Is Heroin Chic Over?
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

Is Heroin Chic Over?


A cultural, musical and stylistic renaissance of the ‘90s has been in full bloom for quite some time. I came of age in those years and I took in the very essence of that era, from great music and Doc Martens to the fear of war and the drug culture. In the mid-1990s, what was known as the heroin chic movement crossed the glamorous line of the catwalk, influencing a generation with the glorification of drugs.

Early and Lasting Influences

I was only 12 years old when Kurt Cobain died; 10 when Andrew Wood did and 20 when Layne Staley OD’ed. But their words were everything to me, despite the fact that, as an Italian girl, their words were in a foreign language. I could feel the despair and the self-loathing even though it would take a few more years to have my first drink, hit or pill. My first boyfriend was a heroin addict and I had sworn I would never become like him. And yet I was already hooked.

As a young girl I was also drawn to fashion; I was chubby and undergoing the practice of drastic weight loss by starvation so there was something about those emaciated girls that I longed for: I used to call it power. The Internet would soon become the new big thing, as would the Vincent Gallo campaign for Calvin Klein with Kate Moss on the cover. Glam couple, the model Jaime King and fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti, made headlines, especially when he died of a heroin overdose in 1997. The tragic event shook the fashion hierarchy to a halt, and the glamorization of addiction allegedly faded away with the rise of a brand new model of beauty.

The Evolution of Heroin in the 90s

“The glorification of heroin,” then President Bill Clinton said that same year, “is not creative. It’s destructive. It’s not beautiful. It is ugly. And this is not about art. It’s about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.”

In those years, the face of heroin was changing somewhat; it had become cheaper and its purity had increased. Brilliant movies like Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and Permanent Midnight came out and, although there was a bit of a manifesto for healthy beauty in the late ‘80s, I was inspired by the 1998 HBO biographical film on the life of model and heroin addict Gia Carangi, who died of AIDS at age 26 in 1986.

Deliberate Denial

In my teens I did not realize that Kate Moss and I had nothing in common but dark circles under our eyes. Instead of becoming pretty like Jaime King, I reached my ugliest. And the color of my skin was far from porcelain. Nevertheless, I didn’t care at that point, because I knew that it wasn’t about fake unwashed hair and a cigarette in my mouth. Drugs and booze flowed smoother than blood; though I could hear and read about their side effects in songs and novels I thought of that as art.

I am not blaming fashion for what I did. And yet I wonder how much my brain was influenced by the images and the icons that I worshiped, at least at the naïve beginning in my youth.

Some Things Never Change

As I’ve been wondering how much of an influence all this had over me, I’ve watched videos of the catwalks of Milan, Paris, London and New York and pleasurably leafed through the scented pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I also checked indie blogs and Pinterest. And here’s what I’ve determined: though models are gaunt as they will always be—a prerogative of fashion until one of them becomes so famous that she’ll only guest-star the runway, in which instance I believe she will be allowed an extra pound—I did not see the drug-fueled images that I emulated in my youth.

In an era when the war against drugs is both controversial and duly fought, and when a popular young icon like Lana Del Rey can publicly glorify the idea of young death, heroin chic nevertheless seems to not be repeating again.

50 Shades of Black

The ‘90s are indeed back; they were rad, after all. Dark will always be a selling point (I, too, still have a closet made 90% of black). But it seems to me that designers might have learned their lesson and not be marketing the dangerous junkie-look anymore. Since dark is ever mysterious and forever sexy, all I can do is hope that there’s nobody out there still buying into the seductiveness of the drug lifestyle—the myth of heroin or the glamour of cocaine, for it’s neither.

Whenever in doubt between what’s staged and what’s not, a good practice might be to have a heartfelt look at Lincoln Clarkes’ vintage photographs of Vancouver’s female addicts. There’s one thing I hope we can all agree on: Addiction is everything but fashionable, regardless of the era.

Photo Courtesy of No machine-readable author provided. IeKarlOLeary assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.