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Zendaya says goodbye to sandworms, hello to skorts

In “Challengers,” Zendaya plays a tennis star named Tashi Duncan. Her clothes are central to her identity; the character is sponsored by Adidas and costumed in sporty-and-rich outfits by designer Jonathan Anderson.

“She’ll have a fashion line,” one of Tashi’s suitors predicts to another in the trailer. “She is going to turn her whole family into millionaires.”

Fashion is equally important to the real-life Zendaya — a tool of both image-making and moneymaking. She has become a defining star of the modern movie press tour. Coverage of these appearances can be feverish, with thousands of articles and social-media posts produced for each stop: a premiere in New York, a photo call in Mexico City, a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.

The fever rises when actors lean into thematic dressing. The cast of “Barbie” drowned themselves in pink, ripping looks straight from vintage toy boxes. The stars of “Madame Web” wrapped themselves in blingy netted gowns. Kristen Stewart wore very little to promote her erotic thriller “Love Lies Bleeding.”

Still, few can generate quite as much attention as Zendaya, who, for example, wore a vintage robot suit by Mugler to the London premiere of “Dune: Part Two” in February. (Her apparent theme for this press tour: futuristic desert warrior queen.) From this single moment, the data analytics company Launchmetrics valued the media impact for Mugler to be worth $13.3 million, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

Yet despite her commitment to cosplay, Zendaya has not been wearing Adidas in the lead-up to “Challengers,” the Luca Guadagnino film that will premiere in late March. She is wearing preppy looks made by her real sponsor, Louis Vuitton, a luxury brand increasingly enmeshed in the sports world.

For a promotional image released March 12, Zendaya wore a buttery sweater with a deep V neckline, relaxed white shorts and white pumps — like the most formidable stepmom at the country club, down to her long blown-out bob. Her stylist, image architect Law Roach, credited Louis Vuitton and Bulgari for the outfit.

Then, on March 17, Zendaya attended the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, to watch the women’s final. Louis Vuitton dressed her again in tennis whites: a pullover, a tank top and a pleated skort. She accessorized with white sneakers, a small monogram purse — its attached neon yellow coin purse looked like a tennis ball — and her boyfriend, actor Tom Holland. They sang along to Whitney Houston in their seats.

Zendaya, who trained for “Challengers” with the famed coach Brad Gilbert, later posed for photos with Iga Swiatek, winner of the match and the sport’s top-ranked women’s player.

She looked more at ease in her Sunday “tenniscore,” breaking from the severity of her “Dune” chapter. It wasn’t just her cyborg looks that made her seem otherworldly. (That Mugler fembot costume was followed by a vintage circuit-board Givenchy skirt set.) Crisp white gowns from Alaïa (in Paris) and Stéphane Rolland (in New York) also gave her the gravitas of a sci-fi empress at a state dinner.

Now she’s coming back down to earth. Or at least the tennis court. As Swiatek observed after her victory: “Meeting Zendaya was crazy, but on the other hand, she’s a human like all of us.”

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