Look up multi-hyphenate in the dictionary, and an image of Zendaya may just pop up. In addition to being one of young Hollywood’s most in-demand actresses, the 22-year-old talent—who was recently filming around the globe for the upcoming blockbuster Spider-Man: Far From Home—is also a regular red carpet fixture with her own distinctive style, as well as a fashion designer in her own right (she developed her own youth-minded label, Daya by Zendaya, in 2016).
Sitting down with Vogue’s Chloe Malle at our Forces of Fashion conference today, Zendaya talked her ever-evolving film career, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and why the need for diversity in Hollywood is stronger than ever. “There’s been a lot of changes [in my career],” she said. “For me, it’s been about coming into myself and twisting myself more and more.” She also spoke about developing her own eye for fashion, much of which has been in collaboration with her longtime stylist, Law Roach.
Below, the must-read highlights from the discussion.
On evolving her career
“The more and more that I’ve been in front of the camera, the more I’ve become interested in how it’s created. My goal is to, at some point, create space and room for other people. To me, the only way to create the things that I want to see is to create them myself. It’s one thing to try and change other people’s minds, and it’s a totally different thing to just do them yourself. I try to learn a little bit about other people’s jobs [on set] so that, one day, I can run it all.”
On being a role model
“I call it being a ‘real model,’ in the words of Tupac Shakur. A role model is someone who is playing a role. I try to be the best version of myself and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same, but I don’t want to fake it. I want to be as authentic as possible. It all comes from a real place. When I was in fifth grade, there was a girl who was being bullied. I saw it, but I didn’t say anything about it. Word got to my teacher and my dad worked at my school—both of my parents were teachers—so I got called into the teacher’s lounge by my parents . . . and they ripped me a new one. Not because I was bullying somebody, but because I watched it happen and I didn’t do anything about it. That was the first time I understood what it means to speak up for somebody, and now it’s turned into something bigger than I could have ever imagined with Twitter, Instagram, and everything. I feel a responsibility.”
On loving the step and repeat
“I enjoy red carpets. A lot of actors don’t like them, but I’d rather do the carpet and nothing else. I’m the opposite. People want to avoid the pictures—I love it! I’ve practiced [posing], I’m ready. I love the glamour of it. It’s fun, because I get to play different characters. Through fashion, I have been able to find self-confidence.”
On fighting for representation in Hollywood
“Obviously, representation and inclusivity are always something that I want to see. There’s always work to be done. Sometimes there’s not space given to you—you have to create it. There can’t only be one of us, and sometimes you have to open the door and jam it open, so that others can come in, too. If there’s not a seat there, go create your own table! The most important thing I can say to my fellow young people is to continue being outspoken. We are going to be the future leaders of the world, and it’s up to us to make the change that we want to see.”
On working with stylist Law Roach
“I’ve worked with him since I was 14 years old. He’s my one and only. He’s family to me. We met through a family friend. I was obsessed with fashion at a young age—I was so in awe of the world, but I was ballin’ on a budget, so I didn’t have the means to enjoy it. I met him and he came in and he had this beautiful vintage YSL bag, and I asked him, ‘Oh my god, is that a YSL?’ And he was like, ‘Of course.’ And then I was like, ‘We’re soul mates.’ One of the things I’ve learned about fashion from him is to be fearless. And to just do it. If you feel comfortable, then why does anyone else matter? If I ever felt hesitant about something, he asks me, ‘But do you really care, though?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t.’ That freedom is really empowering—it feels really good just to wear what you want. When we create looks, we try to create stories.”
On embracing fashion criticism
“The whole point of fashion is to be polarizing. Not everybody is going to like it, and not everybody is going to hate it. It’s supposed to be a discussion. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. When I do wear clothes with Law, I think it’s an emotional thing. There’s always a reference to a time period, or a specific person or era. There’s also a feeling and a story behind it. The last Met ball, I felt like I was Joan of Arc. I was in character! It was some Game of Thrones shit.”
On learning from her Daya by Zendaya line
“That was a big learning curve for me. I was trying to figure out how to do all of it. Now, I’m just moving forward in different arenas of fashion. I’ve been learning. It takes a lot to create one thing, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. I’ve always known that, but it’s different to be creative and hands-on, and touching it and feeling it in a more personal way.”
On how she spends her time off
“When it comes to my leisure time, all I want to do is be in bed. I just want to be home. People always ask me, ‘What do you want to do for the holidays? Do you want to go on a trip?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I want to stay at home. No more airplanes.’ ”