A RARE BIRD
OSCAR’S FIRST-EVER ARBITER OF STYLE, HAS A LOT OF IT.
Byline: Merle Ginsberg
“To be yourself is the only way to be fashionable now,” L’ Wren Scott mused aloud, a la that other fashion diva, Mrs. Vreeland.
The Oscars style director, all 6 feet 3 of her, was having a hard time standing still, in an office at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that was converted into a makeshift fitting room about two seconds beforehand, for Oscars band director Don Was. Scott was suffering a clear case of Oscars adrenaline.
No one in Hollywood would dispute Scott’s style. She has shown it and wielded it, from her days as a Chanel and Thierry Mugler model in Paris, to her move five years ago to L.A.
Shortly after she hit town, she was styling shoots with the likes of Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton, dressing celebrities (Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore), designing some of last year’s Oscars dresses, designing costumes for movies and acting as creative director of Italy’s famed Pirelli calendar in 1999 (featuring the hottest supermodels of the moment) and creative director of a number of major fashion ad campaigns.
But this year, with the support of Oscar co-producer Lili Zanuck, Scott will take her place among Hollywood’s fashion pantheon. She’s spent the last few months as the first-ever style director of the Oscars.
Ten days before the big night, standing there in black jeans and black leather jacket, with long crystal earrings partially obscured by long black hair, she’s excited by the couture looks from London and New York she’s been able to bring to the Oscars show.
“My role,” she said, “was not only to dress everyone on stage who’s handing out an Oscar, singing, dancing, etc., but to work with the director (Louis J. Horvitz) on lighting, and how lighting affects fabrication. The Zanucks wanted someone who could help give the show a real modern visual edge.”
To that end, Scott’s been working with Savile Row tailor Timothy Everest, who made clothes for Tom Cruise and much of the English aristocracy, and who flew to L.A. several times in the course of 10 days to help custom-style Don Was, Burt Bacharach, Robin Williams, Isaac Hayes, and the other performers for Oscar night.
“That looks great,” Scott exclaimed to Was, who was getting pinned by Everest into an indigo long-jacketed suit with a shiny, scale-like finish. “That’s so great, it’s sick.”
“I have to admit, I’m digging it,” Was agreed. He’d been a bit reluctant to be “made over,” but surrendered after Scott said she and Everest would build him an outfit based specifically on his style.
“I’m getting Don a cool Steven Jones cobalt-blue fedora that will fit specially over his dreadlocks, and he’s going to wear a silk handmade T-shirt, so it’ll have sheen. And Don, you always wear sandals, so you might want to think about a pedicure. And I’m getting you made a special custom pair of Cutler and Gross glasses,” Scott went on.
Was seemed pleased, if a little overwhelmed. “The Oscars are not a show anymore,” he smiled. “They’re a religious ritual. An Oscar is the highest honor you can get in our culture. Who needs Hercules when you’ve got Jack Nicholson?”
Scott and Everest conferred on a few details. “We went to Burt Bacharach’s house last night,” she said. “Timothy’s doing a Sinatra, almost Rat Pack thing on him.”
“But it’s very up-to-date,” added Everest, “in midnight navy. It’s befitting of an icon.”
“I’ve always been about individuality,” said Scott. “I don’t like to change people. I just like to heighten who they are. To that end, the Oscars this year are going to be a much more modern show.”
After the Zanucks hired Scott, she hightailed it to Europe to see the fall collections and to meet with couturiers like Everest, aiming to get them as excited as she was about modernizing and glamourizing the Oscars.
“I met Timothy in Paris,” she recalled, “and fell in love. I thought he was exactly what the Oscars needed. Then I met with Donna Karan and convinced her she had to dress the Oscar girls (in Donna’s gold chiffon spring dresses). Donna’s like me; she has a drive, she had so many ideas. Both she and Timothy understand lighting and staging. What we’re doing here is like a Broadway show.”
Scott also met with Stella McCartney, and asked her to do Chloe clothes for the Shaft/Isaac Hayes segment. “Yet another Brit I’m adding to my list, darling! Oliver Sweeney from London is doing the men’s shoes for me; Jimmy Choo did all the women’s. I asked them to put Swarovski crystals on the rims of the shoes and around the heels for extra shine when they move across the stage. Thank God, every one of these designers shared my fantasy about the Oscars.”
Suddenly, Scott got a call from Lili Zanuck: Robin Williams had agreed to be part of a staged musical number and it would be best for Timothy Everest and Scott to go meet him right away, since Everest was flying out that night. With the speed of a bullet, the stylists scattered; later, they would pay a visit to Robert Rehme, president of the Academy, for whom Everest built a special classic tux, befitting a president.
Later in the week, Scott turned up at the opening of the new Costume National store in burgundy leather jeans, a burgundy jacket and giant French red-tinted leather-armed sunglasses.
“I’m not sleeping too much these days,” she sighed, over a cigarette. “On Sunday, I’ll go down to the Shrine at 7 a.m. I have a 30-person crew that day. I’ve assigned a caretaker for every person who appears on the stage Oscar night.
“As for me — I special-ordered the Alek Web Dior sequin jogging suit for rehearsal, which I’m going to wear with Galliano’s newspaper-print cardigan. I told John I had to have that for rehearsal. The actual night, I might do a couple of changes. By late in the evening, I’ll be in the highest heel…I’ll go from a two-inch to a three-inch to a five-inch. I have an Ossie Clark dress I bought from Cameron Silver at Decades a few months ago. I’m feeling a lot of Ossie Clark inspiration these days.”
After the big event is a memory, who knows what’s in the cards for Scott? She’s never been one to sit around and wait for something to happen. She’s also famous for hosting candlelit dinner parties in the garden of her Hollywood Hills house, a Mediterranean house once occupied by Charles Bukowski that features violet walls, fringed shawls and velvet divans.
“Helmut Newton came to my house recently,” she confessed. “He looked around a lot and said, ‘Mrs. Vreeland would be proud.’ “