When L’Wren Scott, a tall drink of water if ever there was one, debuted her women’s ready-to-wear collection in 2006, she was burdened by one of the fashion industry’s most stubborn prejudices: celebrity.
Seventh Avenue loves dressing stars; it loves using them to pitch products. But do not let some boldface name declare herself a designer. For that, the punishment is derision, suspicion and an enormous helping of disdain.
Scott had the worst kind of fame. Hers was reflected glory: She was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend.
But she also had a fashion story to tell. Standing more than 6 feet tall, with an ivory complexion and a tidal wave of jet black hair, Scott transformed herself from a Utah teenager named Luann Bambrough into a high-fashion model and then a Hollywood stylist. Her calling card was a red-carpet aesthetic that involved pouring actresses such as Nicole Kidman and Ellen Barkin into skintight gowns with barely a millimeter of breathing room.
Scott had a unique point of view, one that was supremely tailored and a little rock-and-roll. But it had a grown-up sex appeal that appealed to physically confident women who were well past the stage of giggly coed. Her clothes, particularly the long, lean sheaths for which she became known, call to mind a kind of European sexiness: older, self-assured and primal.
Scott, 49, was found dead Monday in her Manhattan apartment, a suspected suicide. That so many headlines now describe her most prominently as Jagger’s girlfriend belies what she had been able to accomplish with the fashion industry.
She helped to establish a red-carpet vernacular for older actresses, one that managed to seep into the population at large. Her style was audaciously body-conscious but not revealing. Even though Scott was inspired by her own willowy frame, women with significant curves and confidence, such as first lady Michelle Obama, embraced her designs. The clothes weren’t easy, but they were welcoming.
When Scott began presenting her collections to the media, she steered clear of flashy runway spectacles, mobs of paparazzi and front rows self-consciously populated by famous friends. Instead, she’d host a luncheon for editors, a few retailers and supporters. She served french fries, God bless her.
She’d sit at the center of a long table. Jagger would be there, standing around quietly and most definitely in the background. Barkin would sometimes be on hand. Then the models would file out. Some of the looks would feel a bit ostentatious, drawing too much from Scott’s days as a costume designer, when a garment had to speak to time, mood and narrative in just a few seconds. But other looks — the pencil skirts, the embroidered cardigans, the slinky evening gowns — seemed so perfectly of the moment and yet, it was clear that no one else was bothering to design them.
At the end of the show, Scott would stand and sort of wave and mouth “Thank you.” Then, she’d stick around and chat.
Within the fashion world, Scott’s story was not one of financial success. To be honest, it didn’t even have much buzz. But Scott looked around and saw contemporaries with verve, style and magnificent bodies. She gave them age-appropriate clothes that would make an ingénue jealous.
Givhan is the former fashion editor of The Washington Post.