A year ago, I was having lunch with the editor of Vogue, Alexandra Shulman. The Daily Mirror pictures of Kate Moss, snorting cocaine through a £5 note in a London recording studio, had been running in the previous week and the overwhelming view was that the world's most famous model was ruined.
The revisionist press say it was the right-wing tabloids that went for her, but in fact it was everyone. Even the impeccably modern Salon internet magazine rushed out the headline: "The skeletal model's coke-fuelled plunge from grace has exposed ugly truths about the fashion industry."
The day I saw Alexandra, fashion retailers H& M had announced: "After having evaluated the situation H&M has decided that a campaign with Kate Moss is inconsistent with H&M's clear dissociation of drugs." Stella McCartney had gone cold. Chanel had released a statement that it would not be renewing her contract. Burberry bowed out. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, declared: "We have to look at the impact of this kind of behaviour on an impressionable young people."
"So," I said to Alexandra, over a starter at Cecconi's in Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly (followed by main and pudding - the size 0 debate did not feature): "How will you manage without Kate Moss? Who will you put on the cover of Vogue instead?" To my slight irritation, Alexandra dragged her feet. First, she liked Kate Moss and there was an issue of loyalty (not widely shared). Second, there was not another model like her. Kate Moss was uniquely mesmerising.
In the past few months, this theory has been tested to destruction. Moss has acquired 14 new contracts, more than any other celebrity. They include Burberry, Calvin Klein, Roberto Cavalli, Louis Vuitton , Versace, Rimmel, Agent Provocateur, Nikon cameras and Virgin mobiles. Last week she was signed up as designer to the teenage magnet Topshop. When Agent Provocateur released a short internet film about her, the site crashed due to massive over-use.
A year ago, Kate Moss was expected to vanish to a nunnery, or at least The Priory. At 31 she was old for a model, and her £4.7m a year career was to end in disgrace. Today, the question is whether she is over-exposed and how she can sustain her earnings for 2006, reportedly £30m.
There is a rule of publicity, once correctly espoused by the actress Kristin Scott Thomas. She said that no one could be stratospherically famous for more than two years. After two years of maximum exposure, the public grow bored and someone else takes your place. Kate Moss has defied this rule, as she has every other one. You would think that advertisers would regard exclusive endorsement as non-negotiable. Otherwise, what is special about your product? Yet look at October Vogue. On the first page, there is Kate Moss, modelling for Dior. A few pages on, she is showing off Louis Vuitton. Flick on, and she is topless in Calvin Klein jeans. Then she is modelling Burberry. Why, there she is again for Versace.
Paradoxically, she is potently herself yet chameleon-like. And amazingly, while she is on every billboard, you never tire of her face. She increases your appetite for her rather than dulling it. Whereas the token presence of other models bores you. There is something bland about those conventional features, that same old wallpaper beauty. Bring back Kate!
As fashion commentators never fail to point out, Kate Moss does not conform to the criteria of models. She is too short (5ft 8in, according to the model agency Storm). She has a lazy eye, dirty hair and wonky teeth. She does not understand the constraints of being a model, particularly in the final stretch: early nights, microbiotic diets, bottles of water. Kate Moss is not only inexplicably, superlatively, beautiful, she is a miracle of science. She treats her body with reckless indifference and it doesn't show a mark. Even the Mirror, which had the cocaine story, admitted that "she always managed to look like Snow White in the morning".
Kate Moss's appeal is both native - she comes from Croydon - and global. Her style is classically English, quirky and original rather than groomed. She elicits a shocked admiration in America, whereVanity Fair, last year ran an 11-page profile of Kate and her boyfriend Pete Doherty headed " The Beautiful and the Damned".
Last week, Moss was pictured on the front page of The Independent, blacked up, to advertise the American-based "compassionate capitalism" Red campaign. It was a textbook Moss episode. It was controversial - is it bad taste to "black up" a white Western model to draw attention to Africa? - yet Moss herself was unscathed.
