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Kate Moss, Model Of The Year?

Supermodel Kate Moss, at the center of a cocaine scandal just over a year ago, won the top accolade in British fashion at a ceremony Thursday night, but the award has stirred fresh controversy.

The Model of the Year prize, awarded Thursday night at the British Fashion Awards, sealed Moss's recovery from a newspaper story that briefly threatened her career. Moss, 32, was up against Erin O'Connor and Alek Wek for the award.

Moss did not attend the glitzy event at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Designer Vivienne Westwood accepted the prize for her, a spokeswoman for the British Fashion Council said. "There was a massive cheer and Westwood went up on stage to accept it on her behalf," she said. "Kate wasn't here unfortunately. She couldn't make it."

Before the awards ceremony, Hilary Riva, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said Moss "is currently in 14 ad campaigns and is one of the most prolific models in Britain, if not the world, and has been for the majority of her 15-year modeling career."

Moss lost contracts with H&M, Chanel, Gloria Vanderbilt and Burberry after the Daily Mirror newspaper published photos last year of her allegedly using cocaine at a music studio where her boyfriend, Pete Doherty, was recording.

2After the pictures were published, Moss publicly apologized and went to a drug rehabilitation clinic in Arizona. Prosecutors decided in June there was insufficient evidence to charge her. Since then, she has made a comeback, appearing frequently in fashion magazines and winning back contracts.

Still, some say giving an award to someone whose career has been marked by drug allegations sets a bad example.

"To me it's baffling ...," said Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, speaking in Britain this week during an anti-drug campaign.

"Model of the Year" is an industry accolade for the British model who has contributed the most to the international fashion scene over the last year. Leading press, buyers and industry figures choose the winner from a shortlist compiled by British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman and a committee.

"She's the kind of survivor we all want to be," said Jeremy Baker, a fashion expert at London Metropolitan University, of Moss. "The paradox is that since this time last year the scandal made her a lot better off."

Since the cocaine allegations, Moss has won more than a dozen contracts with companies such as Bulgari, Christian Dior, Rimmel cosmetics and perfume Coco Mademoiselle. She has also signed deals with cell phone brand Virgin Mobile and French luxury label Longchamp. Topshop also recruited her to create a new clothing and accessories line that will be launched next spring.

George Ruston, director of Hope U.K., a drug education charity, said the companies paying Moss and the council nominating her contribute to glorifying drug use.

"They're making decisions to reward the behavior," Ruston said. "I really don't think people should be making personal gain out of stuff that is causing lots of problems in the world. I think the responsibility partly lies with the people who are funding, using Kate Moss' notoriety for their own economic purposes."

Fellow models and celebrities have defended Moss, pointing to her commercial success and her willingness to apologize for her behavior.

"I think it's a bad reflection on the world of fashion," said Jane Ennis, editor of celebrity magazine Now. "The fact that she has become an even bigger icon since getting into all this trouble is fantastically decadent. Sometimes commercial interests should be set aside to look at the wider picture."