Say what you will: Among the fashionable elite, some bad behavior is considered completely, utterly glamorous and some is not. Throwing your cell phone at an employee? Decidedly non-glam, even if you show up to serve your eventual sentence, picking up trash, in a wasp-waisted coat and spiky red-soled Louboutins. Allegedly raping underage girls? So totally non- that fashion designer Anand Jon, who was arrested on March 6 for just such a crime, will, even if he is acquitted, likely never recover his reputation. Being convicted of stock manipulation and securities fraud like shoe mogul Steve Madden, and getting sentenced to 41 months in prison? Not only non-glam, but really, really boring.
But snorting and smoking and even shooting drugs? The suits who own your business may be tearing out their gray hairs, but they should take a chill pill: A history of drug abuse may actually enhance the naughty allure of your brand. Last month, Marc Jacobs’s office confirmed that he was heading straight from the Paris runways to an unnamed facility in Arizona: “Marc made the right decision,” Jacobs’s longtime business partner Robert Duffy told Women’s Wear Daily, representing the buttoned-down, serious side of the industry. “He’d been sober for seven years. When he relapsed, he wanted to deal with it right away.”
He may be rushing to rehab, but his affection for drugs won’t harm his street cred. After all, the designer, despite being 44 years old, is still considered a boyish young American, whose cool quotient is as high in the rarefied capitals of Europe as it is on Main Street. And what do sexy young American guys do? They have sex. They get high. And they have skinny, wiry bodies, which the use of illegal substances can help them maintain. (The importance of this, sadly, cannot be overstated. Just before he checked himself into rehab, people were saying of Jacobs, “He looks great! He’s so thin!”)
High or sober, Jacobs must be exhausted: He designs not one but three collections, two under his own name and the third for Louis Vuitton, where he introduced graffiti scribbling and infantile flower decorations to the moribund century-old LV monogram. His most recent Marc Jacobs collection, shown last month in New York, featured a stunning lineup of languid 1930s-ish lovelies, as if the Finzi-Contini family had left the garden en masse and arrived at the Lexington Avenue armory where the show was held. So will his wicked ways besmirch the appeal of these $5,000 ensembles?
No way, says Paper magazine’s Mickey Boardman, a famous player on the downtown fashion scene and a veteran of rehab twice over, who celebrated 10 years of sobriety on April 1. To this day, he credits drugs with “releasing inhibitions, getting us in touch with ourselves, getting back in touch with your childhood. I love the idea of being elaborately styled on the outside and an elegant mess on the inside. The people with the most fascinating style are drug addicts!” he reminisces.
Those released inhibitions, so crucial to the decadent allure of fashion, are at the same time terrifying to the moneybags who stand to lose millions when their corporate figureheads misbehave. But any hasty decision to just throw the miscreants overboard is complicated by the fickle nature of consumers, who are just as likely to embrace as condemn the fashion industry’s bad boys (and girls). After all, being caught on camera phone inhaling cocaine didn’t exactly hurt Kate Moss. Though the initial response of her many employers was to dump her—H&M, Chanel, and Burberry all gave her the heave-ho—less then a year later she was back on top, touting for Calvin Klein, Virgin Mobile phones, Longchamp, and even Burberry again (they were quick to forgive).
So immutably fabulous is Moss, with her 1940s monkey fur jacket and her art deco diamonds, that she reportedly hid her drugs in a $100,000 gem-encrusted Fabergé egg. Her hollow-eyed expression, wan pallor, and waifish physique may have inspired young women all over the world to starve themselves, but her decadent appeal is nothing new. Way back in the 1860s, iconic artist model Lizzie Siddal (she was discovered in an English millinery shop; Moss was found at Kennedy Airport) died at 33 of what was commonly believed to be a laudanum overdose. (Her fiancé, the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was so distraught that he buried a book of his poems in her signature copper hair; years later, thinking better of it, he exhumed her coffin and retrieved his musings.)
But you don’t have to go back 150 years to be convinced of the seductive power of dissipation. In the 1960s, it seemed as if half the female population wanted to look like the gamine Edie Sedgwick (an heiress who would be dead of a barbiturate overdose at 28 in 1971) or the attenuated Talitha Getty, renowned for her caftans and ethnic jewelry (she succumbed to a heroin overdose four months after Sedgwick’s death). By the 1990s, this fascination with anorectic space-cases even had a new name—heroin chic—and everyone up to and including then president Clinton inveighed against it: “You do not need to glamorize addiction to sell clothes,” Clinton offered. “It 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. And glorifying death is not good for any society.” Well, no argument there. But short of glorifying death, isn’t extolling thinness, and wantonness, and a louche outside-the-law attitude a huge part of high fashion’s appeal?
Still, there are those who believe that the world is changing, that almost a half-century of anti-drug commercials on TV has finally permeated the world of the catwalks. Roger Padilha, the creative director of Mao Public Relations, who has produced fashion shows for everyone from the sophisticated Pete Som to the raucous Baby Phat, says these days, the young designers he represents are dreaming not of wild coke-fueled romps but of Target deals. But just in case one of his clients still has the desire to get trashed, Padilha isn’t taking any chances: He advises his charges that if they go to a fashion party and are holding so much as a glass of champagne, they should hide it behind their backs when the photographers show up. Padilha refutes the notion that the bony customers who crave shredded Dior dresses and stringy Balenciaga bags want to appear as if they just crawled out of an opium den. “They might want to look like they’re at a party with Kate Moss, but I don’t think that their dream is to live a jet-set drug-addled lifestyle.”
Maybe not, but even Padilha is forced to admit that Moss had undeniable star quality in those cocaine-snorting phone pics. “That picture was gorgeous! Her hair! She looked incredible,” he says. “I understand the fantasy. But if you’re going to buy into the fantasy, it can’t be just the glamour side. What about when she wakes up the next day with boogers in her nose and tears streaming down her face, upset about something she can’t even remember? She probably wouldn’t look so great in pictures the morning after.”