Monday, April 7, 2014

Missing L’Wren

L’Wren after her final runway show in September 2013. Photo by Yannis Vlamos.

This is not the post I planned to write about L’Wren Scott.

I’d already drafted a piece in mid-March about how I’d gone back for more of her Banana Republic collection. In fact, I’d purchased two more of her cardigans the night before she died. I was shocked over news of her suicide on March 17 in Manhattan and still can’t believe it happened. I wasn’t sure if I should still publish the writing I’d done on L’Wren, then decided to scrap what I’d drafted and start over, in order to share with you what I loved about her aesthetic and her work.

Variation on a theme: A “Headmistress” dress in pink. Photo by Marcio Madeira.

One of the holiday seasons I worked at Bloomingdale’s, there was an abandoned half-folded section from The New York Times sitting in the employee coat-check. It was an article about L’Wren launching her eponymous fragrance line. It talked about the (now) well-known facts of her life—raised in Utah by adoptive Mormon parents, she left home for Paris at 17 and with her 6’3 frame soon found work as a model. She parlayed that experience into becoming a photographer’s assistant, then a stylist, then a designer. What I loved most about that article was this quote, “…it was her mother who told her: Luann (as she was once known), if you really want something, no one is going to knock on your door and just give it to you.” What great mom advice! It was clear from the piece that she had worked very hard to get where she was. I think it’s easy to assume that Mick Jagger, her companion of many years, gave her the funds to start her line but I do not believe that was the case. I think L’Wren did all of it herself so for me, as soon as I read that article, it put her in a positive light since I like to read about the journey women take when they start their own businesses and L’Wren had an interesting journey indeed.

A sequined cardigan from the Banana Republic collection.

If L’Wren’s work is any indication, she loved the things I love—lace, velvet, jewel-tone colors, peonies, pencil skirts, red nails, dark eyeliner, black sunglasses, vintage jewelry, cropped cardigans, a Victorian cut to a jacket, and sequins, sequins, and more sequins.

I had worn one of her purple sequined cardigans, shown above, out for drinks with a friend in early March. I added a blouse with a floaty bow, red nails, boot-cut dark denim and the highest heels I could walk in. This is what I loved about L’Wren’s aesthetic: I was all covered up and yet there was a darkly glittering aspect to the look. It was pure L’Wren glamour.

From the “Bois de Boulogne” collection, Fall 2009. Photo by Marcio Madeira.

The time my mother and I went to Barney’s and saw L’Wren’s line we couldn’t help taking a closer look. The clothes were gorgeous—black and slim, elegant and ladylike. We literally turned them inside out to see how they were made. My mother, who is a great sewer, commented that she’d never seen such beautiful finishing in her life. One look at the inside of a L’Wren Scott dress and it was clear she was a perfectionist.

Great details on this peony-print sleeveless blouse.

Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani in a scene from Diabolique. L'Wren designed some of the costumes for the film.

I like that she stayed true to herself—she loved embellished cardigans, her headmistress dress, and high-necked blouses with ruffles, and she showed new versions of them with every collection. It was about shine, it was about glamour, but I thought the clothes also looked very wearable. I always knew I was going to see something I loved in a L’Wren Scott show. The costumes she designed for Sharon Stone in the 1996 remake of Diabolique were perfect for that hard-hearted but well-dressed character. The gorgeous blue sequined L’Wren gown that Amy Adams wore to the Oscars in 2011 remains one of my favorite red carpet looks ever. L’Wren was so very talented and I am going to miss her so much.

Amy Adams wore this L’Wren dress to the Oscars in 2011. I still love it!

One thing that saddens me about L’Wren’s suicide, or any suicide, is that suddenly the person’s entire life is considered tragic, no matter what came before. There has been so much speculation as to what drove her to end her life that I won’t add to it, I only wish she could’ve found another option. Which leads me to this remembrance:

I went to a reading Joyce Carol Oates gave in Manhattan once, to promote Blonde, her moving novel about Marilyn Monroe. In the Q&A session someone asked her about rumors that Marilyn had committed suicide, which Oates rejected, believing Marilyn’s death to be an accidental drug overdose. She took the opportunity to talk about two famous suicides, that of Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway. She said instead of focusing on the suicide and casting their lives in a dark light, readers needed to remember that Plath and Hemingway were sensitive people who had struggled with depression their whole lives, done the best they could despite it, and had ultimately lost a lifelong battle. She encouraged the audience to focus on what Plath and Hemingway were able to create while they were alive, not the way in which they died. It was one of the most profound statements I’d ever heard about suicide, whether the person was an artist or not.

A dress from her last collection Spring/Summer 2014. Photo by Yannis Vlamos.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, left, wears a cardigan featuring the same embroidery as above. Photo by Amy Dickerson.

I never heard or read that L’Wren struggled with depression but perhaps she did and kept it a secret from her friends and the media. I didn’t know her, obviously, and I never met her, but her work brought me such delight that I am going to take Joyce Carol Oates’s advice and focus on the beauty L’Wren was able to create while she was here, beauty that will continue to delight—me and others—for years to come.

From British Harper’s Bazaar, February 2013. Photo by Olivia Arthur.

If you are looking for thoughtful essays on L’Wren’s work, written by people who knew her, I highly recommend Cathy Horyn’s article for The New York Times, “Memories of a Friend, a Teacher, and a Fighter” and Sarah Mower’s piece “A Tribute to L’Wren Scott” for Vogue.com. Both are excellent and worth a read.

14 comments:

une femme said...

She did have a wonderful aesthetic and a great eye for design. I agree that sometimes we don't know what demons people wrestle with, and that we can honor their lives more by focusing on the good things they brought to the world, than speculating about why they ultimately took their own lives.

Suzanne Carillo Style Files said...

A wonderful well written post Jill. I am glad you decided to focus on what she brought to the world rather than simply her end, which we all must meet in some form or another.

bisous
Suzanne

wabisabiwife.com said...

As someone who did not know that much about her I found your post really interesting. I don't need to speculate about her end. It is after all, about the journey, for all of us.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

You have written a wonderful post, and I like that you are focused on the positive aspects of her life in design. It is so sad when people decide that suicide is their only option...one wonders if there was anything that could have been done to prevent it.

Janet said...

Beautifully and compassionately expressed.

Janet said...

Beautifully and compassionately expressed.

Jan Graham-McMillen said...

Lovely, Jill. I hope that the people who knew her well and loved her get to see your post.

Deborah Montgomery said...

I'm not too familiar with her work, so it was nice to see you feature it. She sure was talented. No one's death should define them as a person; I like your focus on her work.

Linda said...

Jill, what a beautiful tribute to a wonderfully talented designer. Being able to enjoy her beautiful clothes and the perfection of the workmanship with you that day in Barney's is a memory I will always cherish. Love, Mom

PinkCheetahVintage said...

Beautiful <3

Veshoevius said...

A beautifully written ode Jill - she was a very talented lady.

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

I think it is important to remember her accomplishments and sense of being rather than let her mode of death become part of her identity. Very well said and lovely tribute Jill xx

JTWisdom said...

Heartfelt post. L'Wren Scott was a fabulous designer.

donna macdonald said...

What a lovely tribute Jill...very well done. My husband told me about his father's very sad death from anorexia which was very difficult and painful for his family. It lasted 4 long years. When I asked him how he reconciled such a cruel horrible death to the father he remembered as a child and young adult and he responded quickly and emphatically, "His life meant so much more than that!" I never forgot those words and even today, he remembers his father as he was before his disease took him.