By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
A week after drug allegations were splashed over the front pages, the Kate Moss headlines continue with the news of a police investigation and the end of her H&M and Burberry contracts. But why does she fascinate people so much?
As my contemporary growing up in much-maligned Croydon, Kate Moss was a source of pride.
She was proof that this south London suburb wasn't irredeemably dull, as the rest of the nation liked to characterise it.
Articles about her always mentioned her Croydon roots, although the suspicion in hindsight is that this was probably to sneer, as if her origins made her beauty all the more extraordinary.
Kate Moss tales from school friends, although inflated, embellished or just made up, never had a bad word to say about her.
And until the cocaine allegations, the same could have been said of her image across the country. For someone so firmly in the public eye, although rarely courting the media, Moss had largely escaped criticism.
It seemed as if women wanted to be her and men who didn't fancy her at least admired her. So how did a model come to captivate so many?
Her looks are what thrust her into the public eye in 1990 when they were anything but conventional for fashion - too short and too "street". But when the founder of Storm model agency spotted her at JFK airport in 1988, they saw a look that was about to transform fashion.
And 17 years later, she occupies a unique place in British culture, says writer and broadcaster Paul Morley.
"She's been elevated into a kind of aristocratic role where she is hired not just as a model but as Kate Moss, the glacial icon, dead common and deeply exotic, who brings with her London, The Face, Lucian Freud's £3m portrait of her pregnant, Johnny Depp, River Phoenix, pole dancing for Sofia Coppola in a White Stripes video, hanging out with Primal Scream and the naughty sense of provocation which she now recognises in Doherty."
Despite this complex array of representations, ordinary people identify with her because she's still what she always was, he says - a rock music, party girl with a streak of rebellion.
"Everything they said she has to be she's contradicted. She's small and has a tough look, her face is quite crooked and that becomes an advantage because everyday people can identify with her. She cuts across the aloofness and hypocrisy of the fashion world," says Morley.
"She has talked about going down Argos but you can really imagine it, whereas Naomi Campbell is more pseudo-aristocratic."
THE KATE MOSS STORY
Born Katherine Moss on 16 January 1974, in Croydon
Spotted by Sarah Ducas of Storm at New York's JFK, aged 14
1990 Topless on the cover of The Face
1993 Calvin Klein underwear campaign
1998 Checked into the Priory, London, for rehab
2002 Daughter Lila Grace born
2005 Romance with Pete Doherty reignites media interest
He says there is a kind of cultural envy at work by the newspapers punishing her for remaining a party girl who still looks beautiful despite the excesses of her lifestyle. But the public affection for her won't wane, he believes, just because she's been found out to be living a life that the fashion world sells to others.
But Morley's admiration is not one shared by all. Moss never had the broad appeal we are led to believe but has merely been forced upon us, says social commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
"Kate Moss is very beautiful and lovely, but she's ubiquitous," she says. "Everywhere you look her image stares at you, so how can the public not have some kind of response to her? I don't think she's unique at all."
Sixties supermodel Twiggy was more loved and a greater icon "who even captivated Uganda in my childhood", says Ms Alibhai-Brown, because she seemed "like one of us". In contrast, Kate Moss is like a figure from another planet.
"The new generation of supermodels seem to live lives which are both destructive and immensely removed from everything else that the world means. An alien would think they were creatures of fiction rather than real people."
Yet it is Moss's difference from the rest which marked her out at 14 as a future star, says Andrew Groves, course director of BA Fashion Design at the University of Westminster.
"In the late 80s, the supermodels were like Linda Evangelista, very tall, unobtainable models with fantastic bodies, but here's someone who is 5ft 7ins from Croydon so she's obtainable. They were looking for someone grungy, a bit out-all-night and normal."
Girls next door?
That lifestyle was less in evidence after the birth of her daughter Lila Grace in 2002, until the media took a renewed interest in her partygoing this year, due to her romance with troubled singer Pete Doherty.
But the headlines and the public appetite for them could be about to end, not because of the latest allegations but the exposure they have provoked, thinks Mr Groves.
"People are bored of reading about her, just like the Beckhams," he says. "Whoever it is can become over-exposed like Jordan and Peter Andre.
"A model wears clothes and looks good, which is very passive. It's not like a musician promoting a new album. You don't have to read about it."
Kate Moss embodies a certain inimitable chic-ness that London girls have - it is difficult to define which is why it is so interesting.
It's funny to read comments from so many people bored with Kate Moss, yet taking the time to write about her. I think she just has a cool name, easy to remember and phonetically appealing.
Jose Diego Valades, Mexico City, Mexico
She may not have a talent in the sense of singer/actress etc - but to keep yourself at more or less the top of a very competitive, usually short lived industry for 15 years, earning over 30 million and still be so massively in demand with such a range of brands is quite impressive.
I have never been so pleased to read the conclusions on K Moss in your comments section. Nearly to a man, people are wondering how anyone like this could make the headlines. In a world of such awful problems that are without seeming solutions, we have to read about someone who is not beautiful, not behaving sensibly and modelling dresses that those in the third world would be affronted to be seen in.
