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Look of the Week: Zendaya is the latest A-lister to lean into method dressing

Editor’s Note: Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, ‘Look of the Week’ is a regular series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.

On Tuesday, Zendaya arrived in Mexico City for the red carpet of “Dune: Part Two” in an outfit that looked like the kind of desert cloak we might see her character Chani wear amid an Arrakis sandstorm.

The Bottega Veneta Fall-Winter 2023 runway look was customized for the starlet with a chic midriff slash — continuing Zendaya’s growing trend of ab-framing outfits — and a full-length hemline.

The customized Bottega Veneta look featured an exposed midriff and longer skirt. - Marco Ugarte/AP
The customized Bottega Veneta look featured an exposed midriff and longer skirt. - Marco Ugarte/AP

It’s the latest in a budding line of sci-fi themed press tour looks turned out by the actor and her longtime stylist Law Roach. During the Fendi show at Haute Couture Week in Paris last month, Zendaya was spotted in a meticulously carved V-shape fringe that smacked of the camp, quirky 20th century retro futurism that once defined our vision of tomorrow. Paired with muted brows and a bold lip, the “Dune” co-star’s bangs evoked the severity of the Star Trek officer Mr Spock.

Earlier in the week, while sitting front-row at the Schiaparelli couture show, Zendaya was seen in a custom gown from the label’s new season. With an arched satin train that from afar looked like a horses’ tail, the all-black ensemble was alien, villainous and endlessly interesting. Black horse-braid knots ran up and down her arms like the suckers of a cephalopod, or spikes of armor.

“The result (is a) profile both familiar and not,” wrote creative director Daniel Roseberry in the show notes. “Part human, part something else.”

Like an alien cephalopod, Zendaya's gown included what looked like a silhouette of suckers. - Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images
Like an alien cephalopod, Zendaya's gown included what looked like a silhouette of suckers. - Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

Over the decades, red carpet dress codes have evolved from the über casual, laissez-faire attitudes of the 1990s (remember when Drew Barrymore wore jeans and a cardigan to the premiere of “Guilty by Suspicion” in 1991?) to arenas of pomp, pageantry and pressurized best dressed lists. Now, we may be entering a new phase. From Margot Robbie’s historically accurate Barbie press tour looks, or D.C. catwoman Zoë Kravitz’s subtle sartorial feline nods, to the shimmering, mer-glamor of Halle Bailey while promoting “The Little Mermaid,” glitzy premieres have become  another expertly engineered marketing opportunity.

Zendaya's otherworldly outfit was topped off with striking set of V-shaped bangs. - Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Zendaya's otherworldly outfit was topped off with striking set of V-shaped bangs. - Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

During the international premiere of “Dune” in 2021 — the same year she became the youngest person to receive the CFDA’s “Fashion Icon” award — Zendaya made headlines with a sand-colored, wet-look leather Balmain gown and a serpent Bulgari choker with 93-carat, cabochon-cut Colombian emerald.

There’s no coincidence here: The film’s aesthetic is a guiding principle for the pair, with Zendaya taking it upon herself to point out designers whose work remind her of that world. “All her clothes (on the press tour) were inspired by the movie,” Roach told CNN in 2022. “When (the Balmain) collection walked, she just said ‘This is very Dune,’ and I reached out to Olivier and his team.”

Whether this new dawn of red carpet dressing helps or hinders creative expression remains to be seen. Stars are, at least for now, relieved from the duty of looking bang on trend — and even encouraged to do what they do best: Embody someone else. But like a badly-timed themed party, the wrong costume can feel suffocating. Zendaya, however, seems to inhabit the wardrobe of a high-fashion, desert-bound alien-hybrid just fine.

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