She was known for her amusing persona, her grace and her haute stature. L’Wren Scott designed garments that had an air of old Hollywood, reminders of hourglass figures in mesh stockings and garter belt. Her death on 17 March shocked her celebrity partner, her entourage and the rest of the world; her existence suddenly turning to smoke and mirrors. Left behind is a tail of stories, theories and assumptions. EMILIE GAMBADE looks through the fashion wormhole.
It might have been the fitted line of her pencil skirt: sophisticated, a kiss on the hips, falling off just under the knee; it might have been her fascination for detailing: gold threads woven into tweeds, Japanese-inspired flowers carefully drawn on textiles like graphic images; or maybe it simply was a combination of it all, her obsession for perfection, her old glamour collections and her panache, carried along like a second skin.
L’Wren Scott was inexplicably chic: 1.9m tall, dark long hair circling her face, she was spotted by American fashion photographer Bruce Weber (behind some of the most recognisable black & white shots of a young and innocent and half-naked Kate Moss) while he was shooting a campaign for Calvin Klein in her native Utah. He convinced her to use that height and those legs to more lucrative means than simply walking, and the rest was fashion history in pure gold and silks.
The life of Scott, born Luann Bambrough, as described through the many tributes and testimonies that poured after her tragic death, was one of perfect style, glitz and fun; or so it looked through the bevelled glass of her social life.
Adopted by a Mormon family from Roy, Utah, she was captivated by clothes and fashion from a young age. In an article for the Telegraph, journalist Lisa Armstrong noted that at age five, Scott was doing macramé and cross-stitch, while at 12, she already understood the power of nude ballerina pumps to create an illusion of length on the legs and was changing outfits five times a day, showing an early predisposition for all matters fashion.
Upon meeting Weber, Scott traveled to Paris and became a model for Thierry Mugler, Karl Lagerfeld or French photographer, Jean-Paul Goude; she immersed herself in the glamour of the old world, while paying a particular attention to the actual work of the designers she was modelling for. In the early nineties, she moved to LA and started to work as a stylist herself, on the sets of advertising campaigns and movies, designing the costumes for, among others, the crime-not-so-much-a-comedy Ocean’s Thirteen.
Be it because of a towering height that compelled her to design her own clothes so that they would fit her body (and along the way, lend her a good understanding of proportions), her past as a model (that gave her a de facto license to style) or her staggering talent, but Scott was extremely popular in the industry. In 2006, she launched her fist collection “The Little Black Dress”, mainly “versatile pieces entirely black”.
In the eight years at the helm of her eponymous label, Scott created collections that were precisely an extension of herself and her inspiration. For Fall/ Winter 2008, she had designed a range based on Paris and influenced by rock. Her signature pencil skirt was already central to the collection but mixed with sexy décolletés buttoned down to the waist and leather gloves très femme fatale; the garments also had some frills and bows showing off at the lower back, adding to the silhouette something cheeky and mischievous, a glint of her personality. Scott was chic and fun, sophisticated yet entertaining.
She would set up her fashion shows around lunch (Fall/ Winter 2013 or Spring/ Summer 2014), where guests would watch models walking by while biting in a shepherd’s pie and other canapés. Jessica Bumpus from VOGUE wrote: “In the hands of L’Wren Scott a show isn’t just a show, it’s a full-on lunch affair with handsome waiters and a curated menu that tells you the inspiration behind the clothes that lie ahead.” That was Scott: an impeccable host, where grandeur was not only in her physique but also in her giving.
She worked with photographer Herb Ritts, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Olivia Wilde, to name but a few, and Mick Jagger; that was in 2001, and one Martin Scorsese’s documentary later (on the Rolling Stones), the two shared a love story and so started an even more incredibly glamorous life, the one that Scott sometimes shared on Instagram.
And this is where the pointy and high heeled shoe pinches: life, as seen on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any social media platform with tools to enhance one’s shot, is captured, filtered, scaled, cropped and edited so that it only reflects one pretty sliver of a multifaceted moment.
Here, a picture from a break on Mustique island, where Jagger has a home; there, in front of a helicopter, hair floating in the wind; there again, seated next to her partner, the glittering skyline of Los Angeles as a romantic backdrop. Even resting on the sofa with a sleeping dog on her lap, the body trendily draped in a soft red jumpsuit, Scott seemed utterly glam and effortlessly chic.
But the problem is that these are ‘just’ pictures, not always, not often, almost never, a real depiction of life. Once thrown to the mercy of the Internet and its many viewers, the image of oneself or one’s über-stylish whereabouts is commented and compared. The accumulation of those images soon creates the contour of a parallel life, where disputes, financial problems, poor health or loss don’t exist and don’t need to exist.
Perhaps Scott’s personal-made-public pictures, overwhelmed with fabulousness, might have lead to distortion of what was her reality. And concluding that Scott’s life was all smoke and mirrors because of the discrepancy between those pictures, tweets or statuses and her suicide, would be equal to saying that she was only Jagger’s girlfriend; it would simply be limiting her life to the Instagram glamour, a nicely posed hashtagged picture. Life is more complex and Scott’s rich, busy, very private persona certainly was. More complex and patently tragic.
On this, the New York Post recently published a story explaining that “[Scott] was just one of countless New Yorkers who secretly fake their fabulous lives”. They argued that “[i]ronically, the New Yorkers most expected to live with no budgets, no cares and no limitations are members of the creative class, people with typically low-paying glamour jobs in media, the arts, fashion, publishing. And the closer their proximity to wealth and fame, the higher the pressure.” They also cite as examples the fall of most of the rich and glamorous participants of reality-TV show, The Real Housewives of New York City, concluding that L’Wren Scott’s tragic death “laid bare the unglamorous truth about her life and the world she so tenuously inhabited.”
Similarly, upon Scott’s death, as with fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s death in 2010 and his muse and fashion influencer, Isabelle Blow’s three years earlier (both from suicide: McQueen by hanging, Blow after she had drunk a bottle of weed killer), a lot has been said about the fashion industry being too tough and rough, not for the faint-hearted, leaving many designers burnt out and depressed. John Galliano’s anti-Semitic harangue at the terrace of a Parisian bistrot was apparently related to work-stress and “multiple addictions”. The grand Yves Saint Laurent was infamous for his nervous breakdowns (his partner Pierre Bergé once said Saint Laurent “was born with a nervous breakdown”) and Balmain’s Christophe Decarnin was hospitalised in 2011 for depression.
Because Scott’s suicide didn’t fit her strong and private personality, because it didn’t match her entertaining side, her life became a fake and her death a fodder for tabloid journalism: from “The Agonizing Secret She Kept From Mick Jagger”, (Scott is said to have borrowed money against a flat Mick Jagger bought her), to her business being in debt ($6 million), or a possibly rocky relationship, theories have flared, trying to find the reason that best would explain her desperate and ultimate gesture. But the cheap and nasty debate on why she decided to end her life never celebrated her incredible talent. In the world of Instagram and tabloids, the real L’Wren became insta-L’Wren. The real-life-tragedy became the insta-tragedy. DM
Main photo: US model L’Wren Scott arriving at the annual British Fashion Awards held at the Coliseum Theatre in Central London, Britain. 02 December 2013 EPA/DANIEL DEME; and Mick Jagger and L’Wren Scott arriving at the screening of the documentary ‘Stones in exile’ during the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. 19 May 2010 EPA/STR
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon