When someone tinged with stardust dies, we inevitably end up knowing a little too much about them. The mawkish media engine, fuelled by death as a commodity, swiftly cranks into gear with details of childhood, celebrity friends, even – as we saw yesterday after L’Wren Scott’s suicide – the way in which she ultimately let go of life.
The Daily Mail had grabbed the “Mick Jagger’s girlfriend commits suicide” URL and top search ranking within five minutes of the news breaking, by simply publishing a blank page – doing so before anyone else and thereby accumulating all the page views that come with it. This is how modern journalism works; the unseemly prurience that has always been at the heart of the “tragic loss” narrative is now written, devastatingly bluntly, in code and web traffic.
But there was something rather more archaic about this story, too: the way it was reported, the packaging and the framing of it.
Between the cynicism of the news cycle and the wails of the fashion industry’s professional mourners (a crowd you can really count on to throw up their hands and ululate), there are really two salient facts you should know about Scott: she was a fashion designer and she was Jagger’s girlfriend. In that order.
But when the announcement came, there was only a clutch of people who described her death as anything other than Jagger’s tragedy. Perhaps it’s understandable, given that Scott was not an industry titan whose name had crossed into the vernacular. For those who don’t follow fashion closely, Jagger’s proximity is the news hook, their relationship the context. Should a famous woman’s less famous husband die, she would have been invoked in the same way.
And had Scott simply been an “it girl”, a society wife or a lady who lunched, the recounting on radio and breakfast news yesterday morning of her death in terms of Jagger cancelling his Australian tour might have been more justified, if still a rather unpleasant metonymy for the value put on women’s lives and roles.
But as it was, the fact that Scott worked hard throughout her life, had been, variously, a model, a celebrity stylist of the highest order and a designer with her name on the schedules of fashion weeks in London and New York, was forgotten. It was secondary information and it shouldn’t have been.
Scott had a Twitter following of several thousand before her account was suspended yesterday. She had styled and dressed the likes of Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz. She had carved out a career and professional portfolio that many people dream of, in an arena that is pretty hard to break into whether you are Jagger’s girlfriend or not – which she wasn’t when she started out.
Historically, we have remembered women through the lens of the husbands or partners they had. To do so now, even as we complain at the lack of working women in boardrooms, positions of power and the public eye, seems almost wilfully chauvinistic.
L'Wren Scott: Career in pictures
L'Wren Scott: Career in pictures
1/20 L'Wren Scott
L'Wren Scott attends The Serpentine Gallery Summer Party at The Serpentine Gallery in London, 2013
2/20 L'Wren Scott and Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer and L'Wren Scott arrive at a dinner honoring the spirit of Special Olympics at the White House, 2000
3/20 L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger
L'wren Scott and singer Mick Jagger arrive at the World Premiere of 'Alfie' at the Empire Leicester Square in London, 2004
4/20 L'Wren Scott and Karl Lagerfeld
L'wren Scott and Karl Lagerfeld chat backstage at the Chanel fashion show as part of Paris Fashion Week (Haute Couture) Spring/Summer 2005 in Paris
5/20 L'wren Scott, Victoria Beckham and Amira Casar
L'wren Scott, Victoria Beckham and Amira Casar attend the Chanel fashion show during Paris Fashion Week (Haute Couture) Spring/Summer 2006 in Paris
6/20 L'Wren Scott
Designer L'wren Scott attends the Sidaction Party raising funds in support of AIDS during Paris Fashion Week (Haute Couture) Spring/Summer 2006 at Pavillon D'Armenonville in Paris
7/20 L'Wren Scott
L'Wren Scott arrives at the Nina Ricci show during Paris Spring/Summer 08 fashion week in Paris, 2007
8/20 L'Wren Scott
L'Wren Scott attend the British Fashion Awards 2008 held at The Lawrence Hall in London
9/20 L'Wren Scott
L'Wren Scott arrives at the 'Shine A Light' New York premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York, 2008
10/20 L'Wren Scott and Mick Jager
L'Wren Scott and Mick Jager arrive at the 2009 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Sunset Tower in West Hollywood
11/20 Dan Williams, Jade Jagger, Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott
Dan Williams, Jade Jagger, Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott attend the Jade Jagger shop opening party in London, 2009
12/20 L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger
L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger attend the 'Shutter Island' premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York, 2010
13/20 L'wren Scott and Patti Hansen
L'wren Scott and Patti Hansen attends the 'Stones in Exile' screening at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, 2010
14/20 L'Wren Scott, Oona Ingle-Finch and Sydney Ingle-Finch
L'Wren Scott, Oona Ingle-Finch and Sydney Ingle-Finch attend Finch's Quarterly Cannes Dinner at the Hotel du Cap as part of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in Antibes, 2010
15/20 Mick Jagger, L'Wren Scott and Tommy Hilfiger
Mick Jagger, L'Wren Scott and Tommy Hilfiger arrive for the screening of 'Stones in Exil' during the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, 2010
16/20 Diego Della Valle and L'Wren Scott
President and CEO of Tod's Diego Della Valle and L'Wren Scott attend the 3rd Annual Finch's Quarterly Review Filmmakers Dinner honoring Oscar-winning British film producer Jeremy Thomas and sponsored by Tod's and the IWC at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cannes, 2011
17/20 Raf Simons and L'Wren Scott
Raf Simons and L'Wren Scott attend the Christian Dior Haute-Couture Show as part of Paris Fashion Week Fall / Winter 2013 in Paris, 2012
18/20 Stephen Jones and L'Wren Scott
Stephen Jones and L'Wren Scott attend the L'Wren Scott cocktail party during London Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2013/14 in London
19/20 L'Wren Scott
L'Wren Scott attends the British Fashion Awards 2013 drinks reception at the London Coliseum in London
20/20 Jade Jagger, L'Wren Scott, Georgia May Jagger and Mick Jagger
Jade Jagger, L'Wren Scott, Georgia May Jagger and Mick Jagger attend the annual Serpentine Gallery Summer Party co-hosted by L'Wren Scott at The Serpentine Gallery in London, 2013
It’s a depressing reality that women exist to make the news look nice, to wear clothes and to be linked to successful men. What’s more depressing is that Scott had successfully built a business on the first two and it was only the third on which most people concentrated. When great men die, we talk of the family they leave behind. We discuss their work and their deeds. As we learn how to grieve via social media, we share quotes, photographs and video clips, as happened with the outpourings for Tony Benn and Bob Crow. The TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright, who also died on Monday, was feted with facts from her unusual life and eclectic career, her obituaries shared on Facebook.
Scott was a brand in her own right – literally. She was a business. She was stamped on to labels in clothing. She lived off her own name. So for that to have been so easily subsumed into Jagger’s at the moment of her death speaks volumes, not only about how the media views women’s lives but also about how it views their work.
Harriet Walker is news editor at Never UnderdressedReuse content