Photographs of Kate Moss snorting cocaine have threatened the contracts with luxury brands like Chanel and Dior that earn her up to £4m a year. But an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has revealed what every insider at this week's glittering event already knows: cocaine fuels the fashion industry at every level, from glamorous catwalk to exotic photo shoot.
"Models use coke like truck drivers do," said an industry insider yesterday, "to stay awake and keep working." Another said cocaine was used as a "performance-enhancing drug" in the same way athletes use steroids.
And the model Sophie Anderton, who gave up cocaine a year ago, told the IoS yesterday: "Drugs are so accessible within the industry, and it is very difficult to steer completely clear of them."
Ms Anderton, who dropped to six and a half stone as a result of her former addiction but is now "happy and focused", said: "The enormous pressures to stay thin in the industry almost lend themselves to take a substance well known for suppressing appetite."
Kate Moss, who once said "I never do class A", is said to be distraught at having been photographed cutting and taking cocaine while with her boyfriend, the singer and drug addict Pete Doherty. She has yet to comment, despite reports suggesting that she had been "carpeted" by her modelling agency Storm and was considering entering a drug rehabilitation programme.
Moss has, however, apologised to the clothing firm H&M, which pays her £500,000 a year. "She has assured us it will not happen again and as a result we are willing to give her a second chance," said a spokeswoman. Moss will be the star of the company's Stella McCartney collection, due to launch in November. "We have strict policies for models. They should be healthy, wholesome and sound, and we are strongly against drug abuse. We made this clear to Kate Moss."
There was no comment yesterday from Chanel, Dior, Burberry or Fred of Paris, all of which employ Kate Moss. Rimmel did not comment but her face was still on the opening page of its internet site, which said she epitomised the cosmetic company's "experimental, no-set-rules beauty philosophy".
Her plight will attract sympathy among many of those at the 50 shows this week. "Of course models take cocaine," said a fashion insider, one of the many models, stylists and others in the industry approached by the IoS. "So do designers. And hairdressers, particularly. It is there at fashion shows, definitely, but it is quite covert.
"If you're looking for a blizzard of cocaine, go on a shoot. They go abroad, and it is like a little family: the model, the stylist, the fashion editor. That's when it really happens. I think it goes with the territory."
"The fashion business has always had this problem trying to deal with self-destruction,' said Stephen Fried, who wrote the biography of Gia Carangi. She was widely acclaimed as the first supermodel before becoming a drug addict. She died from an Aids-related illness in 1986. "I have talked to many models who have been sent by their agencies to get cleaned up. I don't think they have a hands-off approach at all."
Mr Fried compared models using cocaine to athletes who take steroids. "These women work incredibly hard. They take drugs for the same reason a truck driver takes drugs. To stay awake and do their job. Like steroids, these are performance-enhancing drugs."
Moss is unlikely to lose all her contracts, said the fashion expert James Sherwood, who spent time with the biggest names in fashion for the book and documentary Models Close Up. "Companies want Kate Moss for the whiff of danger. If she overdoses then so much the better, she will be an icon. I'd have thought it would have made her even more of a commodity. With Burberry she could be in trouble: it's quite wholesome."
London Fashion Week is launched with a high-glamour party at the National History Museum today. Among those expected to attend is Donatella Versace, who announced earlier this year that she had given up cocaine after using the drug for 18 years. "In the beginning I had a great time," she says. "I didn't feel I was addicted. You just feel more awake, more aware. Unfortunately it didn't continue like that." Versace had been confronted by family and friends and agreed to go into rehab.
Naomi Campbell, who is due to model for Julien Macdonald this morning, admitted earlier this year that cocaine had provoked violent outbursts in her. "What is very scary is that you start to feel too confident and you start to feel indispensable."
Kate Moss usually turns up to support her friend Sadie Frost when Frost French presents a show. So will she be there on Wednesday? "Who knows, after this week's episode?" said a spokeswoman for London Fashion Week.
Fashion has long flirted with drug imagery, as Moss knows as well as anyone. She is paid a reported £500,000 a year by Dior, which has a perfume called Addict. She has modelled for Calvin Klein, which produces Crave. And she was featured in adverts for the Yves Saint Laurent scent Opium. The London-born model was also a favourite waif for designers who opted for a wasted, "heroin chic" look during the Nineties. That trend produced its most dramatic result in 1998 when the designer Andrew Groves produced a show called Cocaine Nights that featured a dress made of razor blades and a catwalk strewn with white powder.
Jonathan Phang helped launch the career of Jodie Kidd and many others, and is now a judge on the reality television series Britain's Next Top Model. He has also worked closely with Christy Turlington, Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin. "There is no denying that some extremely seedy things go on behind the scenes," he said. "There are some horrible people willing to stoop to any level to exploit beautiful young women."
They may strut the catwalk with confidence, said Mr Phang, but many models are hugely insecure backstage. Some have left their friends behind at school. "I've seen girls working in London during the day, then getting on a plane to Milan for a 3am fitting. Sometimes agents are pressing them to cash in while they are hot property. They are not asking whether the girls are getting enough sleep and eating properly."
It was hard for a young model to know whom to trust, he said. "The wrong people use and abuse women, and they introduce drugs as a means of control."
Donal MacIntyre, who has worked in the fashion industry as an undercover reporter, said: "Some models have to do lashes of cocaine just to keep the weight off. Some will literally have a piece of toast a day. I talked to lots of models who were relying on cocaine simply to keep the weight off. They need to stay slim and sleek. It is a brutal, brutal trade. Your time at the top is not a long one. It is a lonely trade, too. Plus, cocaine is a party drug; fashion is a party industry."
The drug is as ubiquitous as champagne and hors d'oeuvres at a launch party, confirmed many of the industry insiders the IoS spoke to. "Backstage, at a shoot, just waiting around, people use coke like others drink coffee," said one.
Seven months ago the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Ian Blair, said he was concerned that cocaine was socially acceptable among the middle classes. "There are are some who think their weekend's wrap of charlie is entirely harm-free," he said, "but it may not be entirely harm-free for much longer." Sir Ian promised his force would be "making a few examples of people". But yesterday, as more pictureswere published, the Met said it could do nothing.
"If the Metropolitan Police finds or is presented with evidence of someone taking illegal drugs then they will act, no matter who that person is," said a spokeswoman, but photographs were not good enough evidence on their own.
However, that did not impress the former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe MP. "There would be charges brought against a teenager standing on a street corner of an estate taking drugs, so the same should apply to celebrities," she said.
Another person who is said to be concerned about Moss's lifestyle is the publisher Jefferson Hack, the father of Moss's 3-year-old daughter: there are reports that he may be seeking custody of Lila Grace.