Designer L'Wren Scott was found dead of an apparent suicide in her Manhattan apartment on Monday morning. In the news coverage that followed, one key fact emerged in the reporting of her tragic suicide: that Scott was Mick Jagger's long-term partner, and that this was subsequently the most important thing about her.
L'Wren Scott was more than a "rock star girlfriend"– in fact, she openly confessed to hating the tagline. "I’m a fashion designer," she said. "I don’t want to be defined as someone’s girlfriend. You always wonder if people will pay attention to the hard work that goes into what you do. And when you’re taking on something on your own, it’s your company, your investment – your life."
To dismiss and reduce Scott to her choice of companion is to do a disservice to a woman who enjoyed a decades-long career in fashion. Scott was one of the few models who have successfully made the leap from clotheshorse to respected stylist and designer – which would be no mean feat now, let alone when Scott started out.
Scott was born Laura “Luann” Bambrough in Roy, Utah – the epitome of small-town America – and was adopted and raised by conservative Mormon parents. Her mother taught her to be proud of her leggy stature: slumping and slouching was not an option in the Bambrough household. Her school nickname was, appropriately, Lady. "I guess I was always a bit ladylike," she once said.
When photographer Bruce Weber spotted her on a ski trip in 1985, 18-year-old Luann was already over six foot, and had resorted to sewing clothes that would fit her lengthy stature. Weber shot Scott and her then-boyfriend for a Calvin Klein campaign and wrote them a check for $1,500 (a huge sum of money at the time). Luann, sensing the call of destiny, left Utah and hopped on a plane to Paris without telling her parents. In the process, she rechristened herself "L'Wren".
L'Wren made an immediate impression on the continent, walking for Thierry Mugler and Chanel, as well as landing big editorials with Guy Bourdin, Jean-Paul Goude and David Bailey, who shot her 42-inch legs in a now-classic Pretty Polly advert for tights (leading one newspaper to christen her "The Longest Legs in Britain").
In the 90s, Scott relocated to LA and was introduced by Helena Christensen to the late Herb Ritts, ushering in her new mode as Hollywood stylist du jour. Collaborating frequently with Ritts on shoots for Vanity Fair, W and New York, she became the go-to stylist for actresses like Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Ellen Barkin. She designed for Hollywood movies too, with jobs for Ocean's Thirteen and Eyes Wide Shut.
In 2006, Scott unveiled her eponymous collection with her Little Black Dress collection, which traded in old world glamour, womanly silhouettes and femininity – and, with names like the infamous Headmistress dress, incorporated a good deal of sly, campy sex. Barkin, who became close friends with the designer, once said: "If I looked naked like I look in her dresses, I'd be happy."
Unlike most designers, who put their own vision first, Scott took a person-centered approach to design: she worked tirelessly to make women feel good about themselves. And she designed for women, too – innocent ingénues and starlets had no place in her clothes, which were age-appropriate, red-carpet ready and cinched and tailored to an inch of their lives. As Christina Hendricks put it, "she (designed) for how women want to look and for what men want to look at".
Even her small and intimate shows were about the guests first and the clothes second: there was always a civilised luncheon for invitees, and seats for everyone. Then, as former Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan remembers, "Scott would stand and sort of wave and mouth 'thank you.' Then, she’d stick around and chat". Her ultra-feminine designs have since been worn by everyone from Naomi Campbell, Penelope Cruz, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Obama. In fact, the First Lady was wearing a L'Wren Scott dress when Mick Jagger visited the White House in 2012.
More than anything, Scott was a hard worker – in fact, she once described herself happier being "a worker bee" then anything else. In this Another interview, Scott names her tough, determined Mormon mother as her biggest influence in her life: "She once said to me, 'If you want something in life, you better go out and work for it and work hard because it's not going to come and knock on our front door in Roy, Utah.'" From small-town Utah to dressing the First Lady – Scott more than proved it was possible.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing
Have some news? Let us know on email@example.com