‘I'm in collaboration with the brand,
but I am working for the talent.’

Talent-brand deal broker Youssef Marquis and celebrity ‘image architect’ Law Roach discuss fashion’s lucrative dealings with entertainment.

Interview by Osman Ahmed
Portraits by Christophe Coënon

Talent-brand deal broker Youssef Marquis and celebrity ‘image architect’ Law Roach discuss fashion’s lucrative dealings with entertainment.

Youssef Marquis - © System Magazine
Law Roach - © System Magazine

Fashion and celebrity have always been comfortable bedfellows. For as long as there have been Hollywood starlets, there have been designers to dress them, both for the screen and for a life in the tabloids. In the age of screenwriter strikes and social media, however, the relationship between the two notoriously adjacent industries has solidified from a freewheeling love affair into what can often feel like an arranged marriage of convenience, with dowries and matrimonial duties etched out in watertight contracts, digital metrics, and a unionized army of stylists and marketing executives. A sheen of hyper-produced polish now lacquers every interaction between celebrity and fashion house, from appearances in campaigns to the carefully placed handbags spotted in paparazzi shots.

Every star has a price. During the biannual couture shows in Paris, in June 2023, one unfiltered, flame-haired American actor announced to neighbouring editors and influencers on the front row: ‘I was paid $240,000 to be here; I don’t know what the rest of you are doing here.’ Meanwhile, The Business of Fashion has posted about reports that Timothée Chalamet’s contract with Chanel – as the face of Bleu, its men’s fragrance – is worth an unprecedented 35 million euros. And according to the media outlet Parfumini, Chalamet’s Dune co-star Zendaya’s deal as a brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton clocked in at a similar sum, accounting for red-carpet appearances, campaigns and show attendance. Two of the engineers of that latter deal sat down with System to discuss the changing nature of fashion’s lucrative dealings with entertainment: Law Roach, Zendaya’s self-described ‘image architect’, and Youssef Marquis, the former Louis Vuitton and Givenchy communications executive; who launched his namesake agency in 2023 to broker deals between predominantly LVMH-owned fashion houses and stars from the worlds of film, music, and sports.

The two have collaborated before, having engineered the partnership between Ariana Grande and Givenchy. And more recently, when Youssef was consulting on the front row talent for Jacquemus’ Autumn/Winter 2023-2024 show, held on the grounds of the Palais de Versailles, he invited Roach to attend as a ‘VIP talent’; in doing so, adding a further layer to the ever-evolving chicken-or-egg conundrum of who holds the power: the celebrity or the designer, the stylist or the PR, the marketing executive or the Hollywood agent. In conversation, they discuss exactly that, reflecting on the changes in the last decade that have culminated in peak fashion-entertainment crossovers, and where things go from here.

Osman Ahmed: I want to start with a simple question for both of you. What is it that you do?
Law Roach: I don’t know what to call it… maybe a ‘connector’, or something. I’m more like a consultant, and I’m still always working with Zendaya as her creative director and stylist, in some capacity. For me, I had hit a ceiling as a stylist, there was nowhere bigger to go. And I think the older you get and the more you sacrifice, you’re looking for things that satisfy you and let you be creative in a different way. That forced me to take a break, to rethink and strategize, and that’s what I’m in the midst of now, thinking about this different position, being more of a connector; strategizing the right talent with the right brands, and using my relationships with agencies like Marquis.
Youssef Marquis: Law created something new in our world, with this notion of ‘image architecture’. It was more than getting a dress and getting it worn to this or that event. The notion in image architecture that I think is the most important, is that it’s creating the way you elevate a building from the ground up; creating an image from the very start. But sometimes it’s a rebrand of a personality.
Law: That’s what I sought to do in my career and I did it a few times, but I’m still in a bit of limbo where I’m just trying to figure it out.
Youssef: And in terms of what I do, I did 15 years in strategic comms positions at different LVMH brands. When I decided to create an agency this year, it was because I felt like celebrity became a signature thing over the years. The matchmaking of it all – making the right choice of person for a brand, that can carry through time and carry the right values – that’s a kind of instinctive science, a magic that not everybody has, and that we do because we are at the crossroads of fashion and entertainment. After so many years of doing those deals and planning those coups – be it Madonna at the Super Bowl or Meghan Markle at the Royal Wedding – I felt it was interesting that there was no structure that would serve as a connector between the very complicated worlds of fashion and entertainment. Law and I can connect these two worlds, and not a lot of people get to do that. We are also very close friends in real life, but we turned that into a business. When a consumer sees a celebrity as the face of a brand, it really seems as simple as ‘this brand has booked this person, and therefore they are on the red-carpet wearing x designer.’ But that’s not the case.

