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In honour Zendaya’s 27th birthday, these are some of her best red carpet looks

Fearless style plate Zendaya has come a long way since she posed for cameras at Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never showcase as a bright-eyed teenage Disney star – which marked the actor’s first major Hollywood premiere. Her love affair with fashion was instantaneous, but not always easy. Zendaya’s stylist Law Roach came up with a long-term plan – “I was like an architect working on a blueprint,” he has previously told British Vogue – to evolve her image from sweet princess to Gen-Z trailblazer.

Central to his plan was the Who Wore It Best? column: an archaic fixture in weekly glossies. By dressing his client in the same looks worn by high-profile stars – but “better” – Roach quickly got Zendaya’s name on the map. Emerging designers were happy to lend looks to the rising star and big-name brands started taking notice, opening doors that were previously closed. Now that Zendaya can have her pick of any house, Roach’s mission “to help an amazing girl show the world what I saw in her,” seems hard to fathom.

There have been some jaw-dropping red-carpet moments along the way. Zendaya has a chameleon-like quality that makes the concept of a signature look seem positively boring. She gives every moment in the spotlight her all because of the research she and Roach put into a single turn in front of the cameras. “We play dress-up and create outfits to make ourselves happy, or to pay homage to the people we’re inspired by,” notes Roach.

They have deployed science – revisit her mesmerising light-up Cinderella gown at the 2019 Met Gala to see true commitment in action – and welding techniques – her Versace Met look the year prior was a modern-day ode to A Knight’s Tale – to make Zendaya stand out. Myriad hair transformations – from blunt bobs and waist-length braids to fabulous disco diva curls – have heightened the transportive qualities of her red-carpet moments, which are never anything but a joy to behold (the buttercup Valentino haute couture number she shut down the 2021 Oscars in was happiness personified).

When Tom Ford sent sculptural bras – inspired by everything from Ursula Andress’s metal lingerie in The 10th Victim to Jeff Koons’s “Rabbit” – down his spring/summer 2020 runway, there was only one woman who could pull off the warrior woman breastplate: Zendaya. At the virtual Emmys in 2020, Zendaya balked at the fact she would only be visible through a laptop screen and commissioned not one but two ab-flashing ballgowns that were the epitome of modern-day glamour. Reader, she won the night, topping best-dressed lists the world over.

After serving two head-turning looks at last year’s Emmys, Zendaya had a brief hiatus from the red carpet, only to return with a bang at the NAACP Image Awards on 25 February. “She’s been gone for a minute..... Y’all ready?” Roach teased on Instagram before revealing her looks from the night: a vintage spring/summer 2002 couture gown by Versace and custom Prada separates inspired by a look from spring/summer 1993. The next day, she wowed once again at the SAG Awards in a powder-pink rose-adorned dress by Valentino and a form-fitting Armani Privé look.

Since then, the star has channelled old school Hollywood sirens in Richard Quinn at a Bulgari event in Venice, and honoured Indian design in spectacular style wearing a sari by Rahul Mishra at the opening of the new Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre.

To celebrate her 27th birthday, British Vogue curates Zendaya’s greatest fashion hits to date.

Returning with a bang

How better to celebrate Zendaya’s return to the red carpet than in vintage Versace? Roach pulled not one, but two decadent looks for the actor’s appearance at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards, including a bright green and black gown from 2002 – as pictured here.

Image: Getty

A knight’s tale

Name another mortal who looks chic in actual armour. Zendaya’s Joan of Arc tribute – all vampy Versace sequins and staggering platforms – was a saintly take on the 2018 Met Gala’s Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination theme. “Holy” was a hard sell on the style front, but Zendaya went in swinging.

Image: Getty

Warrior woman in fuchsia

Dialling up the drama at the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards, Zendaya made the most daring look of the spring/summer 2020 season – Tom Ford’s sexy-tough breastplate – look like a walk in the park. The entirety of Hollywood bowed down.

Image: Getty

Alta moda

Faced with a directional Comme des Garçons theme at the Met Gala 2017, Zendaya went her own way in fanciful Dolce & Gabbana couture. The tropical ballgown fluttering with parrot prints was a vibrant signifier that you can’t put Zendaya in a corner.

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Gen-Z Hollywood glamour

This custom Vera Wang gown at the 2019 Emmys called to mind Poison Ivy and had us itching to see more collaborations between Zendaya and world-class design studios.

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The modern-day ballgown

The Euphoria actor made history at the 2020 Emmys by becoming the youngest star and the second Black woman to win the prize for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. Zooming into the ceremony wearing two custom looks, it was her sublime Giorgio Armani Privé sparkly bralette and polka-dot ballgown that was splashed across the papers congratulating the bright young star.

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The disco diva

Sequined Vivetta co-ords gave Zendaya the sass of a Seventies siren at a Power of Young Hollywood event in 2017. Daringly different as per, her disco jammies trumped any mini dress.

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Classic Westwood chic

The Vivienne Westwood gown that cemented Zendaya’s transformation from Disney darling to bona fide Hollywood star. Comparisons to Lisa Bonet were made. Greek goddesses, too. But for us, she just looked wholly original.

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The Cinderella gown

Construction of Zendaya’s illuminating Tommy Hilfiger 2019 Met Gala 2019 required 20 carbon fiber rods, five battery packs and 40 meters of LED lights. It was the definition of “it takes a village”, and 100 per cent worth it.

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New-age Barbie-pink

Zendaya’s Spider-Man: Homecoming promo tour wardrobe saw the actor take a literal approach to dressing for the red carpet, but it was this knock-out pink Ralph & Russo gown that blew the cobwebs off trad premiere dressing.

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Heavenly sunshine

The Valentino haute couture gown that scored her the undisputed “wow” moment of the 2021 Oscars. Sheer perfection.

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Pretty in pink

It was hard to miss Zendaya at the 2023 SAG Awards dressed in powder-pink Valentino. Pierpaolo Piccioli designed a special custom look for the star to wear to the ceremony, adorned with 190 roses.

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A wet-look moment

Zendaya’s Venice Film Festival debut in 2021 featured a bespoke leather Balmain dress that resonated with her role as Chani, the desert warrior in Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic, Dune. She completed her look with an eye-catching Bulgari necklace, elegantly crafted with lashings of emeralds.

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Serving Old Hollywood glamour

At a Bulgari event in Venice this year, she wore a custom black velvet corset dress by Richard Quinn, with a plunging neckline and a fishtail hem. This ensemble harked back to the iconic styles of Elizabeth Taylor and Dorothy Dandridge in their mid-century heyday.

Image: Getty

Honouring Indian fashion in style

At the grand opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in India, she wore a tailor-made ensemble by Rahul Mishra. The outfit was a contemporary take on the traditional sari, featuring a beaded golden top paired with an intricately embroidered, flowing skirt.

Image: Getty

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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