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Icons before Instagram: Kate Moss

Kate Moss’ career took off in 1993, alongside another prominent (but less definitive) face: Mark Wahlberg’s. It was a Calvin Klein ad campaign, where the model starred in a black-and-white photograph, topless, with only CK underwear for cover and pressed against Wahlberg. Her small frame came to define the modelling world’s obsession with waif-like figures in the 90s, but the slight hunch of her shoulders and glassy stare belied something more — anxiety.

kate moss history
Moss and Wahlberg (then known as Marky Mark) appeared a sensual duo on camera, though the reality was far more daunting. | Photo: Calvin Klein

The shoot may have paved a path for Moss to become a supermodel, but it also gave her a nervous breakdown, keeping her bed-bound for two weeks. “I felt really bad straddling this buff guy. I didn’t like it,” she told Vanity Fair years later. “I thought I was going to die.”

From Croydon to campaigns

Before the rapid rise and scandal-fuelled legacy, Katherine Moss was just a girl from Croydon who had an affinity for sports, but did poorly in school. At 14, she was scouted at New York’s JFK Airport while waiting for a return flight from the Bahamas. Above all other names, Sarah Doukas of Storm Model Agency was the one who first discovered Moss’ appeal.

Mario Sorrenti would come a close second. He was her boyfriend in the earlier stage of her career, and it was Sorrenti, and his mother Francesca that Moss attributed for helping her settle into the chaos of New York. “Thank goodness I was living with her and not in some model apartment,” she said. “Because New York is a hardcore place.”

kate moss
Though Sorrenti had a hand in immortalising one of her most famous campaigns, the photographer eventually began asking Kate to pose for images even when off-work. | Photo: Calvin Klein

Sorrenti was also responsible for another of the model’s iconic campaigns — the Calvin Klein Obsession images in 1993. She was 19 years-old then, and photos of her nude, skinny frame lying languidly across a black couch became plastered on the sides of buses. Though her relationship with Sorrenti eventually dissolved due to the photographer blurring boundaries between professional and private, he was one of the forces that immortalised Moss in the 90s.

“Heroin-chic” hits the runways

Aside from photoshoots, the South Londoner was hired to walk a number of runways of immense gravity. She starred in Stella McCartney’s show when the designer was a mere graduate from Central Saint Martin. John Galliano, who she counted as one of her closest friends, enlisted her to model for Christian Dior in ’97, a year that also saw her wearing bum-exposing pants for Alexander McQueen.

kate moss
Moss in AMQ’s bumster pants. | Photo by Ken Towner/Associated Newspapers /REX

Though Moss was far shorter than your average model, her star-studded resumé was ever-growing partially due to the popularity of the heroin-chic look throughout the 90s. The aesthetic was Moss embodied — pale skin, angular and emaciated features, dark circles, as well as a face that bordered androgyny. It went hand-in-hand with the falling prices of heroin and the rabid grunge explosion that championed nihilistic beauty ideals.

It was a movement much criticised. Even then-President of the United States, Bill Clinton got on board the blame train. Moss was one of the figureheads accused for glamourising heroin abuse, though the model would candidly reveal that heroin was something she never tried.

Over the edge

Moss peaked when British pop music did. She fronted the Primrose Hill crowd, a group of high-society Londoners who took posh living and hard partying to a new level. This new definition of model off-duty was lapped up by the media, carrying Moss through to the 2000s.

Kate moss relationships
What a difference a love makes. Left: Moss with old beau Johnny Depp in the mid-90s. Right: Moss with Doherty in the early 00s. | Photos: WireImage and PA Images

In 2002, Moss became a mother to Lila Grace Hack, her child with then-Dazed & Confused editor, Jefferson Hack. Post-pregnancy, Moss wasn’t as much of a runway fixture as she was. Instead, the model became a resident name on the tabloids for a number of reasons. The first was for her style. Before “Coachella” and rocker-chic entered common vernacular, there was Moss’ coveted style. The model stamped skinny jeans, form-fitting blazers, ballet flats and festival gear unto the style landscape of the time. As her ineffable approach to fashion was lauded, speculations ran amok once more as people began to notice Moss’ appearance looking a tad worse for wear. Gone was the glowing skin, charmingly impassive gaze and stylish bedhead. It was now replaced by a Moss that looked actually, not deliberately haggard as she was spotted around town with boyfriend Pete Doherty of The Libertines.

Cocaine Kate

2005’s infamous exposé on Moss by The Daily Mirror revealed the answer that rested on everyone’s tongue: a cocaine addiction. As if suffering from a never-ending hangover from the 90s, Moss never quite relinquished fashion’s favourite white powder.  The  tabloid ran photographs of the model cutting and snorting cocaine in a recording studio. The images, caught on security camera, were sold to the paper for £150,000 (S$265,000) by Doherty’s former manager.

kate moss drugs
While bad-girl partying habits were part of her allure, the Cocaine Kate scandal took it too far for public tastes. | Photos: Daily Mirror and The Sun

The repercussions for Moss would be far more. It was an era where drugs were starting to become blacklisted as a serious social issue, and a handful of big-name companies dropped Moss from their campaigns and sponsorships. Brands like Chanel, H&M, and Burberry were some.

A potential career apocalypse shook Moss so much, she issued a public apology and checked into celebrity-favoured rehabilitation centre, Meadows Clinic in Arizona. Though she was isolated from friends and family, and forced to miss her daughter’s third birthday, it was a move that gave her a second wind. It’s fitting, in some oblique way, that the clinic was situated in Phoenix, as the model walked out of the fires brand-new. Healthy, happy, tanned and ready to ground herself again.

The aftermath

kate moss cara delevingne
Moss and Cara Delevingne starred in a 2015 Burberry campaign ad together. Many touted the younger model to be Kate’s successor, as both shared the same modelling agency. | Photo: Burberry

No longer branded as “Cocaine Kate”, Moss still managed to retain her characteristic pull on the fashion sphere. She walked for Louis Vuitton in 2011, became one of the models to close the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, released a book of her photos titled The Kate Moss Book and released over 14 sought-after collections for Topshop.

Today, Moss is largely out of the limelight, though nothing has been able to dim her bulb as one of fashion’s most transformative women.

Icons before Instagram: Kate Moss

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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