I had never before heard of L’Wren Scott until her suicide was reported yesterday. This is not surprising because although she was apparently a highly gifted fashion designer whose work was sought after by many celebrities, she is not a household name for those who do not follow the world of fashion, unlike Dior and Vanderbilt and others who also serve a mass market and advertise widely.
Apparently many news organizations reported her death with a headline that identified her as the girl friend of Mick Jagger, with her own accomplishments only appearing in the text of the story. As Robin Abcarian writes, this has caused some discussion in both media and fashion circles, that treating her as mainly the consort of a more famous person was disparaging to her and her own accomplishments. Abcarian says that this is a tricky issue for journalistic outlets that want people to click on the headline and thus have to decide which is the best way to draw readers.
The New York Times came in for especially harsh criticism because an early headline on its homepage said “Mick Jagger’s Girlfriend Found Dead, Official Says.” And then a couple of New York Times official Twitter accounts tweeted out links to the story using the same language.
Was it sexist? Did it insult Scott’s memor?
Without a doubt.
But you have to understand the context: The New York Times considers itself the hometown paper for the American fashion industry. It prides itself on its sophisticated coverage of 7th Avenue. Scott had a high-wattage clientele: Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Ellen Barkin. Her clothing is sold at Barney’s New York. She had recently created a line for Banana Republic. Anyone with a serious interest in fashion would know her name.
The New York Times website soon came to its senses. It dropped the Jagger reference in the homepage headline and gave the designer her due.
I admit that I for one clicked on the link because of the Jagger connection since her name meant nothing to me. But am I the kind of fashion-clueless person the media really wanted to attract to this story?
So why did a person who seemed to be riding the crest of success take her own life? With Philip Seymour Hoffman it appears that his private life was unraveling and he was descending into drugs and depression. In the case of Scott, indications are that this was the familiar story of a gifted artist not being able to manage the financial end of her business and spiraling into debt.