Since May 1970, ESSENCE has curated unique spaces for Black women in the media space. As high-fashion magazines were continuing to invest in white entertainers, writers and content creators, ESSENCE strictly invested its mission in the Black experience—allowing customers to purchase a magazine that displayed Black women as gracefully as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle and other glamorous titles.

For the 50th Anniversary collector’s issue, ESSENCE tapped Zendaya as the cover star to close out this unprecedented year. The 24-year-old actress has had quite the year too, despite the pandemic. She scored her first Emmy win for her role on HBO’s Euphoria.

Two days after her historic win, the superstar and Image Architect Law Roach, walked in the MILK Studios in Los Angeles, where Roach would creative direct and style ESSENCE’s breathtaking Zendaya shoot. But for Roach, the moment was more than just another day dressing his muse in the finest names in fashion. Together, they were continuing their unique approach to the industry: having a purpose beyond the red carpet.

ESSENCE December 2020 Anniversary Issue

“I feel like I’ve been charged with the responsibility of being a storyteller for Black stories,” Roach tells ESSENCE. The stylist detailed his love for paying respect to past fashion influencers while also celebrating new faces.

Last year, Zendaya partnered with Tommy Hilfiger for his fall 2019 collection. The actress and Roach pulled from a cast of diverse models, including Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, Alton Mason (there wasn’t an age range the pair left out). “This shoot was the offspring of that,” Roach exclaimed. For the December issue, Zendaya pays homage to Donyale Luna, the first credited Black supermodel. “Even as a 14-year-old, Zendaya was very receptive to learning about the women who came before her and paved the way.”

Before going on to become the first Black woman to cover any Vogue magazine (British Vogue, 1966), a sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, which was allegedly due to publishers wanting to mask her identity. In her career the model went on to be the first known mannequin of a Black woman, act in films for Andy Warhol, and work under contract for fashion photographer Richard Avedon. “The opportunity to pay homage to her, and use ESSENCE as the vehicle, I think is quite incredible,”says Roach.

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Throughout her cover story, Zendaya reimagines Luna’s most popular photoshoots, even down to her signature pose. Wearing GiGi Hunter on the cover, a popular Black designer who spearheaded knitwear in the nineties, the photoshoot was captured by Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice, known as AB + DM.

“Most of our portfolio is Black talent and people who will carry very long legacy’s for the next generation to look at in the future,” the photographers tell ESSENCE. “We really love what we do and everyone we’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

Formed in 2018, Barber and Maurice’s photography has been featured in Billboard, Paper Magazine and InStyle. Although they capture many subjects, Barber and Maurice have introduced a refreshing take on how they display Black talent. “Being trusted with this project was a very big deal for us, We’re so glad that we’ve had the chance to work with ESSENCE, a magazine that we grew up with.”

While a new generation of photographers, stylists, fashion designers and talent enters the industry, it’s important to support emerging creators, while holding up the Black entertainers who fought to be at the table. Roach said, “These icons will never be forgotten.”

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