In the high fashion world, where allure, beauty, and sophistication converge, an unspoken undercurrent of excess and indulgence often lurks beneath the surface. Drug use has long been synonymous with the fashion industry, with famous models like Gia Carangi and Erin Spanavello sadly dying young due to overdose or drug-related diseases. Cocaine has long flooded the world’s catwalks with models, designers and industry leaders all becoming entangled in its web.
Understanding the history of “cocaine couture”, the reasons for cocaine use among those working in the industry and the potential risks of cocaine addiction are all crucial for helping to end the long-established cocaine fashion romance.
Cocaine and the fashion industry: A historical perspective
As early as the 1970s, cocaine began infiltrating the fashion world and making its name synonymous with the industry as rapidly as Chanel or Gucci. The fast-paced nature of the fashion world, with its late-night events and demanding schedules, created an environment where stimulants like cocaine found an eager market.
Coke also gained popularity within the industry as a symbol of status and indulgence. The industry embraced this with morally questionable campaigns like designer Andrew Groves’s 1998 show, Cocaine Nights, featuring a catwalk strewn with white powder and a dress featuring razor blades. While this may seem a particularly egregious display of drug glamourisation.
Statistics surrounding cocaine use within the fashion industry are difficult to pinpoint due to the topic’s secretive and taboo nature. However, anecdotes and reports from insiders suggest that cocaine has been a prevalent issue for decades. Model Sophie Anderton, whose cocaine addiction led to her going bankrupt and working as a prostitute to pay off her debts, explained the problem that fashion industry newbies often face:
“Drugs are so accessible within the industry, and it is very difficult to steer completely clear of them.”
Notable instances of cocaine abuse
Several high-profile instances of cocaine abuse within the fashion industry have spotlighted the darker side of its allure. Renowned figures whose cocaine use has become public knowledge include:
Perhaps the most famous supermodel of the last thirty years, Kate Moss faced enormous press and public backlash when images of her allegedly using cocaine circulated in the media in 2005. At the time, Moss was dating the musician Pete Doherty, who had a very public struggle with drug addiction, and it looked like the photos may seriously harm the model’s career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the hypocrisy of the fashion industry and press (Moss who had been hailed as the queen of “heroin chic” during the ’90s), Moss’s earnings doubled in the years following the coke scandal, and she continues to be one of the highest-paid models in the world.
Few names are synonymous with the world of fashion, like Donatella Versace. Co-founder of the Versace empire, Donatella gave up cocaine after an eighteen-year addiction. Versace explained how her cocaine addiction developed:
“In the beginning, I had a great time. I didn’t feel I was addicted. You just feel more awake, more aware. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue like that.”
Superstar supermodel of the ’90s and a good friend of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell’s battles with cocaine addiction have also been well-documented. Campbell explained how easy it was for her to obtain cocaine in fashion circles and the effects it had on her life:
“I never ever had to have a dealer. It made you feel insatiable, but in the end, it was a destroyer. It’s really a devil’s drug.”
The temptation of cocaine in the fashion industry
There are many reasons why people from all walks of life start taking cocaine, and this is no different in the fashion industry. For models in particular, some of the most common include:
The fashion industry’s fast pace and intense competition create an environment that demands constant innovation and energy. Many individuals within the industry are drawn to cocaine due to the temporary surge of energy, increased focus and an artificial sense of confidence. Models are expected to look flawless and be on their A-game at all times, and the allure of cocaine’s performance-enhancing effects can be hard to resist.
Stephen Fried, the author of a biography of “The First Supermodel” Gia Carangi, compared models who use drugs to athletes who take steroids:
“These women work incredibly hard. They take drugs…to stay awake and do their job. Like steroids, these are performance-enhancing drugs.”
Cocaine as an appetite suppressant
One of the particularly troubling aspects of cocaine’s allure within the fashion industry is its reputation as an appetite suppressant. The pressure to conform to unrealistic body standards can be overwhelming in an industry where ultra-thin figures have often been idealised. Cocaine’s ability to suppress appetite has made it an appealing option for models who need to control their weight to meet these standards. However, this dangerous appeal comes at an immense cost to physical health and overall well-being.
The undercover reporter Donal MacIntyre investigated the fashion industry and saw copious amounts of cocaine use by models trying to stay thin and fit in with the industry:
“Some models have to do lashes of cocaine just to keep the weight off. Some will literally have a piece of toast a day. They need to stay slim and sleek. It is a brutal, brutal trade. Your time at the top is not a long one. It is a lonely trade, too. Plus, cocaine is a party drug; fashion is a party industry.”
The impact of cocaine on models and other fashion figures
While the short-term benefits of cocaine use may seem appealing, the long-term consequences are grim. Models and other figures in the fashion industry who succumb to cocaine abuse can experience negative health effects, including the risk of overdose. The pressure to maintain an unrealistic body image and the demands of a high-stress industry can exacerbate the physical toll of substance abuse.
The risk of cocaine addiction also looms large. What starts as an occasional indulgence can quickly spiral into dependency. The euphoria induced by cocaine may offer temporary relief from the pressures of the industry, but it’s often followed by crashes and emotional lows that can perpetuate a cycle of abuse and addiction.
Baby steps forward down the cocaine fashion catwalk
Recognising the destructive impact of cocaine abuse within the fashion industry requires confronting this issue head-on. Some fashion organisations and advocacy groups are stepping up their efforts to raise awareness about substance abuse’s perils and provide much-needed support to those affected. However, there is still more that can be done.
The changing landscape of societal discourse around mental health and well-being has cast a revealing spotlight on the fashion industry’s internal dynamics. Once heralded as the embodiment of unattainable beauty, models are now wielding their influence to advocate for a healthier, more inclusive environment.
The emergence of plus-sized models and others with more realistic bodies and physical attributes hopefully means that the perceived need to use cocaine as an appetite suppressant no longer holds sway. Pursuing an unattainable beauty ideal should never compromise an individual’s health. Efforts to promote diversity and body positivity within the fashion industry are critical steps toward dismantling this dangerous appeal of cocaine use.
The history of cocaine and models in the fashion industry is long and complex, but as the industry grapples with its past, the focus on prevention and support is a step in the right direction. The aspiration to create a space that nurtures professional success and personal growth is emblematic of a fashion industry evolving to recognise the humanity behind glamour. While the journey towards eradicating the allure of cocaine fashion is ongoing, cocaine couture is a stark reminder that if you peek behind the catwalk curtains, real people are grappling with real challenges.