he scope and intensity of true privacy is ferocious, more so even than vanity. It is, or can be, asphyxiating. True privacy deletes all around it while fooling the social world into thinking outside ingredients play a decisive role in the primacy of the inner mind, which they do not. True privacy, while often equipped with remarkable external diversions (known as charm), allows no real openings into what is being thought or schemed. True privacy’s only safety valve is itself; and when the construction of that rigid identity is no longer enough to keep most days in the column of the worthwhile, the next step, or a possible next step, is literal self-effacement, a vanishing, or self-annihilation. Pride, stoicism and charm all are fatalism’s front men, deployed to assure no one gets a whiff of the underneath.
Friends of fashion designer L’Wren Scott, who hung herself in New York City recently, have largely been quoted as expressing shock, as well as pained awe, that someone who seemed so self-possessed, elegant and controlled could kill herself without apparent forewarning — unlike, say, the suicide of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose ending existed within the protective membrane of drug abuse, an excess most can fall back on to extrapolate more established forms of despair. Drugged men and women are self-destructive by definition. If they’re not saved, it’s not for lack of trying.
Scott, however, existed outside this linear model, and largely outside the conventional reassurances of psychotherapy as relief from the worst of self. She was a beautiful, lanky woman who designed clothes for famous people who liked her, apparently a great deal. She also had a very famous rock star boyfriend. She cared about her work, paid attention to details, and avoided the kind of easy celebrity her status and worldliness would have easily allowed. She was, according to a close friend quoted in the New York Times, “incredibly, incredibly private.” The doubling of the adverbs matters because privacy in an anti-private age is an exertion and a life choice, all the more so in transaction-filled, runway fueled world of celebrity fashion, in which ego is the norm and comes in look-at-me flavors.
But reformed wild-child Scott apparently turned the paradigm on end, which charming “privates” can do with uncanny ease, folding themselves into the of lives those they esteem, envy and defer to. She lavished attention on others; she pushed conversation away from her person; she acted a lightening rod to ensure her celebrity friends could do what they enjoyed most, focus on one other’s foibles and needs. In this way, she protected the one inner circle that mattered, her own.
Scott, on the cusp of age 50, was also in debt, though the amount (said to be about $5 million) was not necessarily an insurmountable figure in the volatile fashion industry where single garments can often cost tens of thousands of dollars. But it is not the figures that matter, age or money. Instead, it is the effect of real or perceived failure on those who measure their day-to-day against on private values and are tuned in to an inner ticking that is relentlessly draining and permits neither friendships nor empathy to relieve the burden. The surmounting of burden and the acquiring of relief are part of privacy’s self-driven mantra: life is a challenge only the private self is up to, or not up to. Family can’t help; complaint is weakness; pride is to circle the wagons, regardless of emotional cost.
Scott apparently had many good friends and a few intimate ones. She’d escaped to New York to bury a Mormon adolescence, inventing a new life and adhering to a borrowed but intensely well-groomed sophistication (Utah’s Luann Bambrough become Manhattan’s L’Wren Scott). Yet by all accounts she remained internally isolated. She had no children. Her boyfriend was predictably far away when she killed herself, because “privates” don’t usually go to extremes around those on whom they might impose. It’s impolite and self-indulgent. They wait for, and hide in, the appropriate isolation chamber.
Those who don’t know the realm and scope of the private cannot understand its handcrafted, heroic and larger-than-life tyranny. That was reflected in the kind but platitudinous remarks that followed her suicide. “I wish she would have reached for help so that such a tragedy would not have happened,” said fellow designer Diane von Furstenberg. For another friend, Scott had “a lot of close friends … and it’s always sad when someone doesn’t get to see that.”
These are generous sentiments, of course. But they’re also part and parcel of an “all you need is love” vision of life that, while precious and central to most humans, particularly those with family, have little sway over those who swear by an inner self-effacement so demanding that when real depression makes a climactic appearance, it does so dressed to kill, garbed as warrior, a Samurai at the door, ready to escort you elsewhere without further ado.