Why Zendaya, American Vogue’s new cover girl, is the rising fashion star you need to know

Zendaya on American Vogue's July cover
Zendaya on American Vogue's July cover Credit: American Vogue / Mario Testino

Actress and activist Zendaya is the star of American Vogue’s July issue - an achievement that was somewhat inevitable for the fearless red carpet fashion star.

Photographed for the cover by Mario Testino, and wearing a feathered Calvin Klein dress, the 20 year-old promotes her first role in a feature film - this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming - as well as the Disney Channel TV show that she stars in and co-produces, K.C. Undercover.

With her career on the rise, Zendaya’s red carpet style stance is what has made her stand out from the crowd - breaking all conventions to redefine what is considered sexy now. When every other young star is wearing ‘naked dresses’ to try and grab the paparazzi’s attention, this one is experimenting with silhouette, embellishment and colour, having some genuine fun with her clothes. Her look goes hand-in-hand with her attitude - we’re talking about a girl who, at 16, demanded that Disney bosses would change the new character they were proposing for her into a ‘martial-arts trained brainiac’, and feature a family of colour on the show, or else she wouldn’t sign the deal. It’s no wonder everyone from Michael Kors to Celine Dion cites her as a muse.

Zendaya at the 2017 Met Gala, wearing Dolce and Gabbana

“No one from Disney ever said 'be careful,' 'not to high,' 'not too short',” Law Roach, the stylist that Zendaya has worked with since her teens told The Telegraph, explaining the star’s style ethos. “She’s just real - it’s not her pretending to be this good girl, it’s who she is and there is nothing manufactured about it."

He said of dressing her in her teens: "I was conscious to make the correct choices, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have fun - we could be fashion-forward in the way a 15-year-old could do it." 

Zendaya at the Oscars in 2015, wearing Vivienne Westwood Credit: Rex

In the last five years, we’ve seen Zendaya wear looks inspired by Cher and Josephine Baker, adopt a Bowie-esque mullet and suit at The Grammys, and wear a bridal Vivienne Westwood dress at the Oscars - the latter of which prompted a key moment of self discovery for the then-19 year-old.

A TV fashion commentator said of her 2015 Oscars look: ‘I feel like she smells like patchouli oil or weed.’ Zendaya’s response was to take to Instagram, telling her 41 million followers that; ‘My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough. To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane.’ Solange Knowles, Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis were among the stars to share her post, calling her ‘beauty personified.’

Zendaya channeling David Bowie at the Grammys in February 2016

Being and knowing herself at such a young age has evidently inspired others and perhaps Zendaya’s most unlikely fan and new friend is the 49 year-old pop icon Celine Dion. Law Roach’s ageless, sophisticated approach to dressing his young client had caught Dion’s attention, and she hired him last year to help her enjoy finding a new look for herself.

“Céline she has two young boys so she watched Zendaya’s Disney show, then she started to see her on the cover of magazines and realised it was the same girl,” explains Roach. “She liked her style and started to research her, and that led her to me.”

Zendaya at Paris Fashion Week

Now, brands clamour to dress both Dion and Zendaya - and this new Vogue cover will only propel that. But it is surely deserved attention for someone who works hard to be a positive role model?

“You will always see Ungaro, Vivienne Westwood and Fausto Puglisi on Zendaya because they supported her when a lot of people weren't interested,” Roach says of the loyalty he feels to certain brands. “They saw it [her] before anyone else."