Heroin today, gone tomorrow

The strung-out look may have passed its prime, but there are plenty of unhealthy lifestyles left for the fashion world to glamorize!

By David Futrelle
May 24, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)
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Heroin chic is over -- haven't you heard? This week, a front-page article in the New York Times dissected the "tarnished image" of the washed-out heroin-addict look in fashion photography, already on the way out in the wake of the drug-overdose death of photographer Davide Sorrenti. The next day, the Commander in Chief of the Free World ventured his opinion on the subject -- and, needless to say, he didn't exactly come down in favor of smack, complaining instead that fashion industry big shots had "made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool," especially to impressionable college students, who are apparently transforming study rooms into shooting galleries. "You do not need to glamorize addiction to sell clothes," Clinton concluded. Well, no -- but it helps.

If you're not familiar with heroin chic, it's a look "in which models pose dazed as if under the influence of drugs," as the Reuters news agency put it in one of its reports on the controversy. Of course, most models, already waif-thin and anemic as it is, don't actually need to use heroin to achieve the elusive half-dead-and-loving-it appearance originally pioneered a quarter of a century ago by Rolling Stone Keith Richards. (Indeed, some experts speculate that some models are so confused by bright lights and color that they remain dazed most of the time, with or without drugs, much like Dan Quayle.) Models who look like sickly heroin addicts may in fact simply be sickly anorexics.


Regardless, no one wants to take more than their share of blame for the corruption of youth, and so the fashion industry now finds itself without a look.

According to one photographer interviewed by the New York Times, fashion magazine editors have made "positive and healthy" the new industry watchwords. But this is a trend that's not likely to last much longer than a week. Before too long, we can expect the industry to find some new horror to glamorize. Not necessarily drugs: Crack is clearly past its peak, and marijuana, while enjoying something of a revival, is just a little too retro to inspire a fashion industry Reefer Madness. (Just take a look at any Cheech and Chong movie and you'll see the problem immediately.)

But as long as there are unhealthy lifestyles out there in the world, the fashion industry will be there to serve them up to us as the latest and greatest fashion "do." Here are some hot looks for the upcoming season.


Everest Chic: That chill breeze you feel coming from East Coast runways? An unexpected storm on the slopes of Mount Everest! Last year's disastrous season on the world's tallest mountain only served to glamorize the difficult and often deadly climb even more. John Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" is clambering up to the summit of the bestseller lists -- and a new crop of not-quite-prepared-enough climbers and socialites have made their way to the top of the mountain, and (in some cases) back down again. Survivors have returned with little souvenirs of the climb: Along with some snapshots of the magnificent view, they've also managed to get their noses blackened by frostbite, and their fingers and toes so damaged by the cold they've had to be removed.

This exciting trend offers a literally "cool" opportunity for fashion tastemakers. Models in parkas with artfully frozen noses and stumps where their fingers used to be will be short-roped by Sherpas to the end of the runway, clutching oxygen containers from which they take an occasional sexy hit. Those who can't make it though the strenuous shows will be left to die on the runway, their bodies stepped over by other models on their way to the "summit."

Possible downside: Impressionable college students, overwhelmed by the glamour of it all, will die with their heads inside dorm mini-fridges -- trying to get themselves even more frostbitten than socialite climber Sandy Hill Pittman.


Carpal Tunnel Chic: Those shooting pains you feel in your arms and fingers aren't just the sad side effect of too many hours wrestling with your computer's mouse -- they may be your ticket to fashion-world fame. As carpel tunnel chic spreads beyond the confines of the computer world, those splints you're wearing will become the hottest fashion accessories since, oh, leg warmers way back in 1982.

Carpal tunnel shows will bring the pasty-faced glamour of the new media to the rest of the world. Models won't actually walk the runways; with Day-Glo splints cradling their wrists, they'll sit in carefully designed ergonomic work environments on the stage, bathed in the gentle light of the computer screen. Electronic beeps and modem screeches will fill the air as the models surf. Like the Web itself, the shows will be painfully slow. The models, jittery with Jolt cola and triple cappuccinos, will use the time they spend waiting to connect with their favorite sites to soak their hands in buckets of cold water.


Possible downside: Some impressionable college students, overwhelmed by geekery, will not only put on splints themselves, but will move on to the harder stuff: imitating the hairstyle and grooming habits of Bill Gates, or even more dangerously, Michael Kinsley.

Tamagotchi Chic: You may pretend to be sick to death of the little plastic cyber-pets that have conquered Japan and seem well on their way to becoming a Cabbage Patch-sized craze here as well, but admit it -- you can't help but love the demanding little creatures.

With Tamagotchi chic, models emulating the endearing helplessness that has made the Japanese cyber-chicks such hits with kids on two continents will lie down on the floor in a heap, beeping forlornly until their custodians feed them, play with them and clean up the small trail of model droppings they leave behind. If not attended to properly, they will wither up and die, returning in their spaceships to the mother planet.


Possible downside: None.

David Futrelle

David Futrelle, a regular Sneak Peeks contributor, has written for The Nation, Newsday, and Lingua Franca.

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