Taking the Fall for Fashion
IT is a cautionary fashion fable, told, as it must be, in images, a parable of now you see her, now you don’t. Two weeks ago most major fashion magazines carrying advertisements for the new fall accessories from Christian Dior featured a pair of Russian-looking lace-up boots lined with woolly shearling and a matching purse slung over the shoulder of a beautiful woman with wide-set eyes, a leonine blond mane and a look so markedly vacant she seemed lost in, well, let’s say reverie.
The model in the pictures was Kate Moss. And of the many ways to calculate the velocity of her professional free fall, following publication by a London tabloid of a grainy video image said to depict her snorting cocaine at a London recording studio, the Dior ad comes as a revelation.
While a number of Ms. Moss’s corporate clients issued pious antidrug statements and well-judged disavowals as they politely cashiered her, Dior took the kind of tack one has come to expect from an industry where, as in the old Soviet Union, inconvenient truth is subject to revision. What Dior did in the double-page pictorials that ran this week in international newspapers was simple. It kept the boots and the bag and lost the girl.
There is no fashion Kremlin, of course, to issue fatal edicts. Yet the fashion industry has a long history of isolating rogues and banishing those who offend its codes to professional Siberia. And what the Dior ad suggested was that Kate Moss – the 31-year-old supermodel; the fashion symbol, as proclaimed by the glossies and by the Council of Fashion Designers of America; the creative inspiration for countless designers; the businesswoman for whose services modeling agencies collected an estimated $1.5 million in fees in the last year – has been disappeared.
Her offense was not so much her cocaine use (although Scotland Yard, which takes an intolerant view of traffic in what in Britain are termed Class A drugs, is investigating the model) as her hubris. Drugs of all sorts, but especially cocaine, are commonplace in fashion. There are stylists and hair and makeup artists who consume coke by the shovel load.
There is a world-famous photographer who draws his inspiration from daily deliveries of high-quality pot rolled into fat spliffs. There are designers who keep “muses” with good drug connections on salary. There are models, and not a few of them, who snort cocaine discreetly from lipstick shaped “bullets” and who understand that “Do I smell Chanel?” is backstage code for “Got coke?”
That someone always has cocaine is hardly destined to shock or offend most people in fashion, where the unwritten rule is do as you like, but not on film. “If you don’t see it everywhere in fashion,” the seasoned stylist George Cortina said before the Gucci show on Wednesday, “you’re wearing a blindfold.”
The amateur home sex video that seems to have made the career of Paris Hilton would have ended that of any reputable model, for the obvious reason that models are not meant to be much more than beautiful but neutral screens on which to project the allure of a new eyeliner or a bar of soap.
“It’s always been much more widespread than anyone says, but it gets swept under the rug,” said Long Nguyen, the editor of Flaunt magazine. “We all know that fashion never looks under the rug, because it’s not pretty there.”
Mr. Nguyen’s metaphor, however, is not altogether accurate, since in many forms the ugliness of addiction has been in full view all along. For the half decade before the designer Donatella Versace went public with disclosures of severe cocaine addiction and sought rehabilitation last year, she presented the fashion world with a spectacle at once scarily compelling and morally perplexing.
Teetering down the runway twice a year in high heels at the end of each show, Ms. Versace looked like someone who had embarked on a course of highly public disintegration. The erosion affected even the features of her face. That the company she headed was disintegrating in parallel was lost on few in the audience or the business.
“Donatella may be an extreme example,” said Robert Burke, the fashion director of the luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman. “But the issue isn’t limited to her.” Fashion, Mr. Burke said, “is a fast, difficult, demanding creative business with passionate and fragile people at the center of it who are prone to the kind of weaknesses and insecurities that can result in drug abuse.”
It has been that way for decades, Mr. Burke said. “Look at Halston.” Look at Calvin Klein, whose troubles with substance abuse have been chronicled extensively. Look, more recently, at Marc Jacobs, whose phenomenal success for his own two labels and for Louis Vuitton, now underpinned by the weekly meetings he sometimes leads at a Narcotics Anonymous chapter in Paris, was once stoked by freebase and crack.
