Dani Garavelli: L’Wren Scott, tortured talent

L’Wren Scott was acclaimed as a model, stylist and designer, but in the end fashion’s armour wasn’t strong enough to protect her, writes Dani Garavelli

Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott. Picture: Getty

IF THERE is one thing model, stylist and designer L’Wren Scott was at pains to stress in all her interviews it was that she didn’t want to be known as Mick Jagger’s arm candy. Though she was happy to appear with him, both at her own fashion shows in New York, and when he won a Golden Globe for the song Old Habits Die Hard in the remake of the film Alfie, she never allowed curiosity about the dynamics of their 12-year relationship to deflect from interest in her own work. “I don’t court that life. I’d rather be a worker bee,” she once said. “I’m a fashion designer. I don’t want to be defined as someone’s girlfriend.”

And why would she? Scott was an ­Amazonian woman with 42-inch legs, who had posed for David Bailey, styled the Oscars and created gorgeous frocks for Hollywood actresses such as Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie. It must have been devastating for those who loved her, then, to watch as, in death, she was reduced to a cipher, a bit part in the soap opera that is the Rolling Stones’ frontman’s life.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

It happens to the partners of all celebrities, of course. But since news of Scott’s death by hanging in her Manhattan apartment broke, most of the focus has been on the 70-year-old rock star. “How is Jagger coping?” the newspapers have asked. “Will the Stones’ tour of Australia be postponed?” And, less explicitly: “To what extent is Mick to blame for her taking her own life?” Had Scott squandered her child-bearing years waiting in vain for him to marry her? And should he have used his fortune to bail out her ailing fashion business? All this without any inside knowledge as to Scott’s state of mind and little insight into the futility of trying to uncover the underlying ­“reasons” for any suicide.

Her estranged sister Jan and a housekeeper were wheeled out to testify to her desire for kids, but the overriding sense from those who knew her best was of an intensely private person who, until the end, worked hard to maintain an outward appearance of happiness and defied anyone to question the version of herself she projected to the public. Only a few days before her death, she had posted upbeat pictures of herself at ­Jagger’s holiday home in Mustique to her Instagram account. If she did “self-harm” last month, as some reports have suggested, then she did her damnedest to make sure the world did not find out about it.

The only hint that all was not as it seemed came when she posted the phrase, “fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”. An aphorism coined by the photographer Bill Cunningham, it has been read as a macabre forewarning of impending tragedy, however, it could just as easily be seen as the mantra which informed her strong character and inspired her best work.

Her steeliness can be traced back to her adolescence. Brought up as Luann Bambrough by adoptive Mormon parents in the town of Roy in Utah, with Jan and her brother Randy, she was 5ft 11ins by the age of 12. It is not difficult to imagine how this growth spurt would affect some children; subjected to taunts from their peers – they would have learned to stoop, to make themselves less visible. Not Scott. She begged her mother to buy her high heels. In photographs, she is taller than Jan, but she holds herself with grace, statuesque as opposed to gangly. Perhaps that’s why she never attracted the cruel nicknames – stretch or stilts or spider – that haunt other leggy teenagers, but was known as Lady, a reference, one supposes, to her nascent poise and glamour. Even then, Scott instinctively knew dressing well was the way to do justice to her height. Unable to find off-the-peg clothes which flattered her, she honed her dressmaking skills and started sending away to Vogue for patterns, as well as altering vintage outfits in silk moire and taffeta to her own shape.

She was 6ft 3ins, aged 17 and working on a Calvin Klein shoot when she was “discovered” by photographer Bruce ­Weber. “We were photographing all these girls in pantyhose, and she was taller than anybody in the studio and yet she seemed small,” Weber later recalled. “She was like a baby giraffe, beautiful and sweet and really vulnerable.”

He told her not to go to Los Angeles, where he said they wouldn’t really “get” her, but to Paris, so she told her parents she was going to stay with friends and bought a one-way ticket to the French capital, changing her name on the way. Even there, she stood out. “I don’t think I realised the extremes of my proportions,” she said in an interview in Scotland on Sunday last month. “I thought I’d be ‘normal’ as a model, but actually, even in that world, I was at one end of the spectrum.” Still she proved a hit and was soon being photographed by the world’s biggest names: Guy Bourdin; Thierry Mugler; Jean-Paul Goude, who shot the racy Dim Up lingerie campaign; and David Bailey, who shot the famous images of her legs as the hands of a clock for Pretty Polly.

She made her runway debut when Karl Lagerfeld selected her for his Chanel haute couture show and started jet-setting to all the fashion capitals of the world, though she insisted Paris was the perfect place to nurture her love of style. “When I went to the ateliers, I learned the secrets and importance of fitting clothes perfectly,” she said. “When a garment is in sync with your body and its proportions, it looks and feels amazing, and in France that is something all women know from a young age.” But, though she loved to look glamorous, Scott discovered she felt uneasy with the “objectification” that came with a life on the catwalk.

