“So We Don’t Have Sex Now?”: Law Roach Meets Mel Ottenberg
Law Roach, dressed demurely in a white t-shirt and black pants, was still reeling when he showed up at Interview editor-in-chief and fellow stylist Mel Ottenberg’s Manhattan apartment. Nearly one month had passed since Law, at the peak of his influence, dramatically announced his sudden retirement on Instagram. But giving up star clients like Zendaya and Megan Thee Stallion isn’t easy, especially when they start to feel like family.
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SUNDAY 1 PM APRIL 9,2023 NYC
MEL OTTENBERG: So wait, you don’t know where you’re going on vacation?
LAW ROACH: No. One of my assistants planned it and I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.
OTTENBERG: Are we going tropical?
ROACH: For sure. I have to be close enough to the ocean that I can hear it while I’m sleeping and then I’m recharged.
OTTENBERG: I really need to go on a tropical vacation. I just need a Jet Ski and warm sand and I’ll be fine. Right now I’m not fine. But I would be. And you will be.
ROACH: Yeah, it’s a lot. I kept saying that I would do something for myself next week, and then next week never came.
ROACH: When I posted on Instagram that I retired, I didn’t think it would’ve gotten as big as it did. But I had to do something at that moment to make it official.
ROACH: I couldn’t take it anymore. I have everything: success, money. I thought I was happy and no I wasn’t.
ROACH: There’s no way I could truly love myself if I neglected myself as much as I did—for years. I was like, “I have a whole ’nother life from what I’m used to. I have two beautiful homes and everything I could possibly think of. I have to be happy.” But I wasn’t. I fooled myself into thinking I was.
OTTENBERG: And then you had this huge moment. What was the night before like? Did you party?
ROACH: No, no. I literally got off a flight in Miami to go to my fitting for the Boss show. I was in the car with my publicist, and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” And I started crying. I was trying to look for an image, and I found that stock image just saying, “RETIRE.” It was so corny, but I had to get it out. I posted it and my phone started to go crazy.
OTTENBERG: What a carry, Law. I mean, a real carry. We wanted to put you in the magazine for a year. I was always like, “We need Law in this motherfucking magazine.” And now that I’m on the heels of every other interview, what are we going to talk about?
ROACH: What do you want to know?
OTTENBERG: Do you feel like you’re in touch with your emotions?
ROACH: Now I do. I fired my entire team, I have one assistant that stayed on, but I had six. All gone. Every day I’m learning how to be transparent with myself. I just came out of a bit of depression, because I think that losing my career was almost like a death. You go through those stages of grief: the uncertainty, the sadness, the guilt.
ROACH: I felt guilty because I had all these people that I was responsible for. I paid their salaries. Every day is a different emotion. I got FOMO, like, “I’m not doing anybody for the Met. Are people still going to care about me? Do they only like me because they’re my client?” The shit has been crazy and annoying.
OTTENBERG: It’s interesting to me because I used to do celebrity styling. It can really fuck with your brain. And people are a nightmare.
ROACH: I had a situation where one of my clients who I went so hard for—she had the opportunity to protect me, and she didn’t. All of this, “I love you, and you’re the best thing that happened to me,” and then in the one moment she could have protected me she fucking didn’t. That shit really pushed me over the edge.
ROACH: I’m like, “You showed me that I’m just a worker. You showed me that everything you said to me over these last few years, none of it meant love—because what you wanted from me and what you needed from me was the most important thing.” I was basically begging. I’m like, “Can you please just give me a little grace to get through what I’m going through?” And there was none.
OTTENBERG: Right. I admire you talking about this stuff because I’ve been treated badly—
OTTENBERG: In situations—
OTTENBERG: That took a really long time to get over.
OTTENBERG: A lot of times, at least in my experience, I was like, “Do I want to be right or do I want to make money? Do I want to be right or do I want to do stuff in culture?” And I wanted to make money and do stuff in culture. So I was never necessarily right.
ROACH: We suffer for success. But to what end? I’ve been in so many situations where I’m not being treated right, but this means so much, not just for me, but for other people. I have the burden of being the first Black person in this industry to get to a certain level. So in my mind, I’m always thinking about representation and who’s motivated by me.
OTTENBERG: Exactly. You’re doing it for the kids and for culture, but they can also just sweep you away tomorrow.
OTTENBERG: Who are the people that inspired you?
ROACH: When I came in, Rachel Zoe was the ultimate. She had the career that I wanted.
ROACH: I was in Chicago, this was pre–social media, so her show was the window.
