The words “pioneer,” “icon,” and “legend” seem to be thrown around haphazardly nowadays. But, when describing Naomi Campbell, each word rings 100% true. She was a part of the massively famous clique of supermodels from the ’80s and ’90s and has broken numerous racial barriers as the first black model on the covers of French Vogue (at the age of 18) and British Vogue, as well as the first black model to cover Time. Campbell has dominated fashion magazines and runways in an industry accused to this day of favoring white models for over 27 years now and is still in just as much demand as ever. British born, internationally renowned, and famously outspoken, the incomparable Naomi Campbell is just simply one of a kind.
Life + Times spoke to the age-defying and timeless beauty about her TV show The Face, her legendary career, racism in the fashion industry, and the iconic supermodel era.
Life+Times: The Face UK was a great success and that was arguably down to the fact that the public finally got to see Naomi Campbell’s famous larger than life personality. How did you find watching yourself ?
Naomi Campbell: I find that I’m being myself. I’m not playing for the camera and all I care about is my girls getting the most out of me as possible as their mentor with the limited time that we have with them. That’s me. When it comes to work and being able to share knowledge of something that I know, I want them to get everything they can and I want them to succeed in their careers. I want to be proud of them. I am proud of them. I wouldn’t act any different if the camera was off. For me it’s a reality show but there’s a very thin line between reality and “reality” for me.
L+T