October 4th, 2016
“Sure, I take dolls–I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ve got to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and ‘Sparkle, Neely, sparkle!'” – Valley of the Dolls, 1967
Moschino designer Jeremy Scott premiered a new line at this year’s fashion week, one inspired by Valley of the Dolls. The show featured outfits with white tabs sticking out, like those on paper doll dresses, as well as a “capsule collection” (a pun on the term for a limited-edition line) starring a purse shaped like a pill bottle, a dress printed with a prescription label, and a backpack with brightly colored “Moschino capsules” (below).
It’s been 50 years since Jacqueline Susann published her bestselling novel, in which up-and-coming young women make it through the day (and night) with the help of a variety of pills, including “dolls,” short for dolophine, a brand name of methadone. The cult classic film of the same name came out a year after the book, in 1967.
Even though the Moschino line makes no mention of any specific drug other than “Moschino,” some critics are saying that the fashion hits a little too close to the current “opioid epidemic.”
A Minneapolis drug counselor even started an online petition calling for a boycott of Moschino, as well as Nordstrom and Saks, the stores carrying the new line for the mere prices of $1000 (in the case of the purse) or $500 (for the grey sweatshirt).
Randy Anderson writes in his petition:
These accessory items you are choosing to market and sell to the public for profit, which include the Pill Bottle Shoulder Bag and Capsule Crossbody Bag, will most likely promote more drug use. Do you have any idea of the message your company is sending to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one due to a drug overdose? Have you not seen the countless number of media reports on overdose deaths from prescription pain medication, including the rock and roll icon Prince? Do you have no moral responsibility in what type of products your company promotes for public use?[…]I will be sure to tell everyone or anyone I come in contact with that they should not do business with any company that so blatantly promotes drug use and perpetuates the stigma of addiction.
The petition may be well-intentioned, but it reflects the current confusion—and anxiety—about “drugs” themselves, and their role in our world.
Most people probably don’t get addicted to drugs because they’re glamorized by movies or fashion labels. But we don’t exactly know what does cause addition. Is it trauma? Depression, anxiety, sensory issues? Poverty? A lack of a “working-class honor code“? One thing we do know is that humans have used substances to alter their feelings since forever, and that prohibition-based “war on drugs” laws lead to many of the actual deaths and harms that result from that use.
We also know that you can’t exactly “promote drug use” and simultaneously “stigmatize” it, as the petition’s author claims (in the last line, above). And certainly, a high fashion designer’s “pill bottle” purse will do less damage than actually stigmatizing visual tropes, like the new trend of police making public photos and videos of overdosing parents.
And the playful, silly, explicitly capitalist promotional hashtag—”Just say Moschino”—is a lot better than the moralistic, unrealistic “Just say no” campaign it references.
Behind both the petition and the fashion line itself are some important questions: Why are some drugs legal and some aren’t? What’s the difference between a drug and a medicine? Why do some people “get addicted” but others don’t? Why are some people who give out pills and get paid for it called “doctors” and others are called “drug dealers” and sent to jail? If addiction is a “disease,” why do we mandate treatment for it when we don’t do that for cancer, diabetes or other illnesses? And if it’s a disease, why do some people “get better” by simply deciding to stop using drugs, or by getting older, when others don’t? If it’s not a disease, why do some people keep using when they’re in such pain?
Clearly, since the fashion line references a book from the 1960’s, artists making use of “pills” as an edgy trope is nothing new. In fact, it’s almost trite. It’s the kind of faux-edgy kitsch that you might find at Urban Outfitters (which offered, in 2013, such “provocative” items as “prescription pill bottle” shot glasses, flasks, and “syringe” alcohol squirting devices).
You could say such items “promote” drug use…or you could say they call attention to the hypocrisy inherent in the way our society categorizes alcohol and cigarettes, prescription pills, marijuana, illegal narcotics, and coffee, with confusing laws based on an archaic “scheduling” system steeped in racism.
As long as pills—”dolls”—are a part of our world, they’ll be reflected in art (including high fashion). And as long as people can breathe and swallow, they’ll consume substances that alter feelings and perception. So let’s save our outrage for stuff we can actually change.
“Just say Moschino!” Scott told Yahoo News. “I always say, fashion is the only drug I do. It keeps me going… and if my shows can give you that feeling of awe and joy again, that’s my gift. That’s what I’m passing on to you.”