After a relationship with British property tycoon Andrew Ladsky, she met and married entrepreneur Anthony Brand. Brand’s mother had just opened the first Prada shop in LA, and she moved permanently to the city to become the brand’s west coast PR. The marriage lasted just three years, but by the time it had ended Scott had teamed up with photographer Herb Ritts, who hired her to style his shoots for magazines and other events. Early jobs included styling Jim Carrey for the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine and Elizabeth Taylor for the launch of her White Diamonds fragrance.

According to Mark McKenna, founder of the Ritts Foundation, Scott developed a reputation for her keen eye and her rigour. “She was focused and driven about her work, and when I say driven, I mean driven,” he said. “She would prep for things weeks in advance. She came with her homework done.”

Through Ritts, Scott got to know a number of Hollywood stars – Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker and close friend Ellen Barkin – and helped them choose their outfits for the red carpet. She was adept at finding clothes which accentuated their best features, although some said she was better at dressing those women, such as Kidman and Jolie, whose figures, like hers, tended towards the statuesque. She also worked as a costume designer for several films, including Diabolique with Sharon Stone, and Mercy with Kim Basinger, and in 2000 she was fashion co-ordinator for the Oscars.

Scott met Jagger the following year during a photo shoot. They kept their relationship quiet for a while, but soon they were being photographed everywhere together. The difference in their heights, and their 20-year age difference, could have rendered them ridiculous had they not seemed so supremely at ease with it and their coupledom.

In 2006, Scott, seemingly with the help of Jagger, launched her own eponymous brand, and soon created a range of signature outfits, most notably the iconic “headmistress” dress, a fitted sheath often with cuffs and collar, as worn by Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and many others. Inspired by her always-accessoried mother, she also designed handbags and a range of jewellery. She designed the diamond necklace Kidman wore to the Oscars in 2008. It contained 7,645 stones, totalling nearly 1,400 carats.

Since her death, Scott has been portrayed in some quarters as clingy and desperate: the archetypal woman whose biological clock is ticking (although, at 49, hers may well have stopped). Indeed, one newspaper suggested, she was so controlling the other members of Rolling Stones compared her to Yoko Ono. It is true she was rarely seen without the massive ring which Jagger gave her and that she accompanied the band on most of their tours. But her friends depict her as a free spirit who had her own life to be getting on with. “L’Wren is very independent and would not take any nonsense from anyone no matter how famous they were,” her mother Lula Bambrough said in 2003. “She is very much her own woman and it would be my guess that is why this Mick Jagger likes her.”

Nor was the relationship one-sided. If Scott liked to go on tour with Jagger, he almost always attended her shows – intimate affairs where a handful of editors and celebrities were shown her latest designs. Jagger would turn up in his velvet jacket, adding a bit of rock star pizzazz, while trying not to upstage his partner.

As the Stones prepared for their 14 on Fire tour of the Far East and Australasia, Scott was not short of new ventures. Last year, she teamed up with High Street brand Banana Republic to create an affordable off-the-peg collection, launched at a swanky Los Angeles bash and last month she collaborated with make-up artist Bobbi Brown to create a cosmetics range.

The first signs something might be awry began to emerge later that month. First she cancelled her London Fashion Week show claiming the fabrics had not arrived on time for samples to be sewn. And there were claims she had flown off the handle at another event.

To most of her friends, she appeared to be her ­usual ebullient self, although a handful claim they knew her fashion company LS Fashion Limited was failing and that she planned to announce its closure this week. It has since emerged it was more than $6m in debt; some say she was embarrassed, but had refused Jagger’s help.

On Monday, Scott hanged herself. Since hearing the news, Mick, who just days earlier had been sunning himself on a Perth beach, has been distraught. In a tribute posted on Facebook, he said: “I am still struggling to understand how my lover and my best friend could end her life in this tragic way. We spent many wonderful years together and had made a great life for ourselves. She had great presence and her talent was admired, not least by me. I will never forget her.”

Outside Scott’s inner circle, poisonous rumours continue to circulate, with some insinuating the couple had split – a claim Jagger denies – and others that she had been told to stay away from the tour. But both band members and ­Jagger’s close family, including ex-wife Bianca, have rallied round expressing their grief at her death and their ­concerns for Mick.

In the fashion world, where Scott’s understanding of the female figure brought her many admirers, her death is being mourned as the tragic waste of a life. “She was an amazing soul, talented artist and unbelievably giving friend,” said actress Olivia Munn. Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said she had “a clear ­notion of style which informed everything she did”. Though it seems, in the end, fashion’s armour was not strong enough to protect her. L’Wren Scott leaves a ­legacy in work and flair and personality that goes way beyond her role as a rock’n’roll girlfriend.

Twitter: @DaniGaravelli1

To contact Samaritans for emotional support, please call 08457 90 90 90 or email [email protected]