LONDON - Barely a teenager and posing topless in a Calvin Klein underwear ad, Kate Moss sashayed her way onto magazine covers 15 years ago amid criticism of her uber-thin "heroin chic" image.
Now recent pictures of Moss allegedly snorting cocaine in a London studio have turned the 31-year-old fashion icon into a pariah, with fashion companies canceling or not renewing contracts worth millions of dollars.
Moss issued an apology Thursday, taking "full responsibility for my actions." Her dramatic fall has forced a re-think on fashion's role models, and has raised questions about how an industry notorious for its drug-fueled party life can cultivate Moss' bad-girl image, then turn on her once that image matches reality.
"It's hypocritical," said pop culture lecturer Cary Cooper of Lancaster University. "The industry saw the warning signs. Others saw the warning signs. Something should have been done sooner."
Moss was dropped by Burberry, Chanel and Swedish clothing giant H&M. The British cosmetics company Rimmel London said Thursday it was "reviewing" her $2.3 million contract.
In her statement, Moss said, "I also accept that there are various personal issues that I need to address and have started taking the difficult, yet necessary, steps to resolve them."
Originally from the unglamorous south London suburb of Croydon, Moss was discovered in 1988 by Storm agency founder Sarah Doukas at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. Two years later, topless pictures of the 14-year-old were splashed across billboards amid condemnation of Moss' waifish appearance, blank stare and emaciated figure.
The talk intensified as Moss entered adulthood. She boosted her stock by dating actors such as Johnny Depp and most recently Pete Doherty, the 26-year-old former Libertines frontman who has been in and out of drug rehab.
In 1998, she made HEAD:s when she checked into a London rehab clinic for what was termed "exhaustion." Two years later, she was hospitalized again, reportedly for a kidney infection. In 2003, the chain-smoker was diagnosed with a "sleeping disorder." Allegations of her cocaine use never let up.
French fashion consultant Anne de Champigneuil said Moss should have been more careful. "People are lucky to have such great contracts, and they need to respect them... It's a shame to give (fans) this example. Everyone identifies with a star."
Icelandic fashion designer Helga Vjornsson thought differently.
"It's really unfair," said Vjornsson, who lives off the legendary Parisian shopping street Rue du Faubourg St Honore. "She may be a product but she's a human being, too. The media are responsible for her loss of success or work."
It was the media that fueled Moss' rise with constant shots of the wide-eyed, 5-foot-6 beauty - and the paparazzi were just as quick to help her fall.
She recently settled a libel suit with Britain's Sunday Mirror, which published an article in January alleging that Moss had to be revived from a cocaine-induced coma in June 2001.
That same tabloid ran the pictures of her apparent cocaine use last week.
The Sun newspaper published new drug-related claims Thursday. Moss's lawyer, Gerrard Tyrell, denied the allegations. But that didn't matter to people like Marilena Rossina, one of many Londoners reading the latest headlines about Moss.
"She's been doing it for years, and we all know it," said Rossina, 38. "It's not like cocaine is something new in the modeling industry. But I'm worried about her child (Moss has a nearly 3-year-old daughter) and she's in the public eye - a role model for a lot of teen girls."
But French actress and model Catherine Deneuve, a former face of Chanel No. 5, said Moss' private life should be kept private.
"She's a great model. If she's ruining her personal life, that belongs to her," said Deneuve, 61. "What she does in her private life is very private. I find it unbearable that maybe someone shot her (picture), stole the photos then sold them."
"She's (Moss) an exceptional model, it is just a bad moment for her," said Vincenzo Liberato, who handles fashion casting for the Italian magazine Amica. "Media attack and tear down anything they want and they go especially against those who have made such a clear mistake."
Police announced they may question Moss, who was worth an estimated $26.3 million in 2000.
"There's a tendency to create a myth," said Simone Marchetti, a fashion writer for the Italian women's magazine Donna Moderna, "and then to destroy it."
Associated Press writer Marta Falconi in Rome and Emily Behlmann in London contributed to this report.
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