'Encountering L'Wren was like sticking your finger in a light socket'

Fashion commentator, creative ambassador for Barneys New York and author, Simon Doonan remembers his friend, L'Wren.
Mick Jagger, left, and L'Wren Scott at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala benefit in 2012.
Photo / AP
Mick Jagger, left, and L'Wren Scott at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala benefit in 2012. Photo / AP

The fashion world is not known for its abundance of humorists. L'Wren Scott, the designer and stylist who died last month, and whose memorial service took place in New York City last week, was an exception. Yes, she was talented and elegant and soignée, but she was also hilarious and unexpectedly madcap. The tabloid reportage and morbid speculations that followed her death are in danger of obscuring this important aspect of her persona. She was fun. Really fun.

When L'Wren Scott took her own life, I was stunned and saddened. This was a cruel injustice. There were still so many people on the planet who had yet to meet her. And everyone should have had the opportunity to get to know L'Wren.

Encountering L'Wren was like sticking your finger in a light socket. She was instantly compelling, and droll beyond belief. She had the spontaneity of Holly Golightly and the unconventional glamour of Holly's pal Mag Wildwood.

She had the sass of Eve Arden. She had the bravado of Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. She was Lauren Bacall in Designing Woman, slipping into a fitted frock in the airplane bathroom and then sashaying down the aisle while tossing bon mots at us fellow travelers as if they were bags of peanuts.

I first met L'Wren in the early 90s when Barneys (my boss) hired Albert Sanchez to shoot an ad campaign in Los Angeles. Julianne Moore was the model, and L'Wren was the stylist. In advance of the shoot, Albert insisted I meet L'Wren. "This girl is totally beyond. She modeled for Bruce Weber and Guy Bourdin and, and, and ... I'm not going to say anymore."

We arranged to meet for a cuppa at the store restaurant. I spotted her across a crowded room. Coiffed, be-suited, and perfectly maquillaged, L'Wren recalled the glam artifice of the prewar Hollywood studio system. Upon introduction, she rose from her chair, and she just kept rising, and rising.

At 6 foot 4 plus heels, she was the tallest chick I had ever met. Staring up at her from my 5-foot-4-inch vantage point, I felt like the bemused mother in the famous Diane Arbus photo of the giant and his parents.

Right from the start we developed a playful badinage centered on the colossal discrepancy in our respective heights: "Come and see me while you are in L.A.," purred L'Wren, "Feel free to use the cat door."

When, a decade later, L'Wren started dating Mick Jagger, it all seemed to make perfect sense. Yes, she had a great body and she was gorgeous, but she also had wit, and English rocker Gods don't dig humor-impaired birds.

Three specific incidents come to mind.

Fond remembrance No. 1: As stated above, L'Wren was once a top stylist. She dressed a million celebs. She had not yet begun designing her own collection, but, for those of us who knew her back then, it was always on the cards. L'Wren had vision and drive. The career of stylist was not going to hold her attention forever.

At some point rumors began to fly: Apparently L'Wren had adopted a new and unconventional approach to her styling gigs. Lady Scott had entered an extreme phase where she would show up at photo shoots without the usual racks of gown options.

"Where are the clothes, L'Wren?"

"It's not about frocks anymore."

"What is it about?"

"It's about a panty ... and a Manolo ... and a hoop."

Translation: The model/celeb will be wearing a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes, a pair of hoop earrings, and a pair of panties (her own). Burned out, one assumes, from dealing with endless borrowing, showroom haggling and store returns, L'Wren had come up with a very stylish solution: semi-nudity.

Years later I asked Sarah Jessica Parker - a longtime devotee of both L'Wren the designer and the person - if she recalled this period. With much mirth and chattering teeth she affirmed: "Yes! L'Wren loved a Manolo, a panty and a hoop. Brrr!"

And note the use of the singular. This was classic L'Wren. With La Scott it was always "a Fendi" and never "a pair of Fendi shoes." When confronted about her eccentric commitment to singularizing whenever possible, L'Wren justified it by claiming that it saved time: "A pair of this. A pair of that. No thanks. I am too busy for plurals. It's a panty. It's a Manolo. It's a hoop."

Fond Remembrance No. 2: L'Wren was once hired to make costumes for Siegfried and Roy. The resulting sojourn in Las Vegas left her with a fund of rich anecdotes, one of which centered around the crotch enhancements of the two mega entertainers. Who demanded more foam-padding, Siegfried or Roy? L'Wren was too discreet to tell, but her drawn-out descriptions of her endless roundtrip visits to the foam store in the Vegas suburbs recalled the hyperbolic madness of Gerard Hoffnung's famous "Bricklayer's Lament."

Fond Remembrance No. 3: L'Wren was always happy to parody herself, especially if it made other people laugh. At one particular Barneys event - an Ungaro fashion show fundraiser - the goody bags ran out. Upon learning this fact L'Wren staged a mock fit. The 7-foot tall Mormon gal from Utah raised her arms - banging her wrists into the light fixtures - and let out a "Nooooooooo!" Simulating wild-eyed outrage, she scanned the room for something else that she could take in lieu of a goody bag.

"This will have to do!" she said, grabbing a seated fiberglass mannequin and disappearing into the elevator while the camera's flashed. Ten seconds later the elevator come back up. No L'Wren. Just a poignant dismembered mannequin slumped on the floor.

L'Wren was a fabulous designer with a laser-like eye, but she was also a creative outsider who saw the dada humor in everything. Was the campy façade hiding darker torments? I am reluctant to add to the depressing chorus of speculation about the reasons for her suicide. I can only tell you that she was a beautiful, funny, life-enhancing one-off, and any remembrance of her would be incomplete if it failed to acknowledge her magical combo of glamour and wit.

RIP.

- Washington Post

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