As a teenager, I was obsessed with Nahida, a schoolfriend – so fair, so smooth, with high cheekbones, sensuous lips and light brown eyes. I wanted her to fall down and scar her face forever. Oh the malevolence of youth, and those yearnings to be the loveliest in the schoolyard. The tailor who made her dresses was sought after; though she was fairly stupid, teachers patiently spent hours trying to get her grades up, and she was everywhere in the school magazine. Those born with dazzling looks are natural aristocrats in all societies. But then, and there, they were still human.
After the war the media and powerful business turned the gorgeous into products to sell products. Now models, designers, stylists and other manufacturers of false dreams make up a pantheon in the skies. But part the bright white clouds and you see scenes of existential misery, debauchery, cruelty, self-loathing, exploitation, prejudice and extravagant self-regard. Some stars break in that thin air, or poison or hang themselves. Suicidal gods. What a thought. Most float on and come to believe in their own (skin-deep) perfections, immortality and infallibility. Eighteenth-century cartoonists like Gillray and Rowlandson would have exposed these elevated lightweights. Today, when they act grossly or express vile thoughts they are excused and adulated.
Last week Kate Moss deigned to get out of bed to walk a few yards on fashion turf in some weird black gear. She looked more bored than the most practised, bored model. She lit up and puffed away, her nostrils exuding smoke like an old car exhaust. And it was No Smoking Day! What daring, what panache, gushed not only jobsworth fashion writers but ladies in other sober broadsheets. She was "strutting self-confidence". A profile writer in a left-wing paper declared Moss a "feminist icon". Just what our daughters need, a young woman wearing pricey gear who wastes herself with style. That brave ciggie will get women into top jobs and stop men beating and raping their wives. What a gal.
More sick was the idolatry, the wisps of sweet-scented incense which swirled around John Galliano after he was filmed allegedly expressing repellent anti-Semitic and racist views. From the rants we can reasonably infer that he thought gassing Jews rather a good wheeze. He was sacked by Dior – an unusually harsh punishment, say insiders. The fashion house had no choice – people remember how it loved chic Nazis during the French occupation. His lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, claims Galliano was "very vulnerable" when he let off because of alcohol and medication. The style goddess Rachel Zoe says: "It's a little insane and super-sad." And then Dior showed his stuff and how they applauded.
Meanwhile, Sarah Brown dreamt up her perfect dinner-party guests: Aung San Suu Kyi, Graca Machel and, among others, Naomi Campbell, the alleged recipient of uncut diamonds from deposed Liberian president Charles Taylor, whose war crime trial has just ended. The Browns promote virtuous people and projects worldwide. How do they reconcile that with indulging a spoilt woman known for a good body and temper tantrums, some quite violent?
In America, Dov Charney, the colourful boss of American Apparel, is accused by one of his young female workers of sexual exploitation. The case has brought out the usual apologists. She, they say, went into that business of her own volition. How dare she now bite the hand that apparently stroked her? There aren't enough trees to make the paper we would need to write on all the other evils and scandals that fester in fashion. A recent YouGov poll found 43 per cent of interviewees believe the industry is "dysfunctional and immoral". Only 43 per cent.
It isn't only the beautiful who are the damned. More so are their supplicants, genuflecting before the fiends of fashion. Richard Dawkins should turn his fiery attention to this form of mindless worship, more destructive, it seems to me, than quietly praying in church or temple.