Is Zayn Malik Using Fashion to Pave the Road to a Solo Career?

Even the most hard-core One Direction fans were surprised to see Zayn Malik sitting front-row at shows like Louis Vuitton and Valentinoduring the Parisian menswear shows last week. Notoriously press-shy, even when in the band, Malik left the group in March with the reported purpose of focusing on his personal life.

Still, whispers of a solo career swirled thanks to Naughty Boy, a producer whose antics online certainly live up to his name. Solo demos from Malik slowly leaked to the public (courtesy of the producer, natch), with the promise that this is just the beginning. The only problem? Rumors persist that despite the fact that Sony has the option of managing Malik’s solo career in addition to One Direction, the label has placed a two-year ban on any such solo material. 

So is it possible that Malik is looking to the fashion industry to build a solo career before ever officially releasing any music? He would certainly be following in a long line of young stars who used fashion as a vehicle to adult acceptance. There’s Justin Bieber, who stripped down to his skivvies for Calvin Klein and attended the 2015 Met Gala with Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. Malik’s front-row mate Joe Jonas has been a fashion week staple for several seasons, alongside brother Nick, well after their Jonas Brothers period ended. Miley Cyrus, now something of a fashion darling, built her adult phase on the backs of designer friends like Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Jeremy Scott.

Even Malik’s former bandmate Harry Styles—easily One Direction’s most well-known member—has garnered plenty of attention outside the teen set for his fashion savvy. With a Saint Laurent-heavy wardrobe and a pack of stylish friends like Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, and Cara Delevingne, Styles has been spotted front-row at shows like Burberry and House of Holland, and he won the Style Award at the 2013 British Fashion Awards.

Of course, Malik’s official reason for leaving the band was because he wanted “to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.” But then, not many normal 22-year-olds are sitting front-row at Louis Vuitton next to Kanye West—a spotlight if there ever was one. It seems likely we’ll be seeing Malik as a frow fixture for the next couple of years.