A new documentary about the late fashion photographer, who died at the age of 20, recalls the rise of the controversial look with which he made his name
There is a sequence in See Know Evil, a new documentary-biography of the late photographer Davide Sorrenti, when the then US president, Bill Clinton, takes time out of a prayer breakfast to comment on heroin chic, the provocatively titled mid-90s style of fashion photography that was accused of glamourising super-skinny, strung-out models.
The president clearly liked to keep an eye on fashion he had previously complained about Calvin Klein photographs of half-dressed adolescents but this was a more forceful, overtly political interjection.
You do not need to glamourise addiction to sell clothes, Clinton remarked. The glorification of heroin is not creative, its destructive. Its not beautiful; its ugly. And this is not about art; its about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.
The presidents comments were occasioned by Sorrentis accidental death three months earlier, in February 1997, and the grunge-inspired realist aesthetic Sorrenti and others had introduced into the fashion magazines of the day.
A Puckish member of the Sorrenti photography family and barely out of his teens, Sorrenti died in circumstances attributed to heroin, a drug in which he had only recently begun to dabble, as well as underlying health problems. Only a small amount was found in his blood hardly enough to kill a fly, says his mother, the fashion photographer Francesca Sorrenti but it served to ensure he would be linked to what would become the heroin chic aesthetic, a phrase coined at Sorrentis wake by Interview editor Ingrid Sischy, who turned to Francesca to say: This is heroin, this isnt chic. This has got to stop, this heroin chic.
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