Remembering L'Wren Scott: Original, Strong and Brave
The Hollywood Reporter's senior style writer Merle Ginsberg recalls meeting the fashion designer 20 years ago and during an interview; Scott said of her designs: "My customers are pretty international. Women of every age and size really just want to look sexy, while retaining their power and dignity."
I met fashion designer L'Wren Scott -- who died Monday, March 17, of an apparent suicide amid reports of financial insolvency -- 20 years ago in Los Angeles. This was before anyone had ever even heard the word or job description "stylist." She was completely self-created; everything about her was original, strong and brave -- and somewhat intimidating -- even in 1994, before she became well-known. But even on that initial meeting, it was clear she had every intention of becoming well-known -- one way or another.
As a female, it could not have been easy to reach in your teenage years -- particularly in Roy, Utah, where she grew up an adopted child in a Mormon family -- a height of 6-foot-4. Instead of wearing flats and playing it down, the future L'Wren -- who grew up as Luann Bambrough -- wore stilettos and played it up. In 1985, just after turning 18, the young Luann creatively and unremittingly reinvented herself as L'Wren Scott and headed off to Paris without knowing a soul there.
Determined to be a high-fashion model, she soon got gigs walking the runway for Chanel and Thierry Mugler -- and even landed a notorious lingerie campaign with famed photographer Jean-Paul Goude, subsequently earning herself a place in the Paris nightlife demimonde.
But by 1994, L'Wren had tired of Paris -- having gone as far as she could go -- and was itching to come back to the States, where European high fashion was just starting to explode. She met a young retailer from Los Angeles named Tony Brand who spent a lot of time in Paris, and ended up returning to L.A. and marrying him. It just so happened that his mother, Judy Leaf, a former buyer for Saks, had opened the first Prada store in L.A. on Rodeo Drive just as the brand started to explode, having recently launched its ready-to-wear line. Suddenly Scott fell into the unique position of being the West Coast PR rep for Prada, the world's hottest new brand -- giving her access to any celebrity she might want to meet and any photographer and magazine editor. It certainly helped her to meet famed celebrity photographer Herb Ritts, who admired her expertise in fashion and started hiring her to style his celebrity shoots for Vanity Fair as well as his own portraits.
The marriage to Brand didn't last -- but L'Wren's styling career thrived. Through Ritts, she got to know Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Barkin and Julianne Moore and wound up helping them regularly choose their looks for red carpets -- many of which were designed by Scott's Parisian good friend John Galliano. She also worked as the costume designer on a few films: 1996's Diabolique with Sharon Stone and 2000's Mercy with Kim Basinger. She also had a hand in Nicole Kidman's wardrobe in Eyes Wide Shut in 1999. Scott made all of Ellen Barkin's sexy sheaths for 2007's Oceans 13, which helped give her the idea to launch her own design career. And in the late '90s, she held the coveted job of fashion coordinator of the Oscars for one year. But when she put many of the dancers and musicians in pricey Donna Karan looks and the budget skyrocketed, the Academy balked and Scott was not asked back.
But she already had bigger fish to fry. Scott had made several short films and signed on with CAA to become a film director, even in the midst of a busy styling career. She purchased a house in the Hollywood Hills that once belonged to writer Charles Bukowski and gave lavish dinner parties -- one for designer Alberta Ferretti when she came to town.
Scott apparently met Mick Jagger on a photo shoot in 2001. They kept their relationship quiet for awhile -- but that didn't last long. Soon they appeared in public constantly, her in heels towering over him, which he appeared to love. Although when Jagger won a Golden Globe in 2005 for the song "Old Habits Die Hard" from the film Alfie, he thanked her "for not wearing heels." In 2007, he bought a $10 million house for them to live in London, and in 2008, Scott created his wardrobe for the Martin Scorsese-directed Stones biopic Shine a Light. There was constant speculation the pair were engaged, but never any statement made to that effect.
"L'Wren is very independent and would not take any nonsense from anyone no matter how famous they were," her adoptive mother Lula Bambrough told a newspaper in 2003. "She is very much her own woman and it would be my guess that is why Mick Jagger likes her."
In 2006, Scott decided to launch -- with Jagger's apparent help -- her eponymous clothing line. He attended most of her shows when she started showing in mostly small venues in New York (and later, London), and Barneys was her first major retail account. Later on, she created shoes and handbags. One of her most famous dresses and silhouettes was "the Headmistress dress," which defined her look and tone: classic and coveted European fabrics honed into body-hugging dresses, jackets, sweaters and skirts with lengths usually over the knee and never anything obviously sexy, but with corsets and shapes that flattered both her and the celebrities who loved to wear her clothes: Kidman, Amy Adams, Penelope Cruz, and even Madonna. Most recently, Christina Hendricks wore a black dress with a chiffon cape designed by Scott to this year's Vanity Fair Oscar party.
In an interview with Scott at Barneys Beverly Hills in 2009 -- and she rarely did interviews -- this is how she described her aesthetic to me: "These clothes are all about the body, and they work in every city. They look good in L.A., New York, Paris or London. My customers are pretty international. Women of every age and size really just want to look sexy, while retaining their power and dignity. It's all about how the clothes are constructed on the inside. They look simple -- but believe me, they're not." As for Jagger's reaction, she gushed: "Mick loves what I wear, and always has something to say about it! Look at the way he dresses! I don't think there's a more fashion-conscious man in the world."