Naomi Campbell is the only black member of the select group of models who were directly responsible for the term “supermodel” being developed. Her career spans decades thanks to her enduring editorial and campaign work. She is also credited as being a forerunner for black models.
Campbell, who was born in the Brixton neighborhood of South London, attended the Italia Conti Academy stage school and starred in music videos for Bob Marley and Culture Club before joining the Synchro modeling agency at the age of 15. Her career took off immediately. Just before her 16th birthday, Campbell fortuitously appeared on the cover of British Elle, following another model dropping out at the last minute.
In August of 1988, she became the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue, supposedly after her friend and mentor Yves Saint Laurent threatened to pull his advertising from the magazine if it continued to refuse to place black women on its cover. The following year, she graced the cover of American Vogue for the first time, marking the first time a black model had graced the cover of the September issue, which is traditionally the year’s most important issue.
Despite the industry’s prejudices, Campbell has a long list of commercials in which she has appeared, including Versace, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, and Louis Vuitton. Campbell was also named the new face of Yves Saint Laurent. Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Richard Avedon, Ellen von Unwerth, and Helmut Newton have all photographed the model for editorial sessions. She signed her first cosmetics contract with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, a Wella branch, in 1999, and launched many scents with them. In November of that year, she posed with 12 other top models for Annie Leibovitz’s “Modern Muses” cover of American Vogue’s millennium edition. She was on the cover of Playboy the following month.
I recall being recognized on the street. I was hanging out with my pals after school on a warm April afternoon. Our Italia Conti outfits consisted of a pale blue dogtooth kilt, a dark blue V-neck sweater, shirt, blazer, and tie for the three of us. We were also supposed to wear straw boaters, but we never did. A woman approached me and asked whether I’d ever considered modeling. Beth Boldt, the Synchro agency’s director, answered the phone. My initial feeling was one of surprise and delight. When I told my mother, though, she was completely opposed to the notion. We’d all heard terrible stories about girls being contacted and paying exorbitant fees to have their photos taken.I was hired for my first big assignment abroad with British Elle three months after signing with Synchro. We flew to New Orleans and filmed two stories: one on the beach in Pensacola with me and another model (who was sent home because she was a brat), and one on the prairie-style outfits with me and another model (who was sent home because she was a brat). When I returned to London, I was approached by American agents, and four or five of them flew over to meet me.
Because I never had a father figure, I believe I look for those paternal qualities in the individuals I respect and adore, such as Island Records’ Chris Blackwell and Quincy Jones. (Quincy’s children refer to me as his seventh daughter and treat me as if I were a sibling.) Azzedine, whom I refer to as “Papa,” is in the same boat. He refers to me as “Ma fille.” Three months later, I was featured on the cover of French Vogue, which was even more significant. I’d already shot a lot for French Vogue and been told – not in a harsh way – that a cover wasn’t going to happen. I had no idea that a black model had never graced the cover. Demarchelier shot it in a studio in New York in the end. I didn’t care for the cover, but when the August 1988 issue arrived, it created a big splash: a black model on the cover of French Vogue! I’m glad I didn’t realize I was making history till later. Otherwise, I would have been under a great deal of stress.
After his final Atelier Versace show, I saw Gianni for the last time at a dinner at the Ritz in Paris. We were discussing Mike Tyson, who had just bitten Evander Holyfield’s ear off in the ring a few days before, and Gianni said he knew why, which I thought was hilarious. Mike Tyson was a favorite of Gianni’s. He was a sucker for underdogs. In Milan, a memorial service was held at the cathedral. Among the attendees was Princess Diana. I had met her before, and I had even paid her a visit at Kensington Palace. (After the memorial, we returned to Gianni’s house, where she was quite soothing.) “Gianni adored you,” she explained. That is something you must always keep in mind.
Linda Evangelista and I met at a concert in Paris. I recall seeing her from across the room, her long hair framing those stunning eyes. She was always the most maternal of our group of friends. Linda and Christy were gracious enough to speak up for me. They informed certain designers that if they wanted to hire them, they had to book me as well. That level of support was unprecedented. People dubbed us “The Trinity” since we were true pals. A snapshot of the three of us lying in a bathtub captures that spirit well. Roxanne Lowit snapped it after a Versace presentation. I first met Barack and Michelle Obama in 2005 at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball. Michelle came across as knowledgeable and hospitable, while Barack was motivating and appealing. She claimed to have been a long-time follower of Azzedine Alaa and had followed my work for years. I recall the uproar when she showed out to an occasion dressed in Alaa, despite the fact that she wasn’t wearing an American label. Michelle was defended by me by stating that Azzedine had always used models of color, so why shouldn’t she wear his clothes? One American designer loudly chastised her, and I recall thinking to myself, “When did he ever put a lady of color in one of his campaigns?” Besides, she looks great in Alaa.
Campbell launched the charity Fashion for Relief in 2005, which has hosted fund-raising fashion shows to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the terrorist strikes in India in 2009, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and the earthquake in Japan in 2011. According to reports, Fashion for Relief raised £4.5 million. Campbell is also a breast cancer fundraiser and the founder of a foundation in Brazil that fights poverty. She’s also given money to Nelson Mandela’s political party, the ANC, which she considers her “honorary grandfather. “In May 2021, Naomi revealed her pregnancy on Instagram, with a photo of her daughter’s exquisite, delectably little feet in the palm of her manicured hand. The circumstances surrounding her arrival are unknown. When questioned for more information, she just says, “She wasn’t adopted — she’s my child.” She’ll save the rest of the specifics for her book, which she hasn’t started yet. She has also chosen to keep her daughter’s identity a secret. In fact, just a few people were aware of her plans to start a family.