Model Misbehavior

Kate Moss' wild ways used to raise few eyebrows. But now, fashion is sobering up.

September 22, 2005|By Tanika White and Linell Smith | Tanika White and Linell Smith,sun reporters

Supermodel Kate Moss is gorgeous, rich, famous and thin. She also appears to have a drug problem.

Par for the course?

Apparently not. At least, not anymore.

When H&M, one of the world's fastest-growing retail chains, shocked the fashion industry this week by dropping Moss from a planned advertising campaign because the popular model was photographed - and subsequently admitted to - using cocaine, the firing sent a clear message: The hedonistic, heroin chic, Studio 54 days of the high-glam fashion world are coming to an end.

"That edginess is part of the lore," says Teri Agins, author of The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever. "But at the same time, it's hard to reconcile because these people are role models to consumers. [When the news broke about Moss] the immediate feedback was that people did not think it was cool."

It seems inconsistent with what the world has long taken as fact about big-time fashion models and the designers who dress them. As it is with rock 'n' roll stars, or Hollywood's tragic movie actors, everyone suspects that fashion and drugs go hand in hand. So why the backlash?

H&M's decision seems to square with a trend in the fashion world, or at least in the United States, toward a somewhat more image-conscious and conservative feel.

In an industry where sex sells, mainstream models have been draped in ladylike clothes (read: covered up) for seasons, and more and more of them are walking runways in "eco-friendly" clothing.

During New York's famously wild Fashion Week this month, designer Tracy Reese instituted a "smoke-free backstage," eschewing the bar haze that traditionally hangs behind the scenes at such events.

Moss - whose waif-like figure exemplified "heroin chic" - was bold in the 1990s about her drinking and drug abuse, to little criticism and no repercussions.

Yesterday, however, after British headlines blared "Cocaine Kate," and H&M distanced itself, Burberry also dropped Moss from its ads, and Chanel will not renew her contract, which expires next month. London police were looking into the drug allegations.

"The days of heroin chic have passed," says Robert Verdi, host of the Style Network's Fashion Police. "The idea of this sort of consciousness, and yoga and Pilates and veganism, all this organic living ... I think that's kind of what's in vogue right now."

Indeed, there are more bottles of water backstage at fashion shows than bottles of champagne, and at many, PowerBars far outnumber cigarettes. While waiting to have their makeup applied before the early morning Ellen Tracy show this month, models skipped even having coffee, choosing low-fat yogurt instead.

"This is not the '70s era, where [fashion designer Roy] Halston and that whole group went off the deep end," says longtime fashion insider Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. "And really, they, too, were just the tip of the iceberg. Not everybody who went to Studio 54 abused [drugs]."

In fact, fashion insiders insist that most in their industry are "normal," hardworking, law-abiding people - who happen to have a little more money than most.

Fashion observer Kate Betts, a Time magazine editor and former editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar magazine, says there's a certain amount of drug use and abuse in any glamour industry.

"But it's a very different thing when it's a vague notion that people are using drugs," she says, "than when someone's name and face is put to it - especially someone whose name and face is so iconic as Kate Moss."

In this era of instantaneous feedback, retailers and advertisers can see immediately how the winds of public perception are blowing, says Agins, a senior fashion reporter at the Wall Street Journal for 16 years who has seen many shifts in the mood of the industry. To avoid a "public relations nightmare," an outed-Moss had to go.

"No luxury brand can afford to have any figurehead involved in this sort of situation," says Betts. "I think this will call attention to drug abuse in the modeling industry. A lot of teenage girls look up to models. Parents and women in general are going to be concerned about that."

Some, though, have wondered if Moss isn't the victim of a double standard. After all, sports figures aren't handled as harshly when their names are associated with drug-related scandals, such as Ravens' running back Jamal Lewis, who, after serving time in jail, is still with the team.

Verdi says he wishes the "fashion family" would support Moss through this "troubled time."

But others say Moss, a modeling veteran at 31, knows full well the consequences of her actions.

"When you're an icon for people, you just don't do that. You have to be on your best behavior at all times," says Ray Mitchener, a manager for Ruth Shaw in the Village of Cross Keys, and a former print and runway model. "It may be unfortunate that you're always under the microscope, but that's what you chose to do."

Elizabeth Centenari, director and vice president of T.H.E. Artist Agency in Georgetown, says when models sign with her agency, they agree to a code of ethics that bans them from using alcohol, illegal drugs, cigarettes, chewing gum or tobacco on bookings or "go-sees."

She says she imagines the kind of contracts that Moss signs - often multiyear and worth millions - are much more detailed in their do's and don'ts.

Verdi predicts Moss will bounce back from this scandal - just as she did after she got out of rehab in the 1990s.

"In my mind, she'll be the Martha Stewart of the modeling industry," he says.

tanika.white@baltsun.com linell.smith@baltsun.com

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