This week the Daily Mirror carried a story based on a 45-minute video that purports to show the model preparing and snorting lines of cocaine in a west London studio, where her pop star boyfriend Pete Doherty - a self-confessed crack and heroin addict - was taking part in a late-night recording session with his aptly-named band Babyshambles. The film is grainy, but it appears to show Kate - mother to two-year-old Lila Grace, as the red-tops like to put these things - snorting five lines of the white powder in 40 minutes, while drinking vodka and chain-smoking cigarettes.
The model's lawyers are examining the Mirror's five-page photo splash and the accompanying transcripts of her alleged conversation - as might be expected in view of their victory over the paper's sister title, the Sunday Mirror, which paid out "substantial damages" after printing a story claiming that Moss had collapsed into a coma after taking cocaine at a fashion show in Barcelona in 2001. The paper had to concede in court that its story was untrue.
But many other newspapers have now taken the Mirror's video as a green light to print rumours about Moss's drug habits that have been circulating for years. Quoting anonymous "sources" and "friends", the Daily Mail makes claims about heroin and crack cocaine. And The Sun, in a story bewilderingly tagged "World Exclusive", discloses "Kate's £200 a day coke habit" - an amount which, considering the supermodel earns around £4m a year, sounds well within budget.
Many in the fashion and music industries have thought that it was only a matter of time before Kate Moss careered into serious trouble. But the tone of doom intensified significantly earlier this year when, in January, at her 31st birthday party, she met the 26-year-old Doherty and began dating him. She told friends that she found him "exciting and dangerous". She took him to meet her parents, who concurred, at least, with the "dangerous" bit. It was not a happy encounter. "Ever since, they've called me the crackhead," Doherty has reportedly whined to his friends.
In Doherty's slipstream, Moss has been pulled into a classic vortex of drugs and rock'n'roll. Doherty was the frontman and songwriter of the punk revivalist band The Libertines, but the other members expelled him for his erratic drug-fuelled behaviour. With his new band Babyshambles, he has so far only managed one single, which peaked at number eight in the charts. But his reputation as a junkie has brought him fame of a different kind.
Those around Moss have repeatedly warned her off a relationship with Doherty, who was once jailed for burglary, and who was last month caught at Oslo airport with both heroin and crack cocaine. Her former partner, Jefferson Hack, with whom Moss had a daughter, told her: "You're insane." Her friend Sadie Frost reportedly said: "Pete's not the sort of guy you'd wish for your best friend. He's very wild. Kate's got a history of partying hard. The idea of them together is terrible."
There is a chilly irony in all this. When Kate Moss first burst upon the world of modelling as a skinny, wide-eyed child-woman, her look was infamously branded "heroin chic". The truth was she was just young - only 14 when she was spotted with her parents at JFK airport in New York by Sarah Doukas, founder of the Storm modelling agency - and, though her face had exceptional bone structure, her gawky body was that of a child.
It was to become the waif look of the early Nineties. The schoolgirl was shot for the cover of The Face. Next she appeared on the cover of US Harper's Bazaar. And then Calvin Klein put her into his jeans in a set of raunchy ads that catapulted her to fame. Soon after followed Burberry, Cerruti 1881, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, L'Oreal, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.
But the controversy that attached to her from outset was not merely that of "heroin chic". Critics claimed the waif look encouraged anorexia in impressionable teenagers, a fear she exacerbated by saying that it was "kind of boring for me to have to eat". Others feared that her androgynous looks encouraged paedophilia. This was only good for her career.
And yet, as the years passed, Moss demonstrated something more enduring. She became the face of the entire Nineties - and beyond. For there was something very distinctive about her beauty - with her almond-shaped eyes and chiselled features - which exudes an air of classless mystery. She developed her own style - what one fashion writer described as "an urban look that crosses bohemian chic with classic femininity" - and was routinely voted the world's best-dressed woman. She became a young diva, making guest appearances on TV, pop videos and movies.
Even her imperfections - what one American photographer described as "the teeth that many an orthodontist would love to fix, the nose that's just a little broad, the smattering of freckles" - only added to her allure. As did her constant refusal to talk to the press.
