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03.18.09

The Rise and Rise of L'Wren Scott

In a rare interview, Mick Jagger’s leading lady L’Wren Scott talks about how she went from towering fashion model to top celebrity stylist to one of Hollywood’s favorite designers. By Merle Ginsberg.

Editor's Note: L'Wren Scott was found dead of an apparent suicide in her New York City apartment at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 17. 

For a gangly 6’4” Mormon girl growing up in Utah, finding an appropriate outfit is no easy task. But L’Wren Scott has always had a flair for fashion. The adopted child of a Mormon family, the former Luann Bambrough spent most of her teenage years poring over fashion magazines and dreaming of a career in Paris. In 1985, just after she turned 18, the frustrated future fashionista changed her name to something not quite so...regional, and set off for Paris. Since then, she’s enjoyed relatively brief, but illustrious, careers as a model, a celebrity stylist, and costume designer. Never afraid of reinvention, in 2006, Scott decided to start her eponymous fashion label, and is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated fashion designers in the country. Yes, even in this economy.

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.

Soon after her arrival in the City of Light, the longest-legged lady that designers had ever seen quickly landed a succession of high-profile modeling gigs—for the likes of Chanel and Thierry Mugler, as well as a notorious lingerie campaign with famed photographer Jean-Paul Goude—and became a familiar member of Paris’ demimonde. And she dressed the part—culling a glam wardrobe from vintage and thrift-store finds, she proved she had a flair for dressing her very vertical frame.

In 1994, tiring of Paris, Scott reinvented herself again, moving to Los Angeles to head up PR for Prada, A few years later, she morphed into the favored stylist of Herb Ritts, who contributed hundreds of celebrity photos to magazines such as Vogue, New York and Vanity Fair.

In an era when celebrity stylists have become stars in their own right, Scott wound up becoming he favored fashion mentor to some of the most stylish starlets of the ‘90s and early 2000's, including Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Barkin (she designed her tight sexy sheaths for Oceans 13), and Julianne Moore. Along the way, she was hired to costume-design a few films— Mercy (with Kim Basinger) and Diabolique (with Sharon Stone)—and worked on photo shoots with designers such as Karl Lagerfeld. Clearly, she also had a gift for meeting the right people — at the right time.

Case in point: Mick Jagger. In 2001, the two of them met on a photo shoot, and the rest is tall gorgeous woman/short famous guy history: The pair has been together ever since, with Mick even thanking Scott "for not wearing heels" at the 2005 Golden Globes, when he won for the song "Old Habits Die Hard" from Alfie. In 2007, Jagger left hotel life and bought a $10 million house for himself and Scott in London, and she promptly threw herself into decorating. She's accompanied him everywhere over the last eight years, even creating his wardrobe for the Martin Scorsese-directed concert movie, Shine a Light. Now in his mid-sixties, Jagger seems to finally be truly settling down. The London papers have even speculated about the two of them being engaged—she does sport a very large diamond ring on her left hand.

"L'Wren is very independent and would not take any nonsense from anyone no matter how famous they were," her adopted mother Lula Bambrough told a newspaper in 2003. "She usually knows what she wants and she gets it. It doesn't surprise me at all that she's tamed Mick. She is very much her own woman and it would be my guess that is why this Mick Jagger likes her." You have to admit—Jagger's roster of women has not included any shrinking violets (Marianne Faithfull, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Carla Bruni).

In 2006, Scott finally decided to launch (with Jagger's help) her own line of clothing. Jagger even shows up for the occasional show, praising her through the roof. Though she’s based her showroom in Paris, Scott now spends most of her time shuttling between there and New York and London, leaving LA and her styling clientele behind—although she did recreate a dress from her spring 2009 collection for Nicole Kidman to wear to the Oscars this year. Her clothes are sold at Barneys, all over Europe and Asia, and are quite fitted, with provocative names like "HeadMistress Dress." They're tailored but highly detailed in the fabrics —and sell from $1,500 for a blouse, all the way up to $7,500 for her most popular spring evening dress. A recent fall trunk show at Barneys in late February racked up big orders—and her exclusive runway shows in New York are small, much-anticipated affairs—and her clientele seems ravenous, loyal and, happily for her, recession-proof to a certain degree.

