29 Sep Feature: What makes Kate Moss a muse? / Dazed Beauty
She’s a girl giggling on a beach wearing a feathered headdress, sharing a candid moment with photographer Corinne Day. She’s a young woman standing casually in a black tank top and knickers for Calvin Klein, head tilted, gazing forcefully down the legendary lens of Herb Ritts. She’s a butch biker girl snogging Lea T on the cover of LOVE magazine, shot in solarised black and white by Mert & Marcus. She’s a party animal, hanging from a top-floor window with a fag in her mouth; an English rose in an ethereal, beaded chiffon John Galliano wedding dress, surrounded by bridesmaids in the Cotswolds countryside. And yet, whether it’s a grainy paparazzi shot from muddy Glastonbury or a high fashion shoot plastered across a Times Square billboard, it’s unmistakably Kate Moss.
She has a face so recognisable, so completely ubiquitous, that it takes serious pause to consider what lends it a unique magic. If anything, what defines her is an indefinability, transforming from innocent ingenue to coquettish sex kitten to imperious madam in the blink of a (kohl-rimmed) eyelid. In any given interview with photographers or stylists that have worked with Moss for decades, they say it’s this versatility that makes her so unique. Where beauty norms have shifted and mutated, Moss’ appeal has never faded – no matter how many times they shoot her, how many outfits they put her in, the image looks and feels new, special.
“The most curious fact about Kate Moss is her staying power,” says Dr Ashley Mears, an associate professor of sociology at Boston University and a leading critic of the warped power structures that steer the modelling industry. “She’s managed to stay trendy in a world that is by definition predicated on change. This can be partly attributed to her strategic alliances with the right brands and collaborations and friends – she’s at the centre of a highly desirable network of high profile creatives.” As Mears notes, it’s not just her looks that have secured her legacy: it’s her character, social circle and lifestyle, which are, ironically, aspects of her identity she has aimed for many decades to conceal from the public eye.
It seems surprising in retrospect that she never publicly challenged the wild child image built up by tabloid media, even if it’s in keeping with her famous mantra: never complain, never explain. Moss has weathered the storm of gutter press mudslinging by – in the words of another public figure with her fair share of scandals – excluding herself from the narrative. Where many celebrities would have responded with a tell-all book or a weepy Oprah interview, Moss maintained a dignified silence. As the late A.A. Gill wrote in a 2006 piece on Moss for Vanity Fair,‘by instinct or design, she’s understood a lesson from our clamorous, cheap-talking, opinion-clogged age – that less is more.’
Dr Joanne Entwistle, a reader in culture and creative industries at King’s College London specialising in the sociology of fashion, agrees that it’s Moss’ unique position within this vector of beauty and charisma that has guaranteed her longevity. “It goes without saying that Kate Moss is incredibly beautiful, but it’s also true that when you step inside any model agency you’ll see dozens of beautiful girls, most of whom will never go onto become household names. Today’s models don’t become successful solely by being icons as with the old Hollywood icons of beauty like Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth, who were more stylised and remote. Celebrity beauty works differently now. The appeal of Kate Moss is partly to do with looking like someone you could have a laugh with – someone to party with.”
As Entwistle observes, Moss’ iconic status is built on a foundation of ordinariness: the girl from Croydon done good, the jet-setting model who enjoys a night on the tiles in central London as much as the rest of us. It’s a cultish obsession with her private life that led previous British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman to put her on the cover 32 times, with every Moss-covered issue resulting in bumper sales. “The meanings attributed to Kate Moss are very powerful and, by this point, iconic,” adds Mears. “She invokes cool in everything she does. Even her mishaps are understood as cool.”