The long and the short of it
So here’s what you do when you find yourself growing up in a small town in Utah in the Seventies with a highly developed sense of style. You paint your bedroom chartreuse (not green, chartreuse); you run up some curtains out of broderie anglaise, even though you don’t know it’s called that yet; you sew all your own clothes; you design doll’s outfits for your friends – which you sell to them at a comfortable margin. And you change outfits five times a day.
At some point, furthermore, you change your name from Laura to one that incorporates a gnomic apostrophe.
“We were always taught to work in my family,” says L’Wren Scott. That ethic stuck: if being Sir Mick’s longterm partner has taught her anything, it’s that she needs to work that bit harder to prove herself. “People have this image of me that’s really quite far-fetched,” she says wryly. “For the record, I don’t live in a castle, nor do I have hot and cold running staff and PAs.”
It’s not exactly an unglamorous life although glamour can clearly be hard work.“I’m not an easy customer,” she concedes. “My attention to detail could probably drive you mad.” Does she mean the repetitive changing of the outfits? “No,” she says, bemused, “that’s just self-expression. Mind you, it drove my mother crazy. She made this rule that every time I changed I had to hang everything up. It made me incredibly organised and methodical. My eye still always goes toward the single flaw.”
That would explain why she had to repaint her Barbie house. That bubblegum pink is hard for even a non-obsessive to live with. These days Scott favours black when she’s working. “And everyone who works in my studio knows not to wear colour – it’s too distracting when you’re working on a collection.”
Scott has been striving since she was five when she began producing macramé and cross-stitch. By the time she was 13 she was teaching gymnastics, ploughing her profits back into buying a trampoline so that she could broaden her offer (she persuaded her parents to split the cost on that: this is a woman who understood the importance of keeping overheads low early on).
She also learnt about the miraculous leg-lengthening powers of a nude shoe when precociously young. She bought her first heels at 12, a pair of flesh-coloured jazz shoes. “That was a Eureka moment. I realised how long your legs look when your shoe matched your skin.”
So to recap: our heroine is 12, she knows about nude shoes (knowledge the rest of the world takes a further three decades to acquire) and she’s already so tall that the dancing career she fancied is looking increasingly unlikely. That’s why her mother consented to her buying a more serious pair of heels at 14. “My mom didn’t really approve. She thought I was too young for heels, but she also didn’t want me to feel self-conscious about being tall. I never slouched. Slouching was not an option with my mother.”
She’s even taller now – 6ft 3in in flats – and, to be honest, she’s not interested in making her legs look longer. Au contraire, she gave up Pilates because she was convinced it was stretching her too much. “I was always obsessed with proportions,” says Scott. This was a question of accentuating her positives, without standing out too much – a challenge when you have strikingly pale skin and raven hair.
It is not that Utah was an uninspiring environment for a curious, unconventional-looking thrill-seeker. “It’s very beautiful, with mountains and incredibly marked seasons.” But you had to seek your inspiration where you could. She discovered hers at the local cinema, although being tall, she looked much older than she was and it was a low moment when the management tried to charge her for an adult’s ticket to a Truffaut film. “Even though education was key in my family, I had no access to museums or art where we lived. I was a bit starved.”
As luck would have it, Utah’s beauteous scenery eventually lured star photographer Bruce Weber there to shoot a hosiery campaign for Calvin Klein. And this is where Scott’s legs really started to earn their dues. Cast by Weber to show off those tights, then encouraged by him to pursue modelling further, she was out of Utah – on her way to Paris with some jeans, a homemade black dress and a treasured black cashmere sweater, having told her parents she was visiting a friend in New York. She worked with Guy Bourdin, Thierry Mugler, Karl Lagerfeld and David Bailey – and, just as importantly, she got to know the pattern cutters.
When she moved to California to be a stylist at the start of the Nineties, fashion and celebrity were just beginning to reacquaint themselves with one another. Scott had two advantages. As a model who’d worked with top names, she had credentials to reassure A-listers. She also knew how to sew: a hallmark of any L’Wren Scott outfit is that it fits impeccably. By the end of the decade, she was more or less overseeing the dress code at the Oscars, having been anointed the event’s first style director, and went on to design costumes for Ocean’s Thirteen and Mercy.
By now she had a constellation of stellar clients, including Nicole Kidman, who began storming the red carpets in that distinctive L’Wren Scott mermaid silhouette. In 2006 she launched the Little Black Dress collection, which pretty much did what it said on the tin.
Seven years on, L’Wren Scott is a fully fledged label, including accessories and an eponymous scent, and a highlight of London Fashion Week, renowned for its sophisticated hourglass tailoring and sumptuous detailing, but also for the presentation, which includes a serving of shepherd’s pie for the watching fashion observers, and generous sightings of celebrities.
Scott no longer changes five times a day – in fact she’s the mistress of day-to-cocktail dressing – and despite her extraordinarily etiolated physical attributes, her starry connections, rock-star companion and A-list clients, is emphatically not just a celebrity dresser. “We dress up to size 50,” she says. “I love helping women make the best of themselves and it’s a point of pride with me that whatever your size and shape you’ll find something to wear in my collection.”
To underline the point, she has recently collaborated with Banana Republic on a hit capsule collection, including jewel-coloured versions of the versatile L’Wren Scott sequinned cardigan. “I don’t believe anyone should have to starve themselves to look good,” she says. “If you really want that packet of crisps, have it. The best thing you can do for your appearance is take care of yourself.”