It’s easy to be cynical about a giant fashion collaboration with a big mass brand. From the astronomical budget and relentless branding to the crush of people backstage, the whole thing can feel like a heart emoji replaced an actual heart.
Enter Zendaya, an American Sweetheart for Gen Z, with her doll-perfect features and her famously take-no-sh*t attitude when it comes to speaking her mind. On Saturday night in Paris, she presented her first #TOMMYNOW collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, with enough heart to make the whole audience (including Gigi Hadid, Tyra Banks, and some very excited French teenagers) stand up and dance.
But it turns out, the 22-year-old star was cynical, too—at least at first.
“Tommy called me,” she said backstage in Paris before the show. “I didn’t really believe it [was him] at first. Tommy Hilfiger on the phone? And he said, ‘Look, if you do a show with me, you can have whatever you want and do whatever you want. Go nuts. If you have a vision, tell me, and we’ll execute it together.’ And then,” she laughs, “I really didn’t believe him!”
After some coaxing from her creative partner and stylist Law Roach, she decided to give it a try, telling Hilfiger, “I want to make a show inspired by the women who made it possible for me to be in the position where I am now. Honestly, I just wanted to say “thank you” to them through this show. I said to Tommy, ‘If we do a show, this is what it needs to be about.’ And Tommy said, ‘Great. Go for it.’ And he actually meant it. I mean, look.“
She gestured to the runway cast—59 black women, ages 18 to 70—including some of the women of color Zendaya wants to thank for their contributions to fashion, Hollywood, and beyond. Pioneering models Beverly Johnson and Veronica Webb walked the show, along with Pat Cleveland, who said backstage, “Zendaya talked to me about the Battle of Versailles, about Studio 54 and the ’70s and ’80s… she really wanted somebody who had been there and lived it on the runway. In a way,” she grins, “I think this show is really based on the story of my life.” She also hinted that maybe Zendaya herself will play Pat Cleveland in a movie based on her autobiography. (YES, PLEASE.)
Cleveland twirled down the runway to massive applause, but Grace Jones got the most screams (and gasps, and Instagram double-takes) when she closed the show in a metallic blazer and bodysuit.
“We said, ‘we want Grace Jones, she represents so much beauty and power and she needs to be here,’” Zendaya explains. “And somehow, Tommy’s team made it happen.” (Hint: It was with help from casting director Michelle Lee.)
“I went to Grace’s fitting this morning,” said Law Roach, “And she loved the clothes so much that we actually got a little teary. She said ‘I love everything,’ so we sent her everything. She’s the first person besides Zendaya to own the complete collection.”
That includes lots of body-skimming disco dresses, a ton of flared jeans (sorry straight-leg fans!), high-waisted wide-leg pants worn with striped knits, and a few subversive twists on beauty ideals, including a series of striped swimsuits that channel the original Barbie… but turn her into a modern superstar.
It’s exactly that pivot from old-school images of success and beauty (read: thin and white) that made this show work, even (maybe especially?) from a designer like Hilfiger, whose success owes a debt to African American culture.
“Everybody has something different that they’re great at,” said Zendaya. “We need to learn from people with experience, even as the world changes. I’m still at the beginning of my career, and to learn from Tommy about having a fashion line, that’s incredibly important to me. He’s like the best teacher for that. But it’s also very cool—and I think more rare than you’d realize—to have someone who’s genuinely interested in my point of view, in other women like me and our points of view, and saying, ‘What do you have to bring to the table that I can’t?’ That’s been the coolest experience to me—feeling like I can show him the perspective I bring to the table, and also feeling like he actually wants to know.” The world wants to know, too—at least if the 1 million+ views on her Instagram story are a clue.
Speaking of clues, here’s another one: you can get the entire collection online now, though the Zodiac shirts are already almost sold out!