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How Céline Dion Became a Fashion Icon at 49

Surrounded by models and Insta-celebrities who weren’t even born when her biggest hit was released, Céline Dion managed to be a standout during Paris Couture Week, with looks that ranged from $26,000 worth of head-to-toe Balmain to a matching pink floral pantsuit. But anyone who was surprised hasn’t been paying attention; it was a year ago, during 2016’s Paris Couture Week, that Dion stepped out wearing an oversized Vetements hoodie, and into her new status as a bona fide style icon.

During last year’s couture week, Dion was just weeks into her partnership with stylist, or as he prefers, image architech, Law Roach, and six months past the deaths of both her husband, René Angélil, and brother, Daniel Dion, who died of cancer within two days of each other. The hoodie that made heads turn, pulled from the Vetements archive specifically for Dion, bore the faces of young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet hovering over the sinking Titanic. Yes, Dion was referencing the movie that inspired her greatest hit, nearly 20 years later. It was a risky move that just as easily could have come off as contrived and cheesy, but styled with a pair of gold Gucci sandals and simple skinny jeans quickly became her official entrée into the modern world of fashion.

“Céline has no fear,” Roach said in a recent phone call. “And when you have that type of energy, you have this attitude that we can do whatever we want and we don’t care who likes it or dislikes it. Fashion is supposed to be polarizing. It has to be overwhelming.”

As the story goes, Dion discovered Roach through her children, who were a dedicated audience of the of Disney Channel sitcom, K.C. Undercover, starring 20-year-old Zendaya Coleman. After seeing Zendaya pop up on red carpets and magazines wearing designers like Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton, and Dsquared2, Dion used Google to find out who exactly was dressing K.C. Undercover. Then she made a call to Roach.

“My first words were: Céline who?” Roach said. “I don’t think I had dreamt that big of a dream. That this legend, this woman who we’ve all grown up to her music, that’s been around for 30 years, was calling me to work with me.”

Roach, who has also worked with Ariana Grande and Jada Pinkett–Smith, later met with Dion at the Billboard Awards in May 2016, to discuss what his possible plans would be for dressing her. The next day she invited him to move to Paris for a month to work as her stylist for her everyday looks as well as her tour wardrobe. He’s been at her side ever since.

Couture week in 2016 not only served as a career reboot of sorts for Dion, but as another step forward in the grieving of her late husband and brother. “She also credits me, and what we did, and the clothes, and the shoes, and the bags, and the jewelry, and couture week, and the shows, and all that to helping her through her grieving process,” said Roach. “I’m sure her grieving process will never be over. She’ll probably grieve her husband for the rest of her life because she was with him for so long. But she has said that what we did last year in Paris really helped her through that process. For me that’s more than anything else. That’s more than accolades, that’s more than being interviewed by Vanity Fair, that is something that I’ll take with me forever.”

After Couture Week, Dion spent 2016 performing and making red carpet appearances in colorful Versace jumpsuits and off-white Canadian tuxedos. But her emergence as a fashion icon to the larger world came during this year’s Billboard Music Awards, where she celebrated the 20th anniversary of “My Heart Will Go On” with a performance that, according to The Atlantic, “saved the Billboard Music Awards.” Later backstage, Drake took Dion by the hands and told her, “You’re very iconic. We love you. I’m like a year away from a Céline tat,” he said motioning to his ribcage.

It wasn’t just her performance that commanded the spotlight. Her gown, a couture piece byStephane Rolland with oversized, bubbling sleeves, a deep V, and silver hardware, had the Internet in a frenzy, with some confused by the powerful look and others calling it a best dressed moment. Even Roach admits that on paper, the Billboard Awards dress “doesn’t even make sense.” But as with so many other things in Dion’s decades-long career, when she does it, somehow it works.

Over the past few months, Dion has announced an accessories line, attended her first Met Gala, and kicked off her 2017 tour. Most recently, she’s been parading around Paris (again), sitting front row at Dior and Giambattista Valli, and waving to hoards of fans while perched atop of moving cars, wearing things like silk Louis Vuitton x Supreme pajamas and “rad” sweaters by Filles à Papa. After a full year of re-invention, Dion and Roach are still surprising people with their creations, showing an industry obsessed with the young and the new that sometimes the best sources of inspiration have been in front of you for over 30 years, collecting couture in their own archive, and waiting for just the right moment to shock the world.

This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.

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