The fashion industry thrives on the twitchy anticipation of style junkies searching for their next hit.
It has gotten high on glamorous, buxom beauties and tripped on the vapid waif generation. Among the current addictions is a nihilistic vision of beauty that mirrors the wasted silhouettes and pinched faces of drug addicts.
This explains why Bob Dole recently jumped on the fashion world for sending "a false and deadly message to America's youth that drugs are harmless fun."
Magazine readers have seen this gloomy look in the dark-rimmed, vacant eyes of models. Editors and photographers have been fond of posing them in dingy bathrooms or cheap motels with their makeup smeared and their hair tousled. And while they may be wearing the latest pricey designer clothes, the implication is that a hypodermic is somewhere just outside of the frame.
In March, when the British fashion collections were unveiled in London, the International Herald Tribune reported: "Two movies are currently defining British society: 'Trainspotting,' a gutsy, gaunt and surreal story of Scottish heroin junkies, and 'Sense and Sensibility.' "
Fashion has mostly opted to embrace the junkies. Their style is called heroin chic.
"Trainspotting" chronicles the adventures of a group of addicts who possess a sardonic, anarchic view of life. These adventures are violent and ugly. But the film makes clear the junkies' initial pleasure in their addictions. The end may be bleak, but the beginning is sweet. Says Renton, the strangely alluring narrator, about getting high: "People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that [expletive], which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. . . . Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you're still nowhere near it."
It is that first hazy, dangerously seductive sense of contentment that seems to have hooked the fashion industry. "Trainspotting" has both fueled and reflected its love for junkies. While the aesthetic began long before "Trainspotting" hit the British cinemas early this year, the movie put heroin chic on the big screen in an explanatory, almost documentary way.
Inside the fashion industry, rumors and knowing accounts of heroin abuse by models, stylists and editors have become so standard that new tales are met with nonchalance. A recent article in Allure, which told the story of a smack-addicted model, called heroin "the worst-kept secret in modeling." Tripping does not shock.
More than a year ago, fashion show audiences chuckled when James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins shuffled awkwardly down the runway at an Anna Sui show. He seemed so dazed that model Amber Valletta had to gently guide him backstage. Was it a put-on or for real? Either way, it was accepted as part of the normal theatrics of a fashion show. (A backup musician for the band, Jonathan Melvoin, recently died of a heroin overdose.)
Like the young men in "Trainspotting," fashion leaders shoot for the exhilaration of the edge, always trying to outmaneuver life's inevitable mundaneness. They dismiss rules. They're cynical and aim to shock. Collections from designers Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen have reflected this morning-after-a-rough-night style and the seductive nature of death. Lang is known for his pared-down silhouettes and hollow-cheeked, dour models. McQueen was in the spotlight last spring for his tattered and torn collection of tailored suits and lace blouses.
"I've worked on three films this summer; all three [filmmakers] have said, 'I want that Helmut Lang, sexy, young junkie aesthetic.' It's huge, absolutely huge," says Amee Simmons, a New York-based artist and stylist.
Fashion didn't conjure up the look of zoned-out kids. Designers copied this from the street, from the addicts themselves. They cleaned it up. Validated it. And now they're selling it.
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The Style Issue
Clothes may not make the man president, but the dropouts so far in the '96 race have been sartorial losers, like Coin Club poster boy Steve Forbes Jr. and Phil "The Human Flag" Gramm. Mindful that image will play a powerful role in the election, here's how the front-runners have positioned themselves on matters of personal appearance.
Work clothes: Designer suits, mostly by Calvin Klein or Donna Karan. Vented jackets with generous shoulder pads (to downplay what humor writer Christopher Buckley describes in W magazine as "Michelin thighs"). Pleated trousers (again, an anti-thigh measure). Dress shirts in pale blue or white with French cuffs.
Play clothes: Relaxed-fit slacks, cotton shirts, leather bomber jacket, dark shades.
Workout clothes: When jogging, T-shirts and long warmups (after advisors urged him to forgo shorts to appear "more mature"). When golfing, relaxed-fit slacks and Tommy Hilfiger golf shirts.
Fitness regimen: Waving, diving into crowds to shake hands, jogging, golfing.
Hairstyle: Beavis meets Jay Leno.
Styling routine: Lather, rinse, repeat.
Pallor: Weekend-golfer pink.
Work clothes: Custom-made Brooks Brothers suits (which clash with his ironic wit and accentuate his insider status, says Susan Watters of W magazine), mostly in dark blue. Two-button jackets with flap pockets. Precision trouser creases. Dress shirts in pale blue or white with French cuffs.
Play clothes: Cotton slacks and shirts. At poolside, white Gomer Pyle undershirts, short Nike shorts and baseball cap with prairie-friendly "Farmland" patch.
Workout clothes: Undershirts, short Nike shorts.
Fitness regimen: Waving, verbal sparring with interviewers, power-walking.
Hairstyle: Superman meets Paul Shaffer.
Styling routine: Lather, rinse.
Pallor: Sunbather (3.5 hours per week sans sunscreen, according to Harper's Index) brown.