Although some cultures and their drug use normally go hand in hand, it was during the nineties when heroin chic was a trend made famous by Calvin Klein advertisement campaigns as well as shoots involving models such as Kate Moss. Elise M. Rosser describes it as:

a high class fashion trend which appropriated visual imagery of heroin junkies and their environment into fashion photography.

Drawing influence from Grunge, heroin chic made heroin abuse look “Glamorous and sexy and cool” to quote US president Bill Clinton. Fashion trends had just turned heroin into another accessory for your wardrobe, just like ‘freedom torches’ had made smoking cool back in the 1920’s, but with Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide in 1994, this gave the media more ammo to incite a moral panic. To quote Krist Novoselic from an interview with NME (

“He was out of his mind on heroin,” Novoselic said. “I remember seeing him those last days and he was loaded. And so he wasn’t thinking clearly when he did that.”

Kurt’s death, as well as Joaquin Phoenix’s brother, River’s death were two of the most publicised deaths in the 90’s, Kurt’s death being the most prominent due to his suicide. Although heroin abuse may have given Kurt the idea, heroin abuse never killed him. In River’s case however, his was death was attributed to heart failure as a result of mixed drug intoxication. This was perfect for the media to use as a bandwagon to incite moral panic with heroin chic, coupled with the fact that River was a high profile celebrity and had died in Johnny Depp’s nightclub in Los Angeles. The following quote is taken from the Mail Online about River’s death.

River Phoenix knew he was experiencing an overdose from a deadly cocktail of cocaine and heroin the night of his death at Johnny Depp’s Los Angeles nightclub claims a friend of the actor who was there that fateful evening.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until photographer Davide Sorrenti’s death in 1997 that this sub-culture around heroin came to an end. The fashion inspired drug culture had quickly died out and things had begun to return to normal. Although nearly 20 years has passed since then, and drugs still play a pivotal role in the world of fashion, with many brands glamorising drug use such as Yves Saint Laurent and their “black opium” fragrance. Dazed Digital seems to think that this is a trend that will never die.

And although heroin chic was the trend that defined the 90s, fashion’s fascination with thinness has surpassed the millennium – it remains to be seen whether the industry will get over its slender model habit any time soon.

The featured image is of 90’s fashion model Corinne Day. Below is another example of 90’s heroin chic. Notice the gaunt face and visible ribs.


Heroin Chic, a 90’s drug culture.

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