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Heroin chic

At least since the days of Twiggy, fashionable models have aimed to be thin, sometimes with such determination that they have become anorexic or have suffered other medical problems. In the middle nineties, this waif-like image has been accentuated even more, with models appearing hung over and with dark circles under glazed eyes.

This look, which is thought by some in the fashion business to be attractive to young people, and which was typified by a notorious set of pictures in 1997 advertising Calvin Klein clothes, has been dubbed heroin chic because the models look as if they are drug addicts. In fact, there are well-substantiated reports that heroin addiction is common among fashion photographers and models, so the look is not always simulated. In the US, where this fashion is more prevalent than in Britain, it has drawn many protests from anti-drug groups, culminating in a much publicised attack by President Clinton in May 1997 following the death from an overdose of the fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti.

Reports of this speech promoted the first mention of the term in mainstream British newspapers, just at the time when pressure of public opinion was forcing designers, photographers and editors to reassess the value of the style. Thirteen British fashion designers are reported to have signed a statement in October 1997 condemning the heroin look, marking the formation of a group called Designers Against Addiction. It seems heroin chic is now falling out of fashion within the business.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 11 Oct 1997; Last updated 18 Oct 1997