Fashion a devil called fashion: Why are the industry’s best and brightest dying?
Wednesday - 06/06/2018 23:33
THREE women of fashion, three deaths. Now, a top designer who nearly took his own life details how the industry is killing its best.
KATE Spade’s death by suicide is shocking, but sadly the scene is disturbingly familiar.
One of the fashion industry’s best and brightest takes their own life, the police and mortuary vans arrive under the glare of media cameras, and then days later we see a funeral line of devastated family and friends.
Just four years ago in eerily similar circumstances to Spade, L’Wren Scott, then rock legend Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, took her own life.
That was just three weeks after former model and Australia’s Next Top Model panellist Charlotte Dawson similarly was found dead in her Sydney apartment.
Kate Spade was 55 years old, L’Wren Scott was 19 days off her 50th birthday and Charlotte Dawson was 48.
All three had financial woes in their fashion industry lives, and battled depression.
Charlotte Dawson went public about her mental health issues, but it has emerged that Kate Spade did not.
Spade suffered from years of debilitating depression and refused to get medical help, fearing it would damage her “happy-go-lucky” image, her sister Reta Saffo revealed on Wednesday.
“I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive,” Ms Saffo told the New York Post.
“I’d come so VERY close to getting her to go in for treatment.
“She was all set to go but … in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up.
“She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.”
Alexander McQueen reached the pinnacle of fashion design before taking his own life, aged 40, at his London home in 2010.
Designer muse and the woman who discovered McQueen, Isabella Blow, also died at her own hands, aged 48, in 2007.
Relentlessly keeping up an image as the brutal fashion industry took its toll and considering suicide was something very real for Australian designer Aurelio Costarella.
Costarella walked away from his international fashion label last year and now says: “If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be alive today.”
“I had to keep it very well hidden,” Costarella told news.com.au, “I was so suicidal.
“At one stage I was on a cocktail of seven different meds.
“The industry … is just unrelenting.
“There’s this perceived glamour, but there’s absolutely nothing glamorous about what I was doing.
“It takes a particular type of person to make it in the fashion industry, it’s so cutthroat.
“It can be quite toxic and really bitchy and I was naturally a very shy kid.
“Behind the scenes I was struggling with my mental health. I had my mask on pretty much most of the time.
“After [presenting a runway show of Costarella’s label] I would come home at the end of the night and fall in a heap.
“It would take me days to recover.”
Like Kate Spade, L’Wren Scott, Charlotte Dawson and Alexander McQueen, Costarella came from humble suburban beginnings.
He was the son of an Italian immigrant to Western Australia whose dressmaking mother imbued in Costarella a love of cutting and sewing fabric.
At the age of 19, Costarella started his own business in Perth, making clothing and selling it to a local boutique before later creating his own brand.
“I was young, but you don’t think about the consequences,” he said.
Between 1983 and 1987, Costarella’s brand took off and he began showing overseas.
“I went from being creative to 95 per cent of the time managing a business,” he said.
“It was gruelling keeping up with the collections, every other week on a plane … challenges in terms of finances and infrastructure.
“Having to meet deadlines to fulfil orders on time, dealing with retailers and customers.
“You are the managing director, the bookkeeper, you are everything. You talk to most designers, they tell the same story.”
Costarella began working 14-hour days and seven day weeks, and waking at 4am to fret about his business.
“Towards the end, I would find I had spent eight hours in the office just dealing with the issues [not the] creative process.”
Costarella came to a crossroads.
For a “far too gentle” soul thrust into the spotlight, Costarella found it hard to extract himself.
“My whole identity was wrapped up in my brand,” he said.
“I’d be at events, people I didn’t know would come up and tell me how fabulous my life was — travelling and meeting celebrities — and I just stand and look at them.”
Then in 2014, designer Ruth Tarvydas was found dead on the footpath outside her Perth home.
Like Costarella, Tarvydas was the child of immigrants — in her case Lithuanian — who built a global fashion empire, and was outwardly upbeat but privately a troubled soul.
The following year, Costarella made the decision to go public about his mental health troubles.
The news that the fashion industry was “making me sick” made international headlines and coincided with Costarella becoming a Lifeline ambassador.
“This huge weight lifted,” he told news.com.au, “I could finally be me and stop lying.
“If I couldn’t attend an event because I was going through a difficult period, I could be honest.
“Being Aurelio Costarella the designer … exacerbated my mental health condition.
“I couldn’t function any longer. It was a difficult decision to let go something that my whole identity was wrapped up in.
“But I was on a very slippery slope. It did (save my life).”
On Kate Spade’s suicide, Costarella said: “Having walked that path, I know how vulnerable one becomes.
“And the expectations in that industry are just so immense, you are under such incredible pressure.”
The price was Costarella's fashion empire, which is now extinct.
He still struggles with his mental health, but having stepped back he now paints and his paintings are being made into wallpaper and rugs.
“My focus now is really about helping people,” Costarella said.
“Put yourself first. For a long time, I thought being a designer was the most important thing in my universe.
“It wasn’t. Actually talking about my struggle with mental health is the single most important thing I’ve ever done.”
Regarding Charlotte Dawson’s death in February 2014, fashion designer Alex Perry told news.com.au that the publicly bubbly Dawson had fought not only depression, but bullying on social media.
Dawson was also facing unemployment, and moving out of her waterfront apartment as she looked for a job.
“Charlotte was beautiful, intelligent, well read, accomplished, my go-to person when there was something funny [to talk] about,” Perry told news.com.au.
“She had credibility and substance but was a woman who was nearly 50 working in the entertainment industry, like for newsreaders you’re in a job because of how you look.
“That wasn’t the case with Australia’s (Next) Top Model because she was there for her experience in the industry.
“But her career had stalled, she was not sure there was another season at Top Model, she was financially strapped.
“And the cyber bullying.
“It doesn’t bother me, it’s water off a duck’s back but Charlotte would show me things people would write about her.
“She used to wake up at 4am and check her Twitter and Instagram.
“I said ‘don’t do it’. But Charlotte was not okay, she took it to heart.
“There could be a thousand good things said, but it was the 10 bad that stuck in her mind.
“Some a**hole will say something hurtful.
“On a human level, how can you sit down and type that?”