Armed with a credit card and a mirror, a waiflike silhouette crouches next to a lavatory biting on her lip as she concentrates on carefully crafting a heap of white powder into a single, narrow line. Her body is shaking but she disciplines her fingers to delicately roll up a note to form a perfect cylinder, presses a slender finger to one nostril and inhales with the other. This could be a scene from any night out, a girl desperately trying to push away the hours until the sun rises once more, but it is not; this girl is a model, backstage at a fashion show.
Yet another rise to the top has been superseded by yet another drugs scandal. Supermodel Cara Delevingne, arguably Britain’s hottest export since – ironically – Kate Moss, was recently photographed dropping a suspicious looking ziplock bag containing a mystery white powder. The Victoria’s Secret model risks losing her £1 million contract as the face of H&M in a saga reminiscent of the dropping of Kate Moss in 2005. So far, so unsurprising.
It is true that drugs are woven in to the fabric of the fashion industry. They are, perhaps, as much a part of the furniture as the mirrors, the lights and the catwalks. But the real drug in fashion, lurking beneath the surface, is not cocaine or Adderall; it is the cancerous obsession, verging on idolisation, that the media has with the drama and chaos that comes hand in hand with substance abuse. Any addictions of individuals in the fashion industry are more than matched by those who crave knowing who took what, when, where, and with whom.
Whilst in 2005, H&M, Chanel and Burberry fell over themselves to cancel contracts with Kate Moss in the wake of that cocaine scandal, Kate Moss’s agent, Sarah Doukas, claims that ultimately her earnings doubled from £2 million to £4 million per year. The mantra ‘all publicity is good publicity’ has never seemed more appropriate. From Cara Delevingne, to Kate Moss, to Jaime King, we see a scattering of unintentional, although not necessarily unwilling, poster girls for the heroin chic movement – the movement that didn’t die in 1999 when Vogue dubbed Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen ‘The Return of the Sexy Model’; it just went underground. These women are the remnants of an unhealthy attitude towards an unhealthy life, one which promotes self-destruction as an ideal to be captured even if only for a fleeting snatch of time. We see it in the marketing initiatives for products such as Christian Dior’s Addict range, the advertisement for which incidentally features Kate Moss. The fashion industry has long cashed in on and exploited allusions to substance abuse. We need to realise the inherent paradox in heroin chic: by its very nature, heroin and all of its implications can never be chic.
Cat Marnell, former beauty editor at Conde Nast for Glamour and Lucky is by her own admission ‘obsessed’ with overdoses and addictions. This New York bad-girl beauty-queen authors a blog for Vice entitled Amphetamine Logic, conjuring up such tasteful headlines as ‘Coke sex for teenage sluts’ and ‘The cockroach and the cokehead’. To be beautiful, it seems, is also to be damned. The jobs of these women transcend simply being a model or a beauty editor; rather, they see their job as both directing and starring in their own chaos. Writing about Cat Marnell for the New York Times, Sarah Hapola expresses: “I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment.” Cat Marnell writes about it and others, well, who is to say that others are not exploiting their drug use as a promotional weapon, a narcissistic marketing strategy to transform themselves into a brand rather than just a mere model or beauty editor?
The issue, it seems, is that as Megan Capeniter notes in The Guardian: “People read [about these scandals] because of the mess, not in spite of it.” The real ‘drug’ in fashion, which ought first to be placed under the microscope and to capture our condemnation, is not the drugs themselves but our own reactions to them.