"I don't think I have made it in fashion."
So began L'Wren Scott's keynote at Fashionista's How to Make it In Fashion: L.A. conference on Friday. It was a quaintly modest declaration for Scott to make, given her enviable career in fashion: first as a model, then as a stylist and costume designer and, since 2006, as the designer of her own fashion label, which has been worn by the likes of Nicole Kidman and Michelle Obama.
If that's not enough, in a few weeks, Scott will debut her first mass market collaboration with Banana Republic -- a move that will undoubtedly expose her name and aesthetic to many new people. "It's a scary move for me," Scott says, noting that several similar -- but less suitable -- offers had come to her in previous years. "Wait and take your time," she advises. "Don't say yes to everything."
Other wisdoms include knowing that there is "no singular easy path," that you "must possess sheer drive" and "not complain when it's not glamorous."
Scott began designing clothes before she'd even planned to become a designer. As a kid, she couldn't find clothes to fit her very tall body, so she made clothes for her dolls and for herself that, looking back, she believes were much too sophisticated for her age. She was also too sophisticated for Utah, where she grew up -- at least according to famed photographer Bruce Weber, whom she modeled for back home, and who told her she should bypass New York and go "straight to Paris."
"I was more scared of not leaving Utah," Scott told the audience. "You have to make bold choices and the sooner you start being fearless, the better."
After a fruitful editorial modeling career working with some of fashion's most iconic photographers, Scott moved to L.A., where she felt connected to the coming together of fashion and Hollywood. After styling shoots and designing costumes for a number of films, including Eyes Wide Shut, she decided to make a small collection of nine little black dresses for herself. Then, she thought, "Maybe I could make them for people under six feet tall and I could make them in color, too." She presented them to press -- and the rest was history.
Today, the designer is nervously anticipating the launch of her next adventure: a mass market line with Banana Republic. The scary part? Putting herself out there "in a new way" -- i.e. reaching a new audience that can't afford her luxury namesake brand. On top of that, Scott says the design process with Banana Republic was markedly different from her own. She went "from my couture studio in London with a small team to this massive machine," with which she says she worked very closely.
Part of working with with this "massive machine" included seeing how it could develop textiles and prints (a signature part of her own collections) at such a low price point. "[Banana Republic] would make it so inexpensive but beautiful, it was kind of annoying," Scott jokes. She says she was "pushy" in her efforts to get everything exactly how she wanted, and "when I would challenge them, they would do it."
In addition to making the clothes look perfect, she, smartly, wants them to sell. Scott says what was "most interesting" about the process was "understanding [Banana Republic's] silhouettes and what their customers buy" in order to really "make it a marriage" of both brands' signatures. That way, regular Banana Republic customers will like it, as will Scott fans visiting the store specifically for her collection.
Scott's slow, careful, but still bold approach to her career is undoubtedly something to learn from. "I always say don't rush to the finish line because there's no point." Scott may not be at the finish line, but it still looks like she's winning.