Heroin Chic: The Art of Imitating Life

images-7.jpegHeroin use in the United States has grown over the past decade into a national epidemic. What was once viewed as a drug of abuse for indigent war veterans in the 1970s and Black urban males in the 1980s has revealed itself to be in all geographical regions, in both genders, and in all races; but primarily amongst Caucasians. While the current heroin epidemic is far from glorified, there was a time —not so long ago, when such addiction was trendy.

In the 1990’s the opioid narcotic heroin was glamorized by pop culture where it featured heavily in “drug movies” such as, The Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, and Requiem for a Dream, and adopted in the Fashion and Art as what came to be known as: “Heroin Chic”.  Heroin Chic was blamed for the highest resurgence of heroin use for youths since the 1970’s.

The Heroin Chic look made haute-couture of, pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, slumped postures, and gaunt bodies with grimacing faces. The Heroin Chic trend was used in advertisements by Calvin Klein and Clinque. Model Kate Moss was its poster girl and photographer Davide Sorrenti its godfather (himself dying from heroin).The Goth, Punk, and Grunge look are said to have been influenced heavily by Heroin Chic aesthetic.


Young people who felt alienated from society were said to be drawn to the mystique of heroin use. They may have  viewed it as stylish and attractive as its use represented a rebellious anti-authoritarian lifestyle. Subcultures developed around popular music forms such as alternative rock and hip-hop, which have a similar appeal helped to further the image. Kurt Cobain, was a popular musician who lived and died by heroin. Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Actor River Phoenix died from a drug overdose of cocaine and heroin. Death by heroin overdose came to be viewed as an elite way to die. Exemplifying a life of tragedy and loneliness, as admirable and courageous. It made it  cool to be an outsider and to live a tragic life.

Heroin Chic itself was the artistic reflection of individuals who were already using the drug; in music, movies, magazines, and other media including graffiti and artwork. Art imitated life and life in turn imitated art; a manifestation stemming from the desire to depict the life of a user, resulted in young people embracing the drug and idolizing the addict.

President Bill Clinton denounced Heroin Chic and the Fashion Industry reluctantly responded after much campaigning by anti-drug organizations, and the death of David Sorrenti. A shift was made to using curvy models and depicting happier and healthier images. However, some shadows of Heroin Chic continue to linger on the runways today, like heroin itself, whether trending or not, never completely going away.



3 thoughts on “Heroin Chic: The Art of Imitating Life

  1. I would like to use one of the images on your site in a book I’m finishing. It will be published with Bloomsbury Academic in 2018. Can you please let me know the original source of the side-by-side image of the girl (last image on the page) and/or grant permission for its reproduction?


  2. What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & aid different users like its helped me. Good job.


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