Supermodels and fashion icons have a solid reputation, meaning that it takes a lot for them to fall from grace.
Naomi Campbell, the trouble child of Haute Couture, has been at the top of her professional for 15 years, notwithstanding violent tantrums and court orders to go into anger management.
Sex, drugs and rock & roll has been an integral part of the high fashion lifestyle – diet pills addiction, cocaine use, alcohol accesses - you name it.
But in the case of Kate Moss, there is a limit to the damage a brand can take.
Naomi is sensitive about her brand and knows how to perform damage control.
Her latest fashion extravaganza for the victims of Katrina is a perfect example.
Kate has been a wild party child since the beginning of her career; even rehab and motherhood couldn’t tame her.
Kate’s freefall began after photos appeared in British tabloids showing her using drugs.
This was obviously too much “in your face” for the general public.
The fact that Scotland Yard is investigating the claims she has taken cocaine in public didn’t help as well. The newspapers worldwide had a field day reporting on Kate’s past and present peccadilloes, dubbing her “Cocaine Kate,” and using tacky headliners such as “high as a Kate.”
When more revelations were made public claiming Moss indulged in cocaine-fuelled lesbian three-in-a-bed sex, the invisible line between eccentric and unacceptable was crossed.
A supermodel doesn’t make her living from just trotting the catwalk and pouting for the cameras – she is a small business empire, raking in revenues from lucrative sponsorships. Moss’ annual income is estimated at ₤7 M. ($ 15.4M.)
And that’s where the crux is – to be the “face” of a strong brand like Chanel, Burberry or H&M, the model’s brand must be in sync with the corporate ones.
Quite a few companies put a “healthy and clean living” clause in their contracts with models and spokespersons to ensure that.
Once the media thoroughly trashed Kate’s reputation, several of her employers did some rethinking – afraid of “guilty by association”. The first to sever ties with Ms. Moss was the fashion label H&M, whose major customer groups are female teenagers and young women.
They cited that Moss’ behavior was “inconsistent with H&M’s clear dissociation of drugs.”
For a public company, that actively supports the drug-preventing organization Mentor Foundation, it was the only sensible thing to do.
Soon afterwards, Chanel revealed it would not be renewing her contract as the face of Coco Mademoiselle perfume, citing: “Chanel currently has an advertising campaign with Kate Moss that is due to finish at the end of October. The company has no plans to work with Kate Moss on advertising campaigns in the near future.”
A few hours after the Chanel statement, iconic brand Burberry announced that it would be "inappropriate to go ahead" with the contract in the light of the allegations. Burberry had intended to use Kate in a forthcoming publicity drive. The company sugared the bitter bill by adding that “Kate has always been a fantastic model and highly professional for Burberry,” neatly leaving the door open for future return and closed for lawsuits.
The Gloria Vanderbilt label dropped Moss stating, "We would have second thoughts about using her. We weren't aware of any issues prior to campaign.”
Fashion house Christian Dior and jeweller H. Stern followed suit.
At this moment, only cosmetic firms Rimmel and Coty, and jeweller Fred Paris haven’t taken a public stance yet.
Can Kate forge a comeback? It depends.
Moss’ problem is multifold. Her reputation is damaged by her association with lover Pete Doherty, a musician and heroin user. The public sees him as the evil genius behind her downfall. Dumping him and taking some time off to concentrate on her mother role would nicely cleanup her image.
She needs to rebuild her professional image as well – together with her personal publicist and the PR department of her model agency Storm.
Making a public display of denouncing drugs combined with some volunteer work wouldn’t hurt as well.
She made a first step in this direction by publicly apologizing for her drug use and stating:
“I take full responsibility for my actions. I also accept that there are various personal issues I need to address and have started taking the difficult, yet necessary, steps to resolve them.
I want to apologize to all of the people I have let down because of my behavior, which has reflected badly on my family, friends, co-workers, business associates and others.”
There are two more factors beyond her control that might work against her:
her age (31 is not young in her line of work) and her body type.
She broke into the fashion scene by embodying the “waif” look (or heroin addict look, depending on your point of view).
Once this look is considered passé, no matter how hard she will try, she will not be able to resume her career.
In the mean time, her PR people have cut their work out for them.