OTTENBERG: I used to scream watching that show, because a lot of those things have happened to me. Has a lot of what happened to Rachel Zoe happened to you?
ROACH: Yeah. One of the biggest tolls in this industry is disloyalty. You put people in situations to change their life, and as soon as they get a moment, they will fuck you.
OTTENBERG: They will. I’ve lived it, and it hurts.
OTTENBERG: Time heals wounds, you go on to do other stuff. But when I’ve been really fucked over in the past, it screwed me up for a long time. And it’s hard when you put so much work and love into making something great and you end up with a paycheck and a lot of resentment. But back to who inspired you—Rachel Zoe.
ROACH: I knew about other stylists that worked in music and all that. But when I saw her, it was the lifestyle, it was the respect. I remember one episode [of The Rachel Zoe Project], she went backstage and was talking to Mr. Armani. It was the front row in Paris and people knew her. When I came to L.A. in 2014 and was starting to build my career, I was like, “How do I get to that?”
ROACH: I didn’t intern, I didn’t assist. It was like, let me take this street mentality—because I’m a street kid from Chicago—let me take everything I used to survive on the streets and figure out a way to flip that and make it work for me in this setting.
OTTENBERG: I feel like I met you in 2014. Or maybe we just knew each other. I remember being nice to this little kid, and then watching that little kid become Law Roach.
OTTENBERG: But that happened pretty fast because—when was your first Met Gala with Zendaya?
OTTENBERG: The Comme des Garçons one?
OTTENBERG: Rihanna and I were really gagged for that look. I was like, “Everybody’s such a flop but Zendaya.” And then the next year at the Christianity one, I was like, “Man, Zendaya just killed me via Law Roach.” We loved what you guys were doing. Wait, I need to see what that 2017 look was.
ROACH: It was Dolce & Gabbana. We thought we’d arrived because Rihanna posted it.
OTTENBERG: You did not disappoint. I mean, Zendaya, she’s incredible. I’m scared of Zendaya, for the record. Because she doesn’t really give a shit about fashion, right?
ROACH: No. She loves it, but it’s part of her job. There’s interviews with her saying that she’d rather be home on the couch watching Harry Potter with her dog.
OTTENBERG: Right. When you guys did our cover story I was like, “This chick that walks in looking like a more beautiful version of her character in Euphoria.” She’s like, “Whatever. Cool. That’s cute. That’s cute.” And you’re like, “It’s about this.” And then she’s like, “Alright, whatever.” She gets fully glammed out and is still acting like she’s wearing sweatpants. And then goes on set and turns this shit out like no bitch I ever saw.
ROACH: She’s a star.
OTTENBERG: She’s not even overly excited. She’s like an android that does everything perfectly in the sickest way and then walks away. It’s incredible.
ROACH: She turns it on. But you can still be like, “Can you do this and can you do that?” Some people, you can’t say shit to them, but she’s very collaborative.
OTTENBERG: She’s like, “Sure, I’ll do that.” And fully does it in an 8-inch platform shoe. I feel like of all the zillions of stars I’ve styled or witnessed, she’s the only one that’s so nonchalant and so fierce. I was scared of her because she was so magical.
OTTENBERG: Did she always have that or did you force that out of her? Because I remember you telling me about forcing her in Loubs. Will you tell me that story again?
ROACH: It’s so funny because I always tell the story and I always think, why did her parents let me do that to her? It was 2014, she was a teen, and we were doing some press stuff. We had this outfit and she had on a pair of Christian Louboutin So Kates, which is the most beautiful, most dangerous shoe.
OTTENBERG: It’s so beautiful.
ROACH: The pitch, everything is perfect. And I remember halfway—
OTTENBERG: But is this a 115?
ROACH: It’s a 120.
OTTENBERG: She’s new, she’s wearing the new shoe.
ROACH: She looked beautiful. And I remember halfway through the day, she was like, “My feet hurt so bad.” And I’m like, “You will not take these shoes off.” I remember holding her up and her staggering. And I was like, “You will learn how to walk in heels. It will be part of your career. Keep them on, suffer through the pain. It’s fashion.” That’s so wrong. And her mom and dad were there, and they did not step in and say, “No.” They let me train her. And then she wore them the next day and the next day. So now, if you pay attention, it’s all she wears. She has them in every color. She can wear them all day. When her feet go in them, they just—
ROACH: Yeah. Her foot has evolved.
OTTENBERG: It’s a beautiful foot. So you taught her how to give fashion—or you guys learned it together?
