New Orleans on July 4th weekend.

But of the many attractions at My City 4 Ways, hometown hero Roach was undoubtedly a major draw, as evidenced by the adoring throng of fans gathered to hear him speak and grab a pic with the ever gracious style icon. Roach may dress some of the world’s most recognizable celebs—including Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige, Anne Hathaway, Ariana Grande, Tiffany Haddish, and perpetual red carpet showstopper Zendaya—but his incredible aesthetics have made him a celebrity in his own right among red carpet-watchers. (Seriously, even this somewhat jaded fashion editor slightly fan-girled out.)

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But Roach’s story began on the South Side of Chicago, where he had an early talent for fashion, but never imagined it as a career option. Nevertheless, he found inspiration all around him.

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“For me, it was black women in the church. It was about real people, people on the block, you know?” he told MC Lyte and the My City 4 Ways audience. “It was always that one dude in the neighborhood that was fly, that everyone wanted to be like. So, I looked to people around me to influence my style choices, and to help me develop into what I am today.”

Inheriting a talent for thrifting from his grandmother, Roach eventually opened a popular vintage shop called Deliciously Vintage in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Barely a decade since its closing, he is running a global business with assistants in Los Angeles, New York City, London and Paris, and is revered as one of the world’s top stylists, a profession typically dominated by white women.

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But Roach prefers to be known as an “image architect,” a skill he has more than demonstrated on his impressive roster of clients, conceiving and constructing a complete image, from head to toe.

“So, for me, that would be hair, and makeup, and other creatives [working together] to put that vision together and to build that image,” Roach explained. “What I try to do, is I try to help whoever I’m working with be their best self. ... I try to hone in on what’s on the inside.”

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While in his rise to the top, Roach has dressed the likes of Jeremih, Twista, LaLa Anthony, Tamar Braxton, and Jessie J, to name a few, it has been his years of work with former Disney Channel star-turned-major Hollywood hitter Zendaya that has most captured the public imagination. Mere weeks ago, the two wowed the Met Gala crowd with a literal Cinderella story—with Roach playing Zendaya’s “Fairy Godbrutha.”

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It’s a fairytale that seems to mirror the trajectory of the once-child star eager to carve out an image of her own, and the stylist who still considers her his muse (and close friend). In fact, Roach credits their work together with helping him flesh out his identity as an image architect.

“It’s kind of like, ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg’ with us—did he make her, or did she make him? But we made each other, and I’m blessed to have a person like that in my life who fights for me to do everything with her,” he said. Indeed, Zendaya has brought him on to style her inaugural Lâncome campaign (she is the brand’s youngest ambassador) and as consultant and creative director of the recently launched Tommy x Zendaya collection (that’s Tommy as in Hilfiger).

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In fact, Tommy x Zendaya’s debut afforded Roach the opportunity to send his favorite style icon, Grace Jones, down the runway during Paris Fashion Week, along with a bevy of black models of all shades, sizes and eras, including a few from the famed Battle of Versailles fashion show, staged in Paris over 45 years earlier.

“Our whole inspiration was if the women that we hold as style icons from the late ‘70s - early ‘80s—if they were all black women,” Roach told The Glow Up. “In our minds, we created this woman, and that’s where the collection came from, and where the idea to do an all-black cast in Paris [came from].” Beverly Peele, Beverly Johnson, former Glow Up editor Veronica Webb and the legendary Pat Cleveland all strutted down the runway, reminding us that black glamour is eternal.

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“Our whole collaboration was just about love and respect, and paying homage,” he added.

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And that magical Met Gala dress? “From the moment I heard the theme of the Met Gala, I knew I wanted to do something with some sort of transformative element to it,” he told us of Zendaya’s literally lit-from-within custom Hilfiger gown, which also symbolized her evolution from Disney kid to a woman in her own right.

“It was kind of like, her last hurrah as a Disney princess,” Roach confirmed. “The leaving of the glass slipper on the stairs was symbolic of [her] moving on.”

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As for the man known on social media as Luxury Law (so named because “your clients should always know you are providing a luxury service” ), he never stops moving—or working. But he did take some time to walk around and soak up his hometown during his brief stay.

“[It’s] great. Amazing,” he shared. “I felt like I was home.”

The Glow Up tip: Want to Paint the Future Proud with Ford at the 25th annual Essence Festival this year? You can visit Essence.com to enter to win tickets!