The ugly side of heroin chic

Designers are clubbing together to rid the fashion industry of the drug-addict look, writes Colin Blackstock

Colin Blackstock
Saturday 11 October 1997 23:02 BST

Some of Britain's leading fashion designers are banding together this week to condemn "heroin chic" and the glamorisation of the use of addictive substances in the couture industry.

Thirteen designers, including John Galliano, Stella McCartney, John Rocha, Reynold Pearce and Andrew Fionda, have signed a statement expressing their concern at "the waste of human potential caused by substance addiction" and objecting to the industry's use of the strung-out "heroin look" to promote fashion.

"We also disapprove of the fashion industry glamorising the use of addictive substances," the statement said, "as this could have a detrimental effect on the lives of young people, many of whom are greatly influenced by the appearance and actions of members of our industry."

The release of the statement marks the formation of Designers Against Addiction, and is the beginning of a campaign organised by a charity, Action on Addiction, which raises funds for research into addiction.

Jon Moore of Hardy Amies, who signed the statement, applauded the move on behalf of the industry and believes it is time for the industry to act more responsibly. He said: "Whether it's drugs, drink or tobacco, everyone is affected by addiction and many people have come to accept it as an unpleasant fact of life. The fashion industry is so influential on young people that if we can pull together to behave responsibly then only good can come of it."

Designers involved in the project have attacked the heroin chic image, and say it is anathema to fashion. Lindka Cierach, one of those involved, said: "I don't understand why we get these models coming down the catwalk looking like drug addicts or with cigarettes in their hands. We had grunge which was so anti-feminism, anti-attractive, anti-women, and now we have this.

"I don't think anyone looks chic with a blue, bruised arm full of pinpricks, or a runny nose bleeding from too much coke. The fact that this notion of addiction is being promoted through fashion is rather unappealing."

The use of addictive substances in fashion shows and magazines has become widespread over the past few years, but came under attack in May from US President Bill Clinton after the death of leading fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti, who took an overdose.

Sorrenti's work often emulated the junkie look and featured bleary-eyed models lying on bathroom floors. His mother, also a photographer, sent an open letter to magazine editors at the time of his death, saying: "Heroin chic isn't what we are projecting. It's what we are."

David Best, who works at the National Addiction Centre, the research organisation supported by Action on Addiction, believes the use of such images leads to a greater acceptance of drugs. "Models with cigarettes, or looking like they're on heroin, sanitise drugs. There are a group of young people whom these sorts of images appeal to and it may cause them to get involved."

Designer Ben de Lisi blamed fashion magazines for promoting the junkie look. However, Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, said it was not the magazines that selected the models and the images they portrayed. That decision was left to the designers.

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