ROACH: We definitely grew together. I was her mentor for a long time, her fashion soulmate, her fairy godbrother. Everything I learned, I would teach her. Now that she’s older she knows more what she wants.
OTTENBERG: So who, besides Rachel Zoe, was the ultimate inspo?
ROACH: Of course, as a Black man, André [Leon Talley]—seeing his lifestyle. But I never wanted to be an editor. I always wanted to do celebrity.
OTTENBERG: Celebrity shit is so scary, but so fun.
ROACH: People don’t understand the amount of work and how much you have to sacrifice to do that job. Especially at a certain level. It’s a huge machine. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of clothes. I even had Celine [Dion] and Ariana [Grande] at the same time.
ROACH: And this was Ariana, Ariana.
OTTENBERG: That was like, peak ponytail.
ROACH: Yeah, and I had seasons where I had 10, 12 clients all at the same time. Everybody working—press tours, tours, concerts.
OTTENBERG: Was that ever fun?
ROACH: You know what? I never—and now I’m just realizing this—I never enjoyed my life.
OTTENBERG: Because in order to be a stylist in the zone of Rachel Zoe, you need to work to the point that you have vertigo and a nervous breakdown in order to really make it.
ROACH: You have to be fucking crazy. I’m just now having time to really think about it all. I was doing Celine and I was a judge on America’s Next Top Model. My career was changing and globally, people were starting to respect me. And I never enjoyed it. I can’t say I remember coming home and being so happy and kicking my feet up. No. The work never stopped. I’ve basically been working every day for the last eight, nine years.
OTTENBERG: So are you really retired or is this bullshit?
ROACH: No, it’s real.
OTTENBERG: You’re really not styling Zendaya anymore?
ROACH: How can I just pick up and leave somebody when I’m the only stylist they’ve ever had? She’s literally the one client where I’m like, “That is my family.” And I know what I mean to her because she tells me all the time. So I am trying to figure out how to change my position. I’m thinking, do I get a team of young stylists and be more of a creative director and then change somebody else’s life and give other people opportunity? But that also comes with the whole thing of, how am I going to find people that are going to be loyal, or that really deserve it?
ROACH: She has two big movies coming up, so I have time to figure it out before then. But she makes me feel good. When you have somebody that’s been in your corner in that way, you can’t just turn your back on her and be like, “Hey girl, I’m gone.”
ROACH: I didn’t say I was retiring from fashion. I’m retiring from celebrity.
OTTENBERG: Do you have any bucket list things that you want to do?
ROACH: I want to do another movie.
OTTENBERG: In what capacity?
ROACH: I want to do period. Like ’60s, ’70s.
OTTENBERG: Ooh, I want to see you giving that.
ROACH: Yeah, that’s where my soul sits. And I want to be an actor.
OTTENBERG: What kind of actor?
ROACH: My dream role is a cross-dressing, heroin-addicted prostitute that is functional, that still gets up and goes to work. That’s what I want.
OTTENBERG: I love this for you. Have you ever seen Klute?
OTTENBERG: It’s a movie from 1971 starring Jane Fonda as a call girl. It’s really hot. There are heroin addicts in it. I highly recommend it.
OTTENBERG: A hairdo I want to see for you—have you ever seen Hookers at the Point?
OTTENBERG: So good.
ROACH: Yeah. What’s interesting about those girls though, they all said that they were leaving the business and they never left the business.
OTTENBERG: No. They’re in it till they’re dead. Like us, probably. Can we really leave this business?
OTTENBERG: When I read The Cut thing that you did with Lindsay Peoples Wagner, I was so gagged that you were talking like that, but do you feel like the bridges you burned—
ROACH: I don’t care.
OTTENBERG: Go on.
ROACH: The thing about it is, if you’re going to live in your truth, it has to be the truth. It can’t be part of the truth. And I was so emotional when I did that interview. I don’t regret anything I said.
OTTENBERG: I didn’t think you did. And I’m sure the phone’s ringing.
OTTENBERG: You said you’ve never been so busy since you retired.
ROACH: I’ve been doing it all. And I’m like, would any of the opportunities that I’m getting have happened if I hadn’t left the way I left?
OTTENBERG: Sometimes we’ve got to really carry in order to keep it moving. And sometimes eras have to end.
ROACH: I just didn’t want to be of service to people like that anymore.When you break it all down, it’s still a service job. And even if you say you work for yourself, you still have to wake up and go wherever you need to be when they tell you to be there.
ROACH: I’m like, “I’m an entrepreneur,” but at the end of the day, I was no different from a housekeeper, or a nanny, or whatever. I get paid to pack that bag and bring that bag, period. I want to be in service of myself. I can always have a job as a stylist. But at this moment, I don’t want to do it.
OTTENBERG: I think that’s fierce.
ROACH: Yeah. I’ll do what the fuck I want to do when I want. I’ve never felt that power before. Even at the top there were a lot of things that I should’ve said no to, but I felt so flattered that people wanted me so I did them.
ROACH: My mother left me when I was 13. And so I never really had that feeling of love and being wanted like that. I’m just figuring all this out, Mel. I’m literally sitting back and thinking, why would you do that to yourself ? We end up suffering through shit that we don’t want to do because we feel like we have to for all these other reasons.
ROACH: And that was my fucking life. I was working and I was never happy. It was just like, let me get through this job and then I’ll get another job. There was no joy at all.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. Wait, let me look at these questions that my team sent me. Where do you make all the money as a celebrity stylist?
ROACH: Well, I had a really big business, a multimillion-dollar business.
.ROACH: I make most of my money from campaigns. But I also would have press tours where you need 60 looks, so it depends. It came from everywhere, honestly.
OTTENBERG: And you’re also in on the fashion deals.
ROACH: Who said that?
OTTENBERG: Everybody says that. Is that not a fact?
ROACH: It’s a rumor.
OTTENBERG: I love those rumors for you.
ROACH: [Laughs] Thank you.
OTTENBERG: But we’ll leave it at that. Alright. Does it really pay off to have a zillion girls at the same time?
ROACH: Well, for me it’s always been the more girls, the more money, the more opportunity. I just didn’t know any different, you know?
OTTENBERG: Right. What was your most glamorous moment?
ROACH: For myself or for a client?
OTTENBERG: For a client.
ROACH: I’ve had a bunch. One of my fondest memories is Celine Dion at the Billboard awards. It was near the 20th anniversary of “My Heart Will Go On,” and Titanic. She had on the white angel Stéphane Rolland with the big sleeves, and I cried. I’ve never cried on my work, but it was something about the voice, the dress, and her changing my life and giving me the biggest opportunity. And it was so funny because there were rappers in that crowd. I saw a grown man crying.
OTTENBERG: Wow. What’s the best look you ever styled Zendaya in?
ROACH: Oh, so many.
OTTENBERG: Come on, girl.
ROACH: Well, the Met Gala, Joan of Arc in 2018.
OTTENBERG: Incredible. Who designed that?
OTTENBERG: So good. What color does Zendaya look best in?
ROACH: Every color.
OTTENBERG: Okay. What is the funniest thing Celine Dion ever said to you?
ROACH: She’s funny as shit. She used to sing to me when she used to come down to get dressed. She would just sing, “Law, Law, Law,” instead of, “La, la, la.”
OTTENBERG: That’s major. What are you doing next with your hair?
ROACH: Well, this hair has become iconic.
OTTENBERG: Sweetie, yes.
ROACH: I’m going to start wearing my real hair soon.
OTTENBERG: Oh, how long is it?
ROACH: It’s short. I buzz it all off, so I don’t have—
OTTENBERG: You’re going to have a Grace Jones “Nightclubbing” moment? I like it.
ROACH: So you can actually see this bone structure, darling.
OTTENBERG: Yes. Okay. Do you want to do TV as an actress? As an actor?
ROACH: Actress is fine.
OTTENBERG: I love it. Okay. So she’s going to be an actress on a streamer as a heroin junkie who is busy.
ROACH: Yeah. I want to try a bunch of shit. We’re creatives, right? I want to see what else I’m good at. If nothing else works out, then I’ll just be a stylist again. But we know things are going to work out. I want to do something with A24, or with somebody like Sam Levinson, somebody cool.
OTTENBERG: You’re cool.
ROACH: Thank you.
OTTENBERG: Thank you for coming over to my apartment on Easter.
ROACH: Thanks for having me.
OTTENBERG: And now you’re going to go, you’re flying away. You’re going to see your family, and that’s it.
ROACH: So we don’t have sex now?
OTTENBERG: We’re not having sex now because you have to go to the airport.
ROACH: That’s true.
OTTENBERG: Sweetie, I don’t fuck other stylists, but now that you’re not a stylist—to be continued.
Hair: Tai Simon using Dyson and OGX
Makeup: Renee Sanganoo using Lancôme at The Only Agency
Set Design: Pablo Olguin
Photography Assistants: Henry Lopez and Xiapeng Zhang
Fashion Assistants: Timothy Luke Garcia, Victoria Olegario, Alec Malin
Special Thanks: The New York Edition