Heroin Chic Degeneration Part 1.

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Jocette Coote- Heroin Chic Circa 1995
Jocette Coote- Heroin Chic Circa 1995

Nicotine stained fingers grasp a cigarette, desperately sucking the remains as if drinking through a straw. In this confined space called a model apartment the stench of old fags is suffocating. The threadbare carpets match our dispositions. Mere shadows of our former selves. Greasy unkempt hair, exquisite bone structure jutting out from under thin pale skin. Hey, I should be worried, break this silly mold we are stuck in, but this is the look of the season, totally in vogue and due on a photo-shoot in a few short hours. So on goes the coffee pot bubbling away like an old friend and the only thing on the menu for breakfast. We are the abused beauties of the Heroin Chic era.

It’s the 90’s. Trainspotting is a box office hit, people have pagers or very large mobile phones with limited battery life and it seems that the fashion industry is flirting with the realism of the art world, with raw images of dangerously emaciated models appearing everywhere. Fashion is imitating art. All of a sudden a model wasn’t a glamorous representation of impossible perfection, she was shot raw, ungroomed, impure and edgy.  There was a certain beauty in this realism. Models looked like they had something to say for once, maybe even be your friend or the ‘girl next door’. Gone were the hair rollers and high maintenance looks of our predecessors and in came the anti-glamour movement called Heroin Chic. The decade I fell out of my school uniform and into the fashion industry.

The public was instantly infatuated, absorbed in the lust and lunacy of this new trend, engulfing it in its entirety. Voyeuristically gazing into the intimate photos of a models world. The images cut to the bone, and the models were almost typecast becoming the characters in the photos going beyond the role of just selling fashion. Models were selling themselves, some showing the good and the ugly side of their lives. Beauty was now a feeling and this look was easy to imitate, perhaps explaining why the world became so unduly obsessed during this decade of change.

Every client was looking to book a ‘waif’.  Every pose we looked like precious broken dolls, half clothed, glazed over expressions, dark eyes, or better yet, no makeup at all.

One of my first editorials I ever did was called ‘Fashion Junkie’ a story of a girl so obsessed by clothing she put fashion above all her other needs and lived on the street begging for money to buy more clothes.

Jocette Coote 1996 Fashion Junkie
Jocette Coote 1996 Fashion Junkie

Jocette Coote 1996 Fashion Junkie
Jocette Coote 1996 Fashion Junkie

To many this form of advertising glorified the use of heroin and made it appear cool and carefree.  The combination of waif and atrophy pushed the boundaries more than ever before.  The advertising campaigns shocked many, even the president of the United States at the time. Bill Clinton publically condemned the look after New York photographer Davide Sorrenti who was very much a part of Heroin Chic, and whom was a favourite within fashion circles, died as a result of a drug over dose.

“You do not need to glamorize addiction to sell cloths” and “American fashion has been an enormous source of creativity and beauty and art and, frankly, economic prosperity for the United States. But the glorification of heroin is not creative, it’s destructive; it’s not beautiful, it is ugly. And this is not about art; it’s about life and death” Bill Clinton.

So how did this dangerous trend start? Who was to blame? Was it the photographers, the agencies for scouting young thin talent, the magazine editors or perhaps the fashion designers for reducing the sample size of clothing?

The popular belief is that it all started with a picture of a 14-year-old Kate Moss shot by Corinne Day and I know some of you will roll your eyes and say that it’s unfair to pin the blame on one photograph, and I’m not doing that. There are many starting points for the drama and I will look at them in detail over the next few posts. I hope you enjoy the journey.