‘Making the right choice of talent for a brand is a kind of instinctive science, a magic that not everybody has, and that Law and I do.’

Youssef Marquis

What would you say goes into this art of matchmaking?
Law: Being close with the talent and having a feel for the DNA of a brand, you want to try to put your talent somewhere that fits right. The DNA of the brand shouldn’t be so different from that of the talent. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s really important to have those real introductions, to make sure that the creative director and talent actually like one another, or at least have some genuine commonalities. You want it to feel more like a real relationship than just a business deal. You don’t want it to feel transactional –
although it is; in more ways than one. When Youssef and I worked on Ariana Grande for Givenchy, one of the things that made it right was Ariana’s love for the heritage of that brand, and seeing herself almost like a young reincarnation of Audrey.
Youssef: As Law says, sometimes they’re contractual and business or money-oriented, but sometimes they’re fully organic. Sometimes we work with a brand that is not going to be paying a talent, where it’s just a pure connection of, ‘We think this is right for you and you should do it because it fits, even though it doesn’t mean a contract right now. But it might put you on the scene in a certain way and mean a contract with someone else in three years.’ During my Givenchy tenure – this was more than ten years ago – we would be dressing Rooney Mara, who came out with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and we’d dress her for every single red carpet. There was no contract. It was just that she was so Givenchy in essence, that she felt it and we all felt it. And it led to her being the face of the brand’s fragrance six or seven years later. Sometimes it’s just the pure creativity that drives it, and we’re there to guide the talent and the brand.
Law: Those make the best relationships, because I also feel that when things don’t fit, the consumer knows. They can sense when there’s no authenticity in the relationship. So, my job is always to create relationships that make sense, where there’s some love on both sides. The customer today is, like, ‘Why is she wearing that dress? Why is she dealing with that brand? Why did she become the face?’ The ‘why’ is more important than anything else. And with social media, everyone has a platform to have an opinion, and you want the opinions to sway in favour of the choices that you have made.

When you consider how those relationships have shifted, what do you think are the biggest changes in the past decade in this dynamic between Hollywood and fashion?
Youssef: Social media has obviously changed the way brands look at things, because now there are metrics. When I first started with Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, there was no social media and we were still getting requests via fax or even by post. We sent clothes out on the red carpet, but we didn’t have the tools to know what it would bring us. These days, when Zendaya goes to a Louis Vuitton fashion show, they receive the number of impressions and likes; they get all sorts of engagement metrics. So they know what works and what doesn’t. It doesn’t mean the metrics should take over everything – sometimes you’re trying something that is not understood yet, and it will succeed later – but it does mean that the brands can see if their engagement with an ambassador pays off. That’s the big difference, and it’s shrunk the opportunities for big organic relationships to develop, because you know exactly what works and what doesn’t. But there’s still a lot of opportunities for beautiful moments to happen by themselves. When you have someone like Kim Kardashian – who’s a fashion monster; she thrives on it – she has her campaigns and her contracts, but sometimes she is going to have a big moment with a brand for a long time. People think it’s contractual but it’s purely because she believes in the product. Those things still happen, but they’ve become rarer with the rise of metrics.

