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A fashion for pale, skinny models with dark sunken eyes and fine, blow-away hair gave rise to the term Heroin Chic.

Much was made of the fact that the models looked ill because they really were taking lots of drugs and it was thought that they might encourage kids to do the same.

But anyone who took a quick look at the genuine junkies begging on London’s streets could see that this was clearly not the way to get the look.

Models in 1994 were no more bulimic, nicotine-soaked or coked-up than before. Designers simply had a new look – and needed a catchphrase for it.

-BBC Cult- I Love 1994

The photo by Day of Georgina Cooper, is mentioned as attributing to this style cited as being created by photographers like Nan Goldin, popularized in the 90s.”The unkempt appearance and skinny bodies of the models Day uses are part of the imagery that has been branded “Heroin Chic” by journalists like The New York Times’ Amy M. Spindler, and are seen as signifiers of dark addictions.” (1999 Rebecca Arnold, Fashion Theory, pg 279-95) Arnold describes the photo Georgina, Brixton:

“…a model inhabits the claustrophobic interior of a sparse flat. The cheap, dirty carpet and bland décor are a far cry from the lush settings more familiar to the glossy magazine. The model wears scanty red underwear, its lines drawn out in rippling black lace. But this is no vision of eroticism and desire: her thin body is contorted, she seems unaware of the camera’s exposing eye. Her confused expression and shiny skin have been interpreted as signs of drug abuse, her mannered posture as the result of a narcotics rush.”

The depiction of this style with ‘dazed models, sprawled in seedy, anonymous rooms’ has been mentioned as glamorizing heroin and drug abuse, however Day rejects this, claiming along with other contributors, that the photos in this style are natural, unlike previous images of the 80s, and reflect real life. Francesca Sorrenti (Fashion photographer and mother to Davide Sorrenti) adds “Heroin chic
isn’t what we are projecting, it’s what we are. Our business has become heroin chic. Some one taking pictures of that magnitude has to have experienced hard drugs” (1997, Helmore and Pryor : 3) emphasizing the reality and genuine presence of the effects of drugs in life and the industry. It is therefore a style which potentially has positive documentary qualities, highlighting ‘harsh visions of reality’ as opposed to ‘narcissistic and indulgent’ presentations of ‘unattainable fantasies’ with hyper realized imagery. However, heroin chic when used commercially seems problematic and controversial.

This depiction heroin chic is worrying in its glamorous connoations associated with high fashion label Calvin Klein. Also what is worry is how alluring these images are, meticulously directed to reach a particular target market; as a mens perfume advert,  imagery of sexuality and female envy are created, and doesn’t necessarily present the full effectards, a perhaps dangerous shift in perception, with comments on forum such as “we need more heroin chic”; “I can’t help it, I love heroin chic. It’s very appealing to me!”


Kate Mos of heroin as raw and unattractive as some of Day’s photos. These photos actually seem pretty normal by modern standss, Obsession [online images] available from:


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