For Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating the breakups that shaped us, in all their messy glory. Because love is just as much about heartbreak as it is about romance. Read all the stories from our Love Bites series here.
The year is 1994. Jim Carrey vehicle Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is storming the US box office. Mariah Carey's Music Box is number one in the Billboard 100. And Kate Moss and Johnny Depp—the world’s hottest supermodel and actor, respectively—are about to meet at New York’s Cafe Tabac, and fall in love.
Truly, did ever two people of such facial symmetry meet—and bone—before Depp and Moss? Moss, then 20, was an ethereal blond supermodel on the cusp of stardom, about to become the face of Calvin Klein and appear on runways for Prada and Vivienne Westwood. Depp, then 31, was an as-yet unproblematic actor notable for being very good-looking and wearing earrings. From the moment the pair were first shot, hand-in-hand in public wearing matching leather jackets, that was it: Their fate as the most photogenic couple of the 1990s was sealed.
Depp and Moss broke up in 1998 after four years of dating and a brief engagement. Depp began a new relationship with singer Vanessa Paradis, which lasted for 14 years, before marrying actress Amber Heard in 2015. Moss also moved on, having a child with magazine publisher Jefferson Hack before marrying and divorcing musician Jamie Hince.
But there are still people out there who refuse to let the Moss and Depp days go—a fact that is both remarkable and somewhat jarring, given the allegations of abuse that have dogged Depp in recent years. In May 2016, Heard filed for divorce, stating Depp assaulted her by hurling a mobile phone at her. Heard later released photographs showing bruising on her face. In August 2016, the pair settled their domestic abuse case, with Heard donating the proceeds of her settlement to a domestic violence charity. (Depp has always denied the abuse.)
Despite the abuse allegations against Depp, his relationship with Moss is still gushed over online, with intimate old shots—mostly taken by paparazzi—regularly popping up on 90s-themed Tumblrs, Twitter accounts, and Pinterest boards. There are even accounts dedicated solely to Moss and Depp nostalgia, the most popular being @kateandjohnny on Instagram, which has over 6,000 followers. What drives this affection for a 90s supermodel and a man who has been accused of domestic abuse? Nostalgia, mostly.
When they were together, Depp and Moss appeared on red carpets, newspaper front-pages and even, extremely awkwardly, on British morning TV show The Big Breakfast (at one point, Depp is asked by presenter Gaby Roslin what it’s like being really good-looking, only for him to reply, “I don’t know anything about that stuff”). Still, there are only a limited amount of photos of the pair in circulation. Many fan accounts just re-share the same images, over and over. Some of them are familiar, like the most famous shot of an unkempt Depp lying across a naked Moss—an image which has been hailed by fans as “the picture of the century.” Others are more obscure, like this blurred photo of them carrying a plastic bag of groceries.
“They were very good looking, and such a power couple,” says 17-year-old Linn Tolgraven, who owns one of the hundreds of “Johnny and Kate” themed boards on Pinterest. “She’s the most famous model of all time, and he’s a cool and gloomy lad. He has this aura around him that is unforgettable. So does Kate Moss—she will always be iconic.”
The word “iconic” is often used to describe the pair in accompanying hashtags and comments. But what exactly is it that makes them so iconic? And why, over 20 years later, does anyone still care? Is it the extraterrestrial cheekbones? The time Depp presented Moss with a diamond necklace between his buttcheeks? The rumor that they once spent $1,000 on a bathtub full of champagne? And, importantly: Do these fans care that Depp has been accused of domestic abuse?
“They were a high-profile couple, and were reported on as being very passionate,” says Anna Blanchard, who often posts pictures of the pair on her 90sClubKid Tumblr account. “I think people relate them to being reckless, having fun, and falling in love. I think they represent being young and in love.” I ask Sheridan Tonkes, 20, who runs a popular 90s nostalgia account on Instagram, about the abuse allegations, but she dismisses them easily. "No one, especially celebrity's relationships are picture-perfect," she says. For her, stanning Depp and Moss' ultimately doomed relationship is an uncomplicated pleasure. "I think nostalgia is very healthy, as long as you can accept that the past is the past.”
But beneath all the sultry pouts and tousled hair lay a romance that was, ultimately, rumored to be quite dysfunctional—and probably not worth much celebration. The relationship was accused of being “volatile,” “tumultuous” and drug-addled in the press, with stories circling about Depp’s temper tantrums and affinity for trashing hotels. In September 1994, Depp was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, fined nearly $10,000, and kept in a holding cell after a fight with Moss. It's an incident that takes on a darker hue given that Heard alleged Depp assaulted her after an alcohol-fueled row. In a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair, Moss described the breakup as a “nightmare” that led to “years and years of crying.”
“There aren’t many celebrity couples who are not trying to be mainstream and to please the majority,” justifies Depp and Moss fan Alex White, 45, who runs Twitter’s much-loved nostalgia account, History Lovers Club. “The love story of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss was absolutely true, genuine, and desperate. They didn’t care what anyone else thought about them and how their public behaviour could affect their careers. People always value the sincerity of stars.”
For Dr. Neil Ewen, a professor in Media and Communication, our fascination with celebrity couples is much less about reality then it is about our own projections. Moss and Depp may have had a less-than-perfect relationship—but the people celebrating them today aren’t concerned by that.
“We are going through a period right now where we're being positively encouraged to love, or at least identify, with the 1990s (and by extension, Generation X),” he tells me over email. “People are disorientated in the present and a return to the 1990s feels comfortable. It was the point in history immediately before the anxiety that became the defining issue of the present era, arising from the so-called ‘War on Terror,’ the 2008 financial crisis, precariousness, debt, and social media."
“We also live in a world where coupledom is constantly encouraged and held up as an ideal," he goes on, "so celebrity couples—good looking, rich, and glamorous couples, especially—are given a lot of media attention. They offer us fantasies of companionship, wealthy lifestyles, freedom from the drudgery of everyday life.”
For Depp and Moss stans, their relationship represents the high-water mark of a simpler, less stressful time. They straddle the intersection between celebrity idolism and 90s sentimentalism, adds Ewen, offering “a mixture of nostalgia, glamour, and comfort for a lifestyle and a point in history, that are unattainable and lost forever.”
Scrolling through the images, this feels apt. Before the excess and the drugs and the rock ’n’ roll, these images show Depp and Moss at the start of their careers: Bright-eyed, fresh-faced, and immaculately chiseled. The photos act as a bittersweet reminder that time will come for all of us—and that, once upon a time, it was OK to think Johnny Depp was hot.