The Daily Beast caught up with Scott last week at Barneys in Los Angeles—dressed head to toe in her own chic jean-trousers, a white bowed shirt, and jacquard vest-jacket—for a rare interview. Even as a celebrity stylist, Scott was known as a woman who did not dress and tell. She's never even really admitted who her star clients were in print. And a woman who can handle Mick Jagger for eight years is not without her smarts and good instincts.

Your runway shows are very thematic, precise, very... edited. Your look and point of view is so clear. The colors change from season to season, but the silhouettes don't change much. There's tight and tighter.

The precision is intentional, and that’s what shows should be about. But there are more looks in the showroom than in the show. You have to tell a story in a short period of time during a show in a very clear way. And the editing process is a big part of being a designer. When you own your own business, you understand the costs of things, and the process. But what gets to the store isn't always just the clothes from the show.

OK. Who really designed the shoes for your fall collection?

I did! Fall '09 will be the first season that my vendors will carry L'Wren Scott shoes — I'm really excited. It won't be a huge collection, but the women who like my entire look will be excited to be able to wear them.

They look scarily high-heeled.

(Laughs) And why would they be?

You've also designed jewelry for Vera Wang and DeBeers.

Yes, I made the earrings and pin I’m wearing now. I like to buy vintage diamonds and create my own shapes. In the future, I’d like to make jewelry and sell it under my own name. But right now, I've got enough on my plate!

You seem to travel constantly. How do you manage to get a life?

I’m always working. I work wherever I am. I like to travel to fabric fairs—finding that leaf jacquard for a jacket and coat for fall was not easy. There's a bolero I designed this season that looks like it's made of leaves. Sourcing the great fabrics requires travel. I’m always trying to find something new for my customers. Every season I try to top myself, and push it a little further. I work very hard on the colors, too. Spring is a palette of pales — but there are whites, shades of gray, ecru—they’re actually all very different. It’s fun to see the ideas in your head spring to life. Because it all starts in your mind.

How did Nicole Kidman's Oscar dress this year come about?

Nicole called me and told me she loved this dress I designed last spring, but wanted to add some couture details. I don’t mind making couture dresses for private clients. I love to create a single dress with amazing embroidery or fabric—and they always seem to find a good home! I do a lot of special orders for people. I find it fun.

What is the theme of your fall collection?

I usually build my collections on colors and on staples, so when you buy pieces, you are really adding to your wardrobe, and you’re getting a new color palette to play with. The clothes are timeless and modern at the same time. This fall, I’m restricting myself to dark greens and bright greens, along with black, of course. I also added a dark green print to the collection—I usually shy away from prints.

Even the coats in fall '09 look sexy. I imagine it’s hard to make sexy coats.

Well, I think that’s why we’re selling so well. These clothes are all about the body and they work in every city. They look good in LA, 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.

Your clothes are pretty snug. They probably look good on you, but I doubt that most normal women can pull them off.

But they look actually good on all sizes of women. We make up to an Italian size 48 now. Women with fuller figures look great in these clothes—they look like women. That's why I do this. It's all about how they're cut, and constructed on the inside. They aren't just for skinny girls, believe me.

Speaking of which, do you miss Los Angeles?

Absolutely. I have so many friends here. And I miss this weather. It’s freezing everywhere in the world right now. But if I lived here all the time, I couldn't wear my coats and jackets! And I would miss them terribly!

Madonna wore a long-sleeved white color-and-cuffed dress of yours in her recent shoot for W.

Yes, it looks great on her. I love that dress. But it sold so well, I didn’t get to keep one! I’m the last person to get my clothes! Most of my favorite pieces, I don't own!

Is Mick into all this?

God yes! 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.

What did you wear before you started your own collection?

I wore a lot of Dior, Galliano, and Lagerfeld. John [Galliano] is a friend and made pants cut just for me, since I can't really fit into normal sized pants—they're usually too short and too big. One year I worked as fashion coordinator for the Oscars, and he made all these clothes for me to wear, even for just pinning the celebrities! I did shoots as a stylist with Karl [Lagerfeld] shooting, and he liked dressing me, too. I like severe cuts and shapes, though, and for me to find the right clothes for me —I really had to invent them.

Merle Ginsberg has written for W, WWD, Rolling Stone, People, the London Times, Elle UK, Harper's Bazaar, and is currently the Editor in Chief of FashionRules.com, a Hollywood Fashion website.