Away from the glamorous, colorful world of fashion lies a dark side filled with tragic moments that rarely take center stage. Three of fashion’s brightest designers over the course of the last 20 years, Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, and L’Wren Scott, all died while helming revered fashion houses during the height of their careers.
In 1978, Gianni Versace established his luxury brand, and released his first collection at a presentation held in Milan. After the unprecedented success of his first line, he enlisted his sister Donatella to oversee the company’s first advertising campaign done in partnership with photographer Richard Avedon the following year.
Credited with starting the supermodel movement in the 1990s, he enlisted the world’s top models to walk the runway for his fall show in 1991, a trend that still continues today. Six years later after the Versace label was catapulted into the spotlight as a celebrity favorite, thanks to the “safety-pin dress”, Gianni was murdered by a serial killer outside of his Miami Beach home in July 1997.
Today, Donatella presides over the Versace brand as its artistic director, and their brother Santo serves as chairman and CEO. The Versace brand was able to survive a terrible loss to become one of the world’s most iconic high-end retailers, boasting numerous spin-off lines including the epitome of glamour, Atelier Versace.
Rebel was a word often used to describe the late Alexander McQueen, who was no stranger to pushing the limits of fashion. He started his label in 1992, and for decades kept people on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what the theme of his collections would be. Often times his runway shows were marked by controversy because of their subject matter, most notably his fall 1995 collection that revolved around the brutal fighting between the Scottish and the English.
While his looks were often dark, the theme of empowering women was a constant element in every show he ever held, and in every garment he designed. Controversy aside, McQueen was a visionary whose skills were recognized by the British Fashion Council, who awarded him the title of “Designer of the Year” four times.
Although his life was filled with success and love from the fashion community, he committed suicide in February 2010. Sarah Burton was named creative director of Alexander McQueen following his death, and has worked to continue his legacy, but from a fresher, more optimistic viewpoint.
Burton was catapulted to worldwide fame after she created Kate Middleton’s wedding dress in 2011, lifting the brand up and into a positive light after the hard times following McQueen’s untimely death. Four years into the Burton-era, business is booming thanks to her impeccable eye for design and respect for her mentor.
Fashion’s most recent tragedy occurred on March 17 after designer L’Wren Scott committed suicide in her New York apartment. The former model led a glamorous life after she left the catwalk behind to work as a stylist on a number of ad campaigns, and as an advisor to Nicole Kidman.
Her training as a stylist gave her the foundation to start her own label to create pieces for her celebrity clientele. She understood how to design pieces for a woman’s body, which is something that was highly appreciated by the women of Hollywood, who often wore her designs to premieres and awards shows.
Her company suffered from debt, although her longtime love Mick Jagger helped to fund her brand in years past. At the time of her death, speculation ran wild that she was planning to announce the closure of her label in a matter of days.
She leaves behind a label that was just six years-old, and a legacy of dresses that made women feel beautiful and celebrated.
After new leaders were appointed to take the helm at Versace and Alexander McQueen following the passing of their founders, each of these labels has been able to forge ahead into new eras of prosperity. With Scott’s passing just over a week ago, only time will tell whether or not her label can survive her death, and turn a tragic situation into one of triumph.