With ‘Heroin Chic’ a trend once more, Lorraine Haigney asks if perhaps the fashion world is stretching the limits of glamorising addiction.
It is rare that the fashion industry embraces a trend as much as it did the ‘Heroin Chic’ look. During the nineties, every fashion spread and catwalk was dominated by waif-like models with washed-out skin and apathetic expressions. Calvin Klein led the way, signing Kate Moss to front their 1993 campaign. She appeared in simple and revealing outfits which showcased her protruding bones. Sets were styled with props more suited to a bedsit than a supermodels penthouse; Chloe Sevigney’s 1997 editorial in The Face saw her sitting on the floor of a poorly lit and messy bedroom next to a pile of money, looking sick, tired and strung-out.
Media commentary grew as editorials became more extreme and less subtle in their implications. Politicians, anti-drug campaigners and some fashion industry insiders slammed the trend. This negative attention, coupled with the new noughties trend for models who had curves, resulted in a decline in these types of campaigns. Many of the photographers, stylists and models who were associated with the trend entered rehabilitation facilities, some passed away. Others changed their look or brand to get work. A sun-kissed, more natural and feminine type of beauty replaced the previous pasty aesthetic. This was epitomised in the 2002 Vogue editorial that depicted Kate Moss, once queen of ‘Heroin Chic’, heavily bronzed with blonde beach waves and without a hint of visible ribcage on show.
The type of models fronting Victoria’s Secret campaigns, such as Adrienne Lima, Tyra Banks and Gisele Bündchen, became increasingly in demand. Anna Wintour declared that Bündchen was the “model of the millennium” and Vogue cited her as a key-player in “the return of the Sexy Model”. Big healthy hair, a golden tan and an hourglass figures became the look to aspire to. It was almost wholesome, in contrast to its aesthetic predecessor. The girl-next-door look was selling clothes and cosmetics very successfully, but there was a gap in the market for edgier campaigns with a shock factor. The fashion industry, like any other, quickly capitalised on this gap and a new, more polished method of addiction glamorisation was born.
This year, Dior’s spring lipstick collection was a rebranding and reformulation of the Addict lipstick line. The first Addict range, from the previous decade, was promoted with an image of a model grimacing. The caption read “Lipstick To Die For…Get Hooked”. The second launch toned down the imagery but the subtext was still present. Kate Moss fronted the campaign, which showed her surrounded by couture and attending fashion shows. The tag-line ‘Be Iconic’ might not seem as irresponsible if it hadn’t been spoken by the model that had been at the forefront of the ‘Heroin Chic’ trend.
There is an almost intrinsic association between icons and addiction. Marilyn Monroe, Edie Sedgwick, even Moss herself comes to mind when the term ‘fashion icon’ is mentioned. It’s no coincidence that these three women have more chemical abuse in common than that of peroxide.
The connection is aptly summed up in a Cleese and Palin sketch where the requirements of being an icon are listed as having a life “marked by an unusual amount of suffering…drugs, drink, sexual addiction”.
Moss also walked for Louis Vuitton at this year’s Paris Fashion Week. She stole the fetish-themed show; cigarette in hand throughout. There was a small amount of negative coverage but Moss remains on top. Of course, if being caught white-nosed in 2005 couldn’t keep her down, then it would be silly to expect one cigarette to do any harm to her career.
In early 2011, Yves St. Laurent launched their campaign for the new Belle D’Opium. The model points to the veins in her arm, throws her head back, closes her eyes and then falls to the floor. It is reminiscent of the ‘Heroin Chic’ campaigns from the previous decade, but there is one vital difference. The model’s styling doesn’t reflect any aspect of drug-culture. Her hair is thick and bouncy, her make-up perfect and her dress red carpet appropriate. Though drug use is simulated, the only effect shown is the high; gone are the emaciated figures, black-ringed eyes and miserable expressions that featured in every nineties campaign. The message? That the products offer a beauty so pure that it is untouchable. Think your lipstick is long lasting? Well this one can hold up against more cigarettes than you can fit in a Chanel 2.55.
Perhaps Heroin Chic 2.0 is more dangerous than its initial incarnation. The drug culture portrayed in the nineties was much more true to the real life addiction. That the terrible effects of drug use have been omitted from campaigns may seem like a step in the right direction. However, this omission creates a sugar-coated, glamorous picture of something that is anything but. It may have been made much easier to swallow, but it still upsets the stomach.