Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz recently told British Vogue about the pressures of his profession, saying, "You start to understand why some designers do strange things, why some designers talk to themselves, you have to find a way of dealing with it all." He continues, "I don't take drugs because if I did I'd love them—I'd be a junkie." Indeed, many of his peers haven't been so careful and turned to illegal drugs as, "a way of dealing with it all." Whether it's because of stress or because they're aggressive, creative personalities prone to experimentation surrounded by a culture of excess and enablement, designers have an unfortunate and marked tenancy to abuse drugs. Although some have overcome addiction to lead productive, clean lives, others weren't as fortunate. To give you an idea of the seriousness of the problem, here's just a few of the many talents who have learned that a little bit of fun can be far too much.
In a recent bio of the French grande dame
(Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney
), we learned many details of her long and interesting life—an alleged affair with a Nazi spy, bisexual dalliances, and other tawdry facts. Her purported opium habit, however, is surprising considering her constant need for control.
An odd story of designer drug abuse comes from the life of Ossie Clark. A hard and dedicated student of the craft, the young Clark received speed pills to maintain a breakneck pace from his well-intentioned mother. It led to an addiction that he only overcame late in life thanks to a conversion to Buddhism.
Yves Saint Laurent
Always sensitive and creative, Saint Laurent went through a very dark period after a harrowing experience in the military and subsequent firing from the House of Dior. The primitive medical treatment used to treat his depression eventually drove him into a long period of substance abuse—one that he overcame with the help of his loved ones, but one that also left serious scars.
Despite its inherit debauchery, the days of Studio 54 were a more innocent time in that few recognized the long-term effects of hard drug use and unprotected sex. Roy Halston was the official unofficial designer of these heady days, and reveled in its excess. Alas, drugs diminished his considerable creative talents, contributing to his brand's decline in sales and stature. By the time he succumbed to AIDS in 1990, the party was long over.
It seems that everyone in the entire United States in the 1980s enjoyed cocaine. Apparently, Calvin Klein enjoyed it too much. As the years went on, his design talent, marketing genius, and business savvy faded, costing him control of his multinational brand. While it's impossible to say that this was the direct result of his extracurricular activities, his various absuses certainly didn't help.
Relentless and emotionally vulnerable, Marc Jacobs has, by his own account, struggled with addiction for years. Sensing how far he had fallen, Jacobs went to rehab, became a health-food and exercise fanatic (trading one addiction for another), and emerged from this dark period with a new energy—and a new look. Rumors persist about drug use, but considering how far he's come, Jacobs still seems in control.
McQueen admitted to chemical dependence and seemed proud to overcome it. Rumors, however, suggest he turned back to drugs in his later days when a mix of work pressures, the loss of his mother, and the death of Issabella Blow compelled him to take his own life.
When the semi-reformed addict and Dior designer ruined his career with a drunken anti-Semitic tirade, supporters were quick to point out not only the pressures of his job, but the amount of alcohol in his system. While dependence is a no excuse for hate speech
, the incident did draw a line under the mental stress of designing and the excesses of alcohol and drugs that often come with it.