Alex McLean, Scotland
If the number of articles written about her decreased so would general interest in her. Why don't we get the chance to read about celebrities who are successful in their field and get into the papers for the all the right reasons, people like Katherine Jenkins, Ewan McGregor or Kelly Holmes.
All fascination with supermodels/the super rich and the famous for being famous is quite strange, but having said that Kate Moss does have something which is beyond the rest.. maybe it's her lack of tackiness, or her ability to reinvent but in a way which seems natural unlike Madonna or others.. she just personifies the sense of natural "cool" for certain people, ie dress, lifestyle, music... she is certainly a lot more interesting a figure than many others, think victoria beckham etc!
Rob Smith, Krakow, Poland
People can blame the media for hyping it but to a very large degree the media plays purely to the desires of the people. So, as to why people are so interested in Moss, the answer is simple, people are, in general, bored. It is the same condition that fuels soap operas and sports. Everyday people living vicariously through the peaks and troughs of the "special" people thereby feeling some sense of specialness themselves.
I do not understand the public's fascination with her, nor her status as a 'fashion icon'. Often she looks haggard and in need of a good wash. She's a pretty, yet somewhat ordinary looking girl, clearly has problems and remains totally self absorbed.. and hello? Where are the concerns for her daughter amidst all this fuss?
Courtney Wieracombe, UK
I'm very bored with it all, and I have been for a long time. I can't fathom why Kate Moss has taken up so much media space, nor why people are so fascinated with her. After all, she is famous merely because of a quirk of genetics, a random combining of DNA at the moment of conception - that's all. I'd rather read about people who have actually achieved something - especially those whose DNA has made them less acceptable in today's society, such as Alison Lapper.
Clare, Sheffield, UK
Kate Moss is just a vaguely pretty shopgirl (with great respect to shopgirls everywhere!) - in other words; "so what?" I just don't get the fascination. But I don't rate Cameron Diaz either, so I just have to accept that I've got very refined taste (as my wife will attest!)
Edward, Cheltenham, UK
I have never understood the media's, or rather the tabloids, obsession with Moss. There are far more beautiful models around for the media to fawn over.
The tabloids are really sinking low in my opinion, to have Kate Moss as their headline news everyday.
Who gives a damn? Has she done anything worth a carrot, discovered a cure for cancer? Become a world class athlete? Done anything remotely valuable or useful at all?
John Mayhew, UK
The article is good. But it misses a big point as to why she is so good. Look at almost every ad. She can be modelled to give the look that the agency want. Most other get the same image dressed up differently. Kate somehow allows herself to be reshaped to fit the cause and thats a talent.
The appeal is pretty obvious. Pretty girl goes from Croydon to self made millionaire on basis of looks alone. Doesn't even give interviews. Splashed across the front pages daily through relationship with Britain's most open and notorious drug addict. Since no one knows anything about her apart from what she looks like, the "why is she with him" fascination takes hold, with fears for her daughter being exposed to drugs. Contracts get cancelled. Schadenfreude. The fact that Kate doesn't do the usual and give a bunch of interviews and repent, repent, repent just adds fuel to the fire.
Just to put the record straight, it isn't the public who are fascinated by Kate Moss or that total nonentity Pete Doherty; its the tabloids who continue to inordinately project the images of two baseless, moronic characters in the mistaken belief that we have the slightest interest in how they conduct their lives. They don't have to pay for the publicity they crave; the newspapers provide it to excess for free.
Alf Riley, England
Is it not the editors who decide what stories are in the headlines? So therefore this article should be titled 'Why does Kate Moss fascinate editors so much".
Liz Stephenson, UK
Kate Moss's face is everywhere, she has a lot of power and therefore a lot of influence. Girls aspire to be her, to be like her, to emulate her success and coolness. She promotes a being, not just her face. Unfortunately, she has really let herself down, and cannot be promoted as the "way to be". I think she needs to make a public statement against drugs, change her life and get off the drugs. This could be her saviour. I wish her well, but she cannot be used to promote a lifestyle/look/attitude to young girls at the moment.
Reading this article on the commotion about Kate Moss makes me believe that there are no troubles in our world, no killings in Iraq, no New Orleans, no bombings in London. We are living in paradise with a subject like this hitting the news at all. That's just sad.
Give me a break! Bring back the unobtainable supermodels! They had curves, just like 99% of women, and while "unobtainable", they did at least appear to have some intelligence. Almost all women would like to look like to look like Cindy or Linda, but hardly any would want to look like Kate Moss. The era of overpaid, poorly dressed planks must end!
She is fascinating in the same sort of way that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is fascinating. She has that lived it all look yet still is attractive.
John Pontefract, UK
Why is all this fascination about Kate Moss? The answer lies in your question. It's because the tabloid press, including the BBC write so much about her and create an atmosphere of hype all the time: Kate this.. Kate that... Urg..
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