The Kardashian ‘Dolce & Gabbana wedding’ is a good example of that. And I heard that was organic.
Youssef: Domenico [Dolce] is a friend. But you know, in the same way they did Madonna with Meisel in the 1990s; today they’re doing a Kardashian wedding that turns into a bigger deal. But it did start from a place of, ‘We love what this is, and we love the aesthetics of it.’ My point is, sometimes what matters the most is still what it looks like rather than what is written on a contract.

‘When I first started dressing Céline Dion all the brands were telling me no. I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, ‘It’s Céline Dion – are you crazy?’’

Law Roach

Do you have any thoughts to add to that, Law? What are the changes you’ve seen?
Law: I think there have been some good changes. I think who we see as the faces of these brands has changed a lot, in terms of inclusivity and diversity, which is great. But there is also the rise of social media where a lot of influencers are getting more of these opportunities. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, right? You want to be happy for people who get certain opportunities. But if you started in this industry at a certain time, and you know the amount of work that you and your talent had to put into it to get to a certain place, and then you see it kind of handed to somebody… You don’t want to feel jaded about the industry that you love so much. But you must also be realistic when it comes to paying attention to what’s happening in the industry. There have been good changes and bad.
Youssef: I would also add, like, seeing Hunter Schafer be the face of such giant brands [Prada and Mugler Fragrance] means a lot. It shows how far we’ve come in terms of representation. With all of the brands that come to me to cast for their big projects, I can tell that, systemically, the vision has evolved. The good side of social media is that you’re allowed to be who you are; it puts every­body on the same level. Your metrics matter, but your gender doesn’t, and neither does your shape.

What would you say is the biggest criteria for brands in a talent that they are looking for?
Youssef: I’m going to be very cynical, but this is the truth: it is followers. That is the first thing that comes up in a casting brief; the reach. But second to that is status, which can express itself in a million different ways. Cate Blanchett doesn’t have Instagram, but what she doesn’t have in followers, she makes up for in status because she’s the biggest actress in the world. Meryl Streep doesn’t have Instagram, and it doesn’t matter. Some rare unicorns like Zendaya have all of that combined and so, of course, they’re the golden ticket. But there are, like, fifteen of them in the world, maybe not even. The brands fight for them, and they’re always going to be the priority. But the obsession with followers does not close the conversation. A lot of the big faces that you see today, like Emma Stone, don’t necessarily have an Instagram presence, and that’s ok.

I think one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen in the past ten years is that celebrities within a Hollywood system or a pop record label system have started behaving more like influencers. The way they project themselves on social media is based on what bloggers did once upon a time; this kind of genre of imagery. What do you make of that?
Law: Things have changed: it’s not about talent anymore, it’s about consistency. I do understand and appreciate
the hard work that goes into it, but that’s not talent really to me. I struggle with that because it reminds me of something Sophia Loren said in the 1960s. They asked her about the new generation of girls coming behind her and how someone learns to be as talented as her. And she said, ‘You don’t learn talent, you learn technique.’ I think a lot of things that people are being rewarded for is more technique than talent, because talent is something you’re born with. You can be a perfect dancer, technically, but the person that’s next to you might be born with a talent that you’ll never be able to attain. When people get rewarded just for technique, for studying somebody else and doing whatever they create, I’m just so torn about it. I see myself as a creative and a talent; I learned a lot of things on my own, I didn’t belong to anyone’s legacy, I built my own infrastructure. You want to be forward-thinking and say, ‘Oh, well, that really kind of opened up more ways for other people to enter the industry and become successful.’ You want to be happy about that, but it’s almost like they take a piece of you.
Youssef: If I may add something, sometimes I’m very admiring of the disruption. I don’t know if you guys saw on your phones this week an amazing influencer in China [Zheng Xiang Xiang] who had dozens of products and held them up on-screen for no more than three seconds, and made 18 million euros in her live feed within one week. She literally held them up and then threw them away. It was kind of taking the piss out of live shopping, but it actually worked. She made record-breaking amounts of money and you’re almost like, ‘yes, it’s a bit of a fraud’, but at the same time, ‘you’re amazing!’
Law: But then you have to think about the long-term effects of that, because now everybody thinks they can do it that way. I’ve always been considered a disruptor, because of where I’m from and how I present myself and all that. But there’s no right or wrong answer.

