Where Naughty Is Still Nice

By Robin Givhan
Friday, April 14, 2006

The fashion industry loves a glamorous lawbreaker.

Six months ago, model Kate Moss was photographed in London, allegedly snorting cocaine.

Monday evening at a Manhattan dinner, fashion folks and assorted famous people were congratulating her on a new Calvin Klein Jeans advertising contract. Although the company will not reveal specifics of the deal, it is reported to be worth around $900,000.

Because of the publicity and police investigation surrounding last fall's cocaine photos, Moss lost work with H&M and Burberry. She went to rehab. By March, she'd returned to the spotlight, sitting ringside at the Burberry fall 2006 runway show in Milan. Now, she's back in the Calvin Klein fold. All, apparently, has been quickly forgiven.

The fashion industry has a high tolerance for misbehavior. In that regard, it has a lot in common with the film and music businesses. Naughtiness can be quite lucrative, and although a mea culpa is nice, it is not necessary. A little brush with the law seems only to make for new business opportunities in which the entire industry can participate.

Two weeks ago, model Naomi Campbell was arrested for allegedly assaulting her housekeeper with a cellphone. The housekeeper had a gash on the back of her head that required four staples to close. She said Campbell struck her after a pair of jeans had gone missing.

Campbell has said that she doesn't know how the housekeeper was injured and that her story of abuse is part of an extortion plot. The model is free on bail and is due back in a Manhattan court June 27.

Here it is worth pointing out that Campbell's outerwear selection for her March 30 perp walk, while clearly intended to cover a pair of handcuffs, only underscored her reputation for being out of touch with reality and cosseted in luxury. It was a mild spring afternoon and Campbell was wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and a hip-length white fur poncho with long, thick fringe. It practically shouted "ridiculous wealth."

(Courtesy Chip & Pepper)
Since Campbell's arrest, designers have been hard at work finding ways to profit from the tawdry mix of fame, blood and the specter of a cellphone being hurled during an extreme hissy fit. In case anyone was wondering about the brand of the jeans that disappeared, supposedly sending Campbell into a rage, the folks at Chip and Pepper sent out e-mail alerts identifying them as their skinny jeans, which sell for $190. To drive the point home, the identical twin designers created a $30 T-shirt that reads: "Naomi Campbell Hit Me . . . For My Chip and Pepper Denim."

Campbell has a reputation for a nasty temper and for using a cellphone as a weapon. In 2000, she pleaded guilty in Canada to assaulting a former assistant with a mobile phone. She was accused of the same sort of behavior in 2003, after which Chip and Pepper sold T-shirts reading: "Naomi Campbell Hit Me . . . And I Loved It."

(Proving that not everyone in the fashion industry believes in turning the other cheek, Malcolm Harris, a Harlem-based designer, revived his T-shirts of a few years ago: "Naomi Campbell slapped me, and I slapped the bitch back!" For those who espouse the philosophy of giving as good as one gets, the shirts sell for $50.)

Over the years, Campbell has attended anger-management classes and she has engaged in public therapy on "Oprah" on the topic of her temper. But Campbell's career has chugged right along, modeling for watchmaker Montblanc this month and shooting advertising campaigns.

Back in 2002, when Winona Ryder was on trial for shoplifting from the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue, street peddlers did a brisk business in "Free Winona" T-shirts. The actress wore Marc Jacobs designs for her court appearances. That also happened to be one of the many pricey designer brands she was accused of pinching. She was found guilty. Three months later, Ryder settled into the warm embrace of the fashion industry, starring in Jacobs's spring 2003 advertising campaign.

There's something reassuring in knowing that those in the fashion industry have a forgiving spirit -- especially for lithe young women who wear clothes well and take a nice photograph. One needn't worry that a brush with the law is professionally fatal. But the industry often goes beyond forgiveness to rewarding, chuckling and dismissing. Bad behavior never has a chance to sink in as everyone scrambles to come up with a pithy saying for a T-shirt or a way to transform a scandal into an advertising opportunity.

No one has time to figure out what went wrong -- why the anger, the drugs, the stealing -- before attention shifts back to making frocks, taking pretty pictures and raking in the money.

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