The Moss factor

By Viv Groskop

Smoking on the catwalk has only added to the allure of a woman who has kept her mystery while being one of the world's best-known faces.

Kate Moss finds herself in the headlines once again. This time for smoking a cigarette on the catwalk at Marc Jacobs' show for Louis Vuitton.

As always, intentionally or not, she chose the perfect moment - it was No Smoking Day. Her appearance also coincided with a British Government announcement that in all shops from April 2012 "tobacco products must be kept in places where they can't be seen". Most importantly, though, from her point of view, at the end of another season of fashion shows, a woman who "retired" from the catwalk seven years ago stole the limelight.

Moss has the knack of associating herself with illicit pleasures without incurring any damage, it seems - physically or professionally. After all, her face hardly has the admonitory effect of Keith Richards'. Instead, she is the 1960s vision of the ultimate fashion model, all bed hair and long legs, living out the fantasy of the rockstar lifestyle with no discernible side effects.

Some newspapers like to pretend that she's not getting away with it. "Want to stub out smoking? Put Kate's raddled mug on every packet", shouted one. But everyone can take a bad picture. Yes, even Moss. And, frankly, if only we could all look that raddled.

Indeed, Moss' marriage to all things bad girl has been the making of her.

Hard partying has not wrecked her in the slightest and her critics know it. If anything it gives the illusion of making her a little bit more real - which only makes her even more attractive.

Now 37 and able to pick and choose her work (she doesn't usually do catwalk shows because she doesn't need to), it seems unlikely that Moss will ever lose that allure. She epitomises that old line: "Men want to be with her. Women want to be her."

Her detractors can argue that she's thin, shapeless, a bad role model or, as the "I Hate Kate Moss Society" puts it on Facebook, that "she isn't even pretty". In reality she continues to sell magazines, shift high-end products and is hailed universally as a style icon, floating above fashion itself.

We'll no doubt see even more of Moss this year, thanks to speculation surrounding her wedding to Jamie Hince, lead singer of the Kills, scheduled for July 2. If the fashion industry's rumour mill about Kate Middleton's dress already seems half-crazed with over-excitement, just wait until they start on the Other Kate.

At London Fashion Week last month, Vivienne Westwood appeared to hint that Moss would be designing her own dress. Then Moss herself let slip that John Galliano was the chosen one. But that was before Galliano's career went into freefall as he headed for rehab. The saga will continue, although there is hardly likely to be a Hello!-style denouement. In fact, it will be surprising if any wedding photographs of her surface at all.

This mystique is the real secret to her success. Moss does not court publicity, she tolerates it. It helps that there is something of the accidental fairy tale about her story (or fairy tale gone wrong, if you want to follow the "bad role model" narrative). Moss is able to give the impression that she stumbled into this whole adventure and is just along for the ride.

Much is made of her "Croydon Kate" background (barmaid mother, travel agent father). But when she was spotted by Storm's Sarah Doukas at the age of 14 in 1988, it was at New York's JFK airport on the way home from a holiday in the Bahamas.

Since she first appeared on the cover of The Face two years later, her career has never really dipped. The alleged "cocaine scandal" of 2005, when some very grainy photographs appeared of Moss at a Babyshambles recording session, made little difference.

At the time she lost contracts with Burberry, Chanel and H&M but within a year she was back working on campaigns for 18 fashion houses. Forbes estimates that her earnings actually soared around this time, from US$5 million ($6.95 million) in 2005 to US$8 million in 2006. In 2007 she scooped up a reported £3 million ($6.7 million) fee to launch her first Topshop range.

Five years on and Moss' selling potential is stronger than ever, although she has scaled back her commitments. Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman describes her as "uniquely mesmerising" and has said that there is no other model like her. Although you can't buy her clothes in Topshop any more, she is currently involved in carefully cherry-picked campaigns for Longchamp, Dior and Balmain. The appearance at Louis Vuitton indicates that she might be up for widening her reach again. Although you can equally imagine her thinking: "You know what? I can't be bothered."

If Moss' popularity is strange in any way, it's because we really know very little about her as a person.

Where others have constantly to reinvent themselves and give away tidbits of their emotional lives to remain interesting, she has kept the same look for years and told us nothing about herself. It's like Katie Price in reverse.

Despite this, she remains visually fascinating to people: she never wears an outfit which is considered a "mistake" by the fashion press and yet is never considered boring by them either.

It's all pure image, though: there are no words or ideas to go with the picture. Moss is rarely interviewed in print or for broadcast. She is one of the few celebrities whose voice you would not recognise because you've probably never heard it. (It's a flat south London-ish drawl.)

This unknown quality is the biggest part of her allure. She's like the silent movie star whose career was not killed by the talkies. Everyone still wants their close-up with her.

If she does speak, it's to defend herself. Talking about why she was plucked from obscurity and promoted as the anti-supermodel: "It was just my time. It was a swing from buxom girls like Cindy Crawford and people were shocked to see what they called a 'waif'. How many times can you say, 'I'm not anorexic'?"

The obsession with her (then) boyish figure has receded since she had a child (8-year-old Lila Grace, whose father is editor and journalist Jefferson Hack).

Instead the new charge is that she's irresponsible, decadent, hedonistic. As if these were qualities unusual in a fashion model who dates rock stars. Perhaps Moss is attacked more now that she is a mother and is older.

As fashion commentator Hilary Alexander tweeted: "Anyone else notice Kate Moss vilified for fag-break at Louis Vuitton, but nobody took blind bit of notice of [Lady] Gaga smoking on Mugler catwalk?"

Marc Jacobs says he chose Moss for the Louis Vuitton show because "the women in this show were all characters, not just anonymous girls".

This is the real crux of her appeal now. Suddenly Moss - the "waif" once reviled for looking like a little boy - is a woman in an industry full of girls. Unlike the blinking, stumbling fawns shown in fly-on-the-wall show The Model Agency, she is a grown-up. And, as that documentary painfully depicts, this is extremely unusual in fashion: many of the girls don't survive in the industry past their late teens.

If Moss were able to build on her appeal as an "older woman", she could one day even see herself rebranded as a (mysteriously silent) feminist icon.

In a way no other model has achieved, she has created a celebrity brand from image alone.

She has a face, like Marilyn Monroe's, which is instantly recognisable and familiar. And yet it's a face on to which you can project whatever you like.

Perhaps most significantly, in a world which runs on spin and hype, she seems to have done all this unintentionally, as if she couldn't care less about any of it. Which is what makes her enduringly "cool". So cool that she can even voluntarily take a kicking. In a recent Comic Relief video she is seen lampooning herself, forcing lager and champagne on Misery Bear, with Nouvelle Vague's version of Teenage Kicks in the background. Of course, we don't hear her speak. But she looks great. (She communicates with the bear via written signs. "You are very pretty." "You are very handsome.")

Now her name has been linked with The X Factor, adding to rumours last year that she would be making an appearance on the show as a stylist. There were reports that Simon Cowell is considering her as a judge. You wish, Simon.

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