‘A big influencer in China held dozens of products up on-screen for no more than three seconds, and made 18 million euros in her live feed.’

Youssef Marquis

The nature of celebrity is really evolving and now you have a front row at most shows with a mix of actors, TikTokers, YouTubers, influencers.
Youssef: I like that mix. I have to say I understand that sometimes it makes us scratch our heads. Especially because Law and I are of that generation in the middle, where we did work without our phones, but we are also young enough to comprehend it completely. In the late 2000s, when we were building a front row, it was all [adopts disgruntled tone], ‘Oh my God, these brands are putting bloggers on the front row!’ Then it became accepted because of the commercial reality of their power in the industry. At the end of the day, that’s what the talents we work with do for the brands: they sell a dream for them. Those people never disappeared from the front rows, and I think they never ill, because to this day we haven’t found another way to dream.
Law: It’s the aspiration that they bring.
Youssef: I’ve seen the evolution of it. Even music is now completely accepted. But it wasn’t before; there was a time when it was all about Hollywood stars being the holy grail. Then it was music, because those people were famous and connected to our everyday lives. In the last 10 years it’s opened up to reality TV. Now it’s opening to sports; a lot of brands come to me saying, ‘We want an athlete.’ What we’ve seen in our careers is fashion becoming mainstream, where it became such an interesting art to audiences at large – the way movies and music used to be. People care about fashion across a much wider spectrum than when we started out. Social media, celebrities, and influencers made that happen. Whatever the reason, it became so big that in order to fulfil this mainstream need for attention, the brands needed mainstream figures to carry their messages. I’m very observant of where this takes us. Where do we find the next generation of talent?

That is a good question. Do you think there are any corners of fame left to pillage for these brands?
Law: I think sports was really smart. Brands had alienated them for so long, even though they have such a huge influence in pop culture. They would’ve been crazy not to start building relationships with these people that command millions and millions of dollars in purchasing power every year. I don’t know whether that was a smart choice, or if it was forced. I remember doing men’s fashion week, and there didn’t used to be a lot of athletes there, even though they were the people who were buying the clothes. I remember when I first started dressing Céline Dion; it was the same idea. I was really excited. I was reaching out to all these brands, and all the brands were telling me no. I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, ‘it’s Céline Dion – are you crazy?’ I had a friend who worked at one brand who called me and said, ‘Law, she spends so much money buying clothes that the sales team are afraid that if the brand starts lending her clothes, she won’t buy as much.’ While I understood that, I had become in charge of what she bought and what brands she spent with. And so, I told the brands, ‘If you don’t lend to her, she will never buy anything again as long as I work for her.’ I had to kind of force them to change that way of thinking, because she had spent so much money over her career and now they weren’t willing to lose that to loan her a few dresses; which she ended up buying anyway. Sometimes you have to disrupt the logic that these brands live by. But I don’t know exactly where it will go after this: we already have the influencers, actresses, actors, musicians, athletes. Where do we go? I hope it won’t be AI. I think about the stylists, hair and makeup, the people that do craft services – all those jobs will be lost if we move to digital campaigns, with one person behind a computer.
Youssef: Brands are using culture to differentiate themselves from one another, so it’s more about specifics and niches. So a Hedi Slimane will focus on the rock scene and that’s his thing. And I think the future will take us to more subcultures. One area that is very dear to me and to Law is the rap, hip hop, and R&B scene. That niche wasn’t so popular in fashion until recent years, when Riccardo Tisci and others became the disruptors who really wanted to embrace it. And now it’s all about Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion. I think those niches will keep showing up. In sports, too. Some brands were like, ‘Well, let me try putting some focus on soccer players and see how powerful it is.’ Other brands will probably hit the basketball players or other athletes. The difference is where the brands specify and branch out. I also feel that there’s still something with the art world, when I see brands like Louis Vuitton go into these giant blockbuster art collaborations, but also smaller ones. Something is going on there that people find very inspiring on a different level – the convergence of the art world and a commercial approach to fashion.

