Howard Jacobson: Real supermodels can't live up to my fantasy of Alida Valli in a belted raincoat in Vienna

If Kate Moss were to brush up against me in the Tube I'd give her a fiver and tell her to eat a square meal
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The Independent Online

If Kate Moss were to rub herself up against me in the Tube I wouldn't hesitate to slip her a fiver and tell her to spend it on a square meal - no drugs, mind - but I wouldn't have a clue who I was talking to.

"Heroin chic", wasn't that her shtick? In which case why the fuss that she's now taking cocaine? What did anyone ever think made her look like that? Cocoa?

I know a bit about supermodels. I spent a week among them once, covering the Milan fashion shows for a Sunday newspaper. This explains how, as a novelist, I am able to dress the women in my novels with such authority. This one in Dolce and Gabbana, that one in MaxMara. I know what's cool and what's conservative. The fashion editor of the paper I was writing for met me at Milan airport and made me take my tie off. Lesson number one: you have to look as though you've just fallen out of bed. In fact I had just fallen out of bed, but you're not meant to fall into a tie.

An hour after landing I was in a basement underneath a catwalk, watching "12 of the most beautiful women in the world" - my fashion editor's phrase, not mine - stepping in and out of someone else's clothes. I had my notebook at the ready. "You'd better give me some names," I said. She was astonished I didn't recognise Cindy Crawford. "Never heard of her. The only Crawfords I know are Joan and Broderick." What about Claudia Schiffer? No. I was aware of a Stephen Schiffer, an American philosopher, but to my knowledge he didn't get about in high heels and a tissue-paper G-string.

Yasmeen Ghauri? How did she spell that? Christy Turlington? Nope. Heidi Klum? No again, though I liked the name. As a boy I went to see The Third Man three times and fantasised about falling in love with a double agent in post-war Vienna. She would wear an Alida Valli belted raincoat with nothing on underneath except, of course, black stockings, and kiss me in the doorway on Schreyvogelgasse where Harry Lime hid in the shadows and smiled that enigmatic smile. Heidi Klum would have been a good name for her. Though to have satisfied my adolescent longings she would have needed to be a lot fleshier under her raincoat than any of these supermodels. And closer to my height. Standing on a stepladder in Schreyvogelgasse didn't figure in my imaginings.

It is a fine thing for a woman to be tall. But tall doesn't get what these women were. They were out of nature. Freakish. They were elongated beyond the resources of their own bodies. Like giraffes. Or borzois. Or a cross between the two. They didn't function properly. They seemed to have difficulty breathing. This was partly because they were rushing to change garments. And also because, between changes, they would rush to the top of an iron staircase which gave out into a sort of courtyard, and smoke a cigarette. Just two quick puffs, as though it were oxygen they were taking in, the stuff of life itself, then back down to be dressed.

Every one of them the same. Out of the previous frock, semi-naked up the stairs - buttocks bonier than my fists, buttons where women in the real world have breasts - puff puff, then down again and immediately zipped into something else. What with the agitation of the show, the buffetings they suffered from the designer, the pins that pierced their papery skin, the rarefied climate they inhabited up there in the clouds, the cigarettes, and the never having anything to eat - I say nothing of cocaine - their breath must have been atrocious. Never kiss a supermodel, is my advice. With or without a stepladder.

None of which helps me with Kate Moss. To the mind of a person not deranged by what capitalism decides is popular culture, the interest engendered by her fall from a grace that never was would beggar belief if one still had any. But it is universal. More of the world's newspapers have been carrying stories about what goes up Kate Moss's nostrils than have mentioned the death of Simon Wiesenthal the Nazi-hunter. An exception is the Arab press which appears to be interested in neither. I will hope that in the case of Simon Wiesenthal Arab newspapers are just a little tardy preparing their stories. But for their indifference to Kate Moss I congratulate them. She is proof of Western decadence indeed, not because she is who she is, does what she does and looks whatever it is she looks like. But because we can find a scintilla of curiosity to spare on her.

The newspapers which invented her have of course their own stake in destroying her. For which there can be no complaints. She who rises by looking wasted must expect to fall the same way. As for those Miss Moss has failed as an exemplar, frankly I don't give a damn. Any person for whom Kate Moss was a role model is already lost - morally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, culturally lost. But then we are all that. "Kate Moss has got to suffer," a senior lecturer at marketing at London Metropolitan University told this paper last week, "throw herself on public opinion and plead for mercy and then she can rebuild her career."

Fancy that - a senior lecturer in marketing with a special interest in Kate Moss! Employed by a university! Education, education, education.