March 17, 2014 @ 2:45 pm
L’Wren Scott took command of any room she entered. At 6-foot-3, the designer, who maintained a model’s physique well into her 40s, was hard to miss, not merely for her considerable beauty. She had the kind of personality that was immediately arresting and slightly formal, but she was also conscious that her height could be intimidating, so she always made an extra effort to be sunny and gracious, and often quite funny. Once, when greeting the comedian Martin Short at a party, she introduced herself as “Miss Tall.”
Self-awareness is what made Scott, 49, a successful designer. As a stylist early in her career, she understood the power of clothes to project an image, and later as a designer, she knew the value of projecting confidence, which made the news of her death on Monday, in an apparent suicide in New York City, all the more surprising. Her most famous designs, including her so-called “headmistress dress,” a prim, body-conscious style favored by Madonna, Ellen Barkin and Nicole Kidman, had an amazing power to project an image of strength, almost like sartorial confidence boosters.
“If I looked naked like I look like in her dresses,” Barkin once said, “I’d be very happy.”
Scott was unusual among successful designers in that she did not study fashion or apprentice with another designer, but learned by living an extraordinary life. She was adopted and raised in Utah by Mormon parents. When her mother told her that if she wanted something, she had to go out and get it, Scott immediately took off for Europe, where she landed a modeling contract with Pretty Polly legwear. In her 20s, she became one of the leading stylists in Los Angeles, dressing Julia Roberts and creating advertising campaigns for Elizabeth Taylor‘s fragrances. In 2006, after spending a year perfecting her own version of the Little Black Dress, Scott started her own collection that became an immediate hit. Its appeal was in its ingenious construction, designed to look structured, but in fact very easy to wear. She described them as the kind of dresses any woman could zip on and, with a touch of lipstick, head right out the door.
Of course, Scott was also famous for her decade-plus relationship with Mick Jagger, for whom she recently designed concert wardrobes, but her success in fashion was her own. She presented her collections, first in New York and later in London or Paris, to a hand-selected crowd of elite editors, often serving them lunch. Like the designer herself, her signatures — like the headmistress dress or a pencil skirt in a bold color — left an impression, but that was not all.
“I think the biggest compliment is to say somebody looks beautiful, versus wow did you see that dress,” Scott said during a conversation with the artist Rachel Feinstein at the Neue Galerie in New York last year. “Because it’s about the girl. It’s about the woman. It’s not about what I did.”
Eric Wilson is InStyle‘s Fashion News Director. Follow him on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and Instagram.
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