The other heated topic of the week - skinny models - also had Moss at the eye of the storm. She is, as fashion historians like to point out, our 21st- century Twiggy. Her look, especially recently, of little tight shorts and boots depends on legs apparently afflicted by rickets. Models such as Lily Cole end up defending their shape. Kate Moss, quite brilliantly, says nothing.
Never explain, never complain, never apologise has been a guiding principle. It is partly the reason that we never tire of Moss despite her ubiquity. Silence lends her mystery and dignity. She must have been tempted to defend herself, or at least to attack others, after her drugs exposure. Why accuse her of "hypocrisy" when she heralded the fashion for "heroin chic" with her appearance on the front of Face magazine at the age of 15? Models were healthy-looking, even hefty, until skinny Kate came along. Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer represented the Amazonian, big-hair look of the Eighties.
In a rare interview with the website Showstudio, Moss talked about body image: "It was just my time. It was a swing from buxom girls like Cindy Crawford and people were shocked to see what they called a "waif". What can you say? How many times can you say, 'I'm not anorexic'?"
In 1998 Moss had checked herself into a psychiatric centre, suffering from "exhaustion". Later, it was no secret that she and her doomed boyfriend, androgynous, Army major's son Pete Doherty, took drugs. It is just that she was protected by the fashion world. As a spokesman for the fashion house Cavalli said: " She's not going out with Pete Doherty and having milk and cheesecake every night, is she?"
Moss's decision to stick by her boyfriend is perhaps the most astonishing evidence of her unassailability. After the Mirror pictures appeared, there were allegations that it was Doherty who had flogged them, or at least a friend of his. The wisdom was that Moss could possibly survive the scandal but only if she rid herself once and for all of this fatal curse. At first, it looked as if Moss had taken the commercially ruthless option. She disappeared to America to sort out her "issues" and "her people" made it clear that Doherty was out of the picture.
His appearances were as chaotic and hopeless as Moss's were stage managed. A pitiful performance at the Live8 concert in Hyde Park. Various drug-related court appearances. Scuffles with press photographers. It seemed incredible that Moss would return to him. The beautiful and the damned, indeed. Doherty was compared with either Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater, or Sid Vicious, depending on your cultural taste.
Moss defied the advice of her managers and friends and did her own thing, as always. And her decision to stick by Doherty made her seem genuine, headstrong and loyal, rather than cynical and manufactured. Women have wanted to save men since the beginning of time. Moss may be the first to achieve it. Her reported plans to marry Doherty on a Bali beach were thwarted by his court appearance in London. She may still celebrate her most commercially successful year ever with a winter wedding.
The question about Kate Moss is whether her bumper success has been because of the drugs scandal or despite it. I think the answer is as veiled and ambiguous as she is. It turned out that commerce needed her even more than she needed it. The ruthless fashion world did not hesitate to distance itself from her when she looked like some junkie knocking on a friend's door. Make no mistake, Moss was not saved by kindness or pity but by retail necessity. As Alexandra Shulman had presciently noted, there was nobody to take her place.
A couple of months after Moss's fall, I relaunched a rather dusty old newspaper. Moss had just made her first post-scandal advertisement for Cavalli's spring collection. She was photographed in a black bra and panties, sprayed with gilt and wrapped around a tree. I put the photograph on the front of my paper, with the caption, "Climbing the tree again: first photograph of Kate Moss after losing modelling contracts". I had a twinge of conscience about whether I should celebrate Moss in this manner but then I repeated the words uttered silently by every magazine editor and now explicitly by Sir Philip Green. Kate Moss sells. That is why she is fully restored. That is why she is used more than ever. She sells covers as only Princess Diana used to sell them. And if her life is troubled, and even at risk, then she sells all the more.
Is it irresponsible to promote her as a role model? Kate Moss was discovered at 14, and has never lost her adolescent touch. I have an 11-year-old daughter who shops at Topshop and, by osmosis, has absorbed the various styles of Kate Moss. She does not wish to emulate Moss's rackety, scarily adult social and love life. She just wants to copy her clothes. That is the essential secret of Moss. A sense of style that amounts to fashion genius.
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