I do wonder whether collaborations with niche artists has a future because, from my perspective, fashion has been broadening to a mass audience as much as possible. Brands no longer want to speak to a small group of people, however rich they are. I have been at shows in the last year where I’ve seen the creative director being introduced to stars they don’t know, and they’re kind of baffled. Meanwhile, the people screaming outside the venue don’t know which show it is, but they know which K-pop star is in the building. I feel like we’re at an inflection point in the dynamic between fashion and entertainment. It feels quite transactional. Do you feel that too?
Youssef: I understand what you’re saying about the chaos that we feel from K-pop descending on fashion, but at the same time, for years now, if not decades, brands have made more than half of their business in Asia. To see these brands represent talent from those areas of the world in their central Paris shows feels right. It feels like they’re not just giving you a Western vision for you to consume at the other end of the world. It puts everybody on the same level. Everybody always complains when they go to the shows, because you have 6,000 people outside the show screaming for someone that most people won’t know. But it will resonate with so many people back home that it’s just too good not to happen in terms of influence.
Law: And it makes people feel good and, from the business side, it creates more brand loyalty. Like, what do I do to make people buy from Vuitton? Or Dior? What’s the difference? Sometimes it’s those choices of who you put in the front row, or whose face you put on the billboard. Nobody really needs luxury – luxury is a choice. So, it’s like these brands have to do something. Asia has been such a huge factor for these brands for such a long time, so it just makes sense.
Youssef: Blackpink and BTS have set a precedent. At the same time, there is this feeling of chaos that you have now when you go to the big players, because these two big bands created something that took the brands by surprise in terms of their impact on consumer behavior – not only in Asia, but globally. All these different individuals in these bands are contracted with brands and locked in, so all the brands I work with are in fear of missing the next Blackpink. They would rather be chaotic than miss out, so they might not know who some of these people are at the shows, but at least they’re in the game. If any of those people turn into the next big thing, they’re in place.

 ‘Cate Blanchett doesn’t have Instagram, but what she doesn’t have in followers, she makes up for in status because she’s the biggest actress in the world.’ 

Youssef Marquis

When it comes to a specific deal in which a talent is brought onto a brand, you both have a part to play in that. Law on the creative team; Youssef with the brand. How does a deal come to life?
Youssef: It’s about making sure that the fit is right, that the celebrity or the brand answers the brief for the specific service. Once all of that is done, what we work on is setting a parameter for the collaboration to happen in healthy circumstances. From the get-go, we discuss what the talent in question will have to do to represent the brand: how many campaigns, how many service days, how many events, how many red carpets. We describe the areas of restrictions, meaning where the talent is exclusive to the brand. Like for example, when you have a talent, you can have an exclusivity in jewellery but not in fragrance or in fashion. Once we get to an area of understanding, we present it – me to my brand, Law to his talent – and that’s where we get the best compromise for everybody. Usually, that’s how it goes.
Law: I also work with my talent to ensure that the creative fits their overall image. You have to ask yourself, ‘Are the worlds going to collide in a way that feels organic to both brands?’ That means the right hair, makeup, photographer, location.

Do you find that the next generation of actors and musicians all aspire to have a brand deal?
Law: Absolutely. A singer isn’t just a singer now, right? A singer is a model. A singer is a brand. A singer is a designer. When we think about the people who we consider superstars, they encompass all of those things. I think that when young talents are considering what they want their careers to be, they’re not thinking about it being contained in one genre.