Mr. Jacobs is among the few in the business brave enough to discuss openly his struggles with substance abuse. “I used to party a lot in my house, but I don’t live like that anymore,” he once explained to me over dinner at Stresa, the Italian restaurant in Paris that serves as a design world canteen. “Nobody’s throwing drinks across the room now. There isn’t a crack pipe burning on the table.”
Mr. Jacobs may have managed to tame his demons, yet there are many in the business who have not. “They pick on Kate, but, hello, look around, it’s everywhere,” said Joe Zee, the editor in chief of Vitals, the high-end shopping magazine owned by Fairchild Publications, which announced this week it would cease publication. In a previous incarnation, as the fashion director of W, Mr. Zee worked with people from the top echelons of talent in the business. And drug use, he said, was rampant, in particular among models, many of whom enter the business straight out of middle school, too young by law to drink or to buy cigarettes and yet surrounded by adults proffering joints or snorts or Champagne splits at 9 a.m.
In one of many stories Mr. Zee has to tell, a jittery young beauty on a photo shoot compulsively ate sugar from deli packets and spent more time in the bathroom than on the set. When the shoot in question took place she was featured on the cover of most major fashion magazines.
This is not, however, to suggest that the fashion business is some Victorian-style den of vice. Ms. Moss’s extramural antics may not be unique to her or even so unusual. But her embrace of what one could term the high life has been pursued with singular gusto, those who know her say.
“She seems to have embraced this myth of the rock ‘n’ roll life,” said the designer Anna Sui, referring to Ms. Moss’s on-again, off-again relationship with the drug-addled rocker Pete Doherty and her enduring friendships with Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull, two rock matrons whose most offhand anecdotes make a Lou Reed lyric seem like a “Sesame Street” theme.
Ms. Moss’s career may not be entirely in tatters, it seems, since French Vogue has said it would go forward with plans for her to be guest editor an issue. And her agent, Sarah Doukas of Storm, said on Wednesday in an interview with The Times of London authorized by Ms. Moss that she is close to signing a new deal with a “blue-chip perfume,” although she did not name the brand. Ms. Moss herself issued a statement last week taking “full responsibility for my actions,” an assertion that was widely interpreted as an indication she would enter rehabilitation, as in the past.
“She’s not an idiot,” Ms. Doukas said in the interview. “She’ll do what she has to. Ideally she’d lie low for a long time, but there are work commitments.”
So far these have not included the runway work for which she has been celebrated. The designers so eager in the past to capitalize on her slacker insouciance and celebrity seem to be giving Ms. Moss a pass, although few dispute that an appearance by her would jolt life into a largely inert season. “I don’t know if even she knows what the right choice is anymore,” Ms. Sui, a friend of the model, remarked.
And if Ms. Moss cannot seem to guide herself wisely – after 17 years of plying a trade in which she was from the beginning associated with drugs as the unwitting symbol of heroin chic – what of the hundreds of young women who appear every year at casting calls and the offices of modeling agents, the sort of girls who imagine the fashion business bears some resemblance to the Barbie fantasies that drew 4.72 million viewers to the season’s first episode of “America’s Next Top Model” on UPN?
“I do not agree with the way the press has been so disgusting with Kate,” Tom Pecheux, a makeup artist, said backstage on Wednesday at the Missoni show. “Who are these people to judge this amazing mother, this amazing person, this amazing model?”
Mr. Pecheux’s question, while valid, becomes another and more challenging one when he characterizes Ms. Moss’s dilemma in the context of an industry in which the corporate demands on “the talent” grow with every season, frenetic cycles in which days and nights and even weeks run together in a blur of labor and nerves and almost inevitable self-abuse.
“Remember, there are three continuous weeks of these fashion shows,” Mr. Pecheux said. “The designers may want you around until 5 in the morning for fittings, and then the first show is at 9. There are five shows at least in a day, with the last one at 9. Everyone is working constantly. People are so shocked that models take drugs. But do you know what kind of vitamin can keep you awake that long?” Autor: Guy Trebay