She did once talk to a Channel 4 documentary. "I don't do any class A - especially not heroin - after seeing what it does to people," she told the film-makers in 1998, just before she checked herself into the Priory rehab clinic, saying: "I've been doing a lot of work and too much partying ... I decided to take a step back and assess my life and future." Later she was more frank, saying she had spent most of the Nineties drunk and had got too involved with drugs. "Dabbling is fine," she told David Bowie in Q magazine. "But when I was bang on it, that wasn't a nice time. Drugs enhanced all the misery and I got into this spiral. I still drink but I don't do drugs."
Would that the world believed that now - not least the marketing people at Chanel, Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Burberry and Rimmel - with all of whom Moss has the contracts on which her personal fortune of £30m is based.
Some, many journalists wrote darkly yesterday, are likely to have clauses in their contracts that would allow them to sack her if she brings their products into disrepute. We shall see. It is partly Moss's rebellious rock chick image that they are buying. This is the girl who, when criticised for heavy smoking, says things like: "Now I'm being blamed not only for anorexia but for lung cancer." Her wild partying - "it's a sin to be tired," she says - is part of the image that appeals to the girls and young women who are the brand targets. Moss and Doherty are the most sought-after couple on Britain's party circuit, according to a recent poll in Tatler .
There is, of course, a fine line between an attractive wild-child image and behaviour that is irresponsible in a way which might jeopardise sales. But it is not clear yet whether Moss has crossed it. After all French Vogue, that veritable bible of the fashion industry, knew all about exploiting the image of Moss and Doherty when they asked her to guest-edit the forthcoming December issue. It will have a free CD on the cover of a duet Moss and Doherty recently recorded, entitled "La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast)".
But there is another group of people who are not so ambivalent as the marketing folk may be about all this kind of thing. They are social workers, lawyers and judges. Moss has had a chequered sexual history. After her four-year affair with Johnny Depp came to a painful end, she embarked on a serious of relationships: pop star Antony Langdon, of the band Spacehog, Jefferson Hack, who co-founded the trendy magazine Dazed and Confused, actor Daniel Craig, MTV stuntman Johnny Knoxville - and there were even reports involving 67-year-old Jack Nicholson.
It is not a list that would go down well in a custody battle. Nor would the fact that two of her earlier boyfriends, Mario Sorrenti and River Phoenix, died of drug overdoses. Yet yesterday the Daily Star, under the headline "Coke head Kate's baby battle" was quoting, if you can believe such stories, "a source close to" Hack, the father of Moss's two-year-old daughter, as saying that the publisher would not hesitate to go to court to seek custody of the child if the pictures proved to be true.
Either way, few outside the charmed circle where such behaviour is considered wildly glamorous would demur from the suggestion that, at the age of 31, it is time that Moss grew up and abandoned the extended adolescence that constitutes the life of many young models. But there is no sign that this is imminent. Yesterday in New York, where she and Doherty are staying for the city's Fashion Week, a Daily Mirror reporter,approached the couple for a quote about the video.
"Fuck off," Moss said, "I don't want to know. Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off! Just fuck off."
Doherty pulled her away and the couple ran into the Mercer Hotel, where they were staying. "Come on, we'll read it tomorrow anyway," he said. "We'll deal with it then."
Kate Moss may find that, when she does get around to reading the lurid prose, the damage is already done.
A Life in Brief
BORN 1974 in Croydon, Surrey.
EDUCATION Riddlesdown High School, Croydon.
FAMILY Daughter Lila Grace, with ex-boyfriend Jefferson Hack.
CAREER Discovered by Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm model agency, at JFK airport in 1984 at the age 14. After shoots for teenage magazines, she launched
globally and, in 1992, became the Face of Calvin Klein. Appeared in Vogue in 1993 and has modelled for all the big fashion houses including Gucci, Versace, Chanel and Dior.
SHE SAYS "I don't think it [fashion] is the best industry for young girls. It can really fuck you up."
THEY SAY "She has done more to promote the idea of rock chic than anyone else, but there's a difference between flirting with that image and being too closely associated with the sleazy side of rock and roll. You can play with it as long as you aren't nailed, and she has been crucified." PR agent Mark BorkowskiReuse content