One thing about young stars is that they speak to a younger audience, and are more often politically engaged. How does that work within a brand deal where there might be restrictions on what they can say?
Youssef: When the brands bet on younger talent, the talent is more inclined to follow the brand, because they’re at a stage in their career where they’re benefiting more from the brand’s aura than vice versa. But there is a moment in that talent’s career where those dynamics kind of invert. That’s when things start to be interesting, because the talents become brands themselves. They have their own values; they know what they stand for, and how people see them. So, they don’t really want to compromise on their own brand to service another one. That’s where the conversations get interesting, because then the talent is powerful enough to express a view, and sometimes the brand will meet halfway. For example, Cate Blanchett is very vocal about the environment and sustainability and so she’s pushed a lot of the brands I’ve seen her work with into that territory.

Do you think celebrities are becoming more powerful than the brands? Where do you see that kind of balance swaying in terms of who’s leading these kinds of conversations?
Law: [Laughs] It depends who you’re asking! I believe both parties need each other equally. The partnership is what’s important. That’s why, in this type of deal, it’s important to go to a brand where the voice of the talent will be heard and their opinions will be listened to; where there is room for compromise and collaboration. In a situation like that, you don’t have to worry about that type of question, because value is being added on both sides.
Youssef: Go back 20 years, to when there was no social media, and brands needed the media to convey messages to their audiences because they had no direct connections. Now the relationship to media is a little different, and they use people to speak for them to their audiences, their followers. Also, a brand now has exact data, like, ‘My audience is 60% women in America,’ or whatever it is. I get briefs from clients all the time, like, ‘We’re lacking presence in Latin America, and in the Middle East,’ because they’ve seen it from the data. So they want to get ambassadors in those regions who are going to be able to speak for them. In that sense, I feel like the talent has become of extreme importance, because it’s the latest way of amplifying your voice as a brand.

‘I don’t know where it will go after this: we already have the influencers, actresses, actors, musicians, athletes. Where do we go? I hope it won’t be AI.’

Law Roach

Is there an example of something that you’ve worked on together that signals the way these new values and dynamics that are coming into play?
Youssef: The last Jacquemus show in Versailles, where I was working on the front row. Law is an icon and a great presence for a front row for any show, but they were specifically happy to have him be there. It signals where things are going: mega-stardom is what will matter to the biggest brands, always, but the agile way for brands that don’t have the same means is to go for influential people in their sphere; people that have something meaningful to say or that stand for something special, which is what Law represents.
Law: Thank you, that was beautiful. But you know what? It was smart. Sometimes the brands get out of touch when it comes to who they put on the front row. I’m gonna speak for all stylists: we are the connectors, we are the true influencers, right? We are the brand-makers and the deal-makers. And I don’t think that we always, as a whole, get our proper respect for doing that, you know? People forget that 90% of the time, talent doesn’t really choose that rail of clothes that the final outfit is chosen from. They might choose the final outfit, but that entire rail was chosen by someone else. And those brands that go on those rails were chosen by the stylist. When brands give appreciation to the stylist, it makes sense to me. It’s frustrating sometimes when someone gets a fashion icon award, right? When my client got it – because we are so synonymous with each other – people already knew, ‘That’s him and her,’ right? But sometimes I feel jaded for other stylists when they’re not mentioned in a way that really shows appreciation. A brand will say, ‘Oh my God, I want to send flowers to this person’, or, ‘I want to gift this person.’ And I’m, like, ‘But, you know she didn’t pick that outfit, right?’ At the end of the day, the stylist is the one who is really making the connection.

Last question: when your client signs with a brand, are you working for the brand, or for the client? And who has the ultimate sign-off?
Law: I can only speak for me: I’m always on the side of the talent. The talent is always my boss. I’m in collaboration with the brand, but I am working for the talent.
Youssef: We try to make sure that the creative director, the designer of the brand, is heard and is happy. But ultimately, no one forgets that the person who is actually going to wear the dress on the red carpet is the person who’s going to wear it, so they have the final sign-off. But the talent, in most cases, is naturally very receptive to pleasing the vision of the designer. Really, it’s not as hard as you might think.

Taken from System No. 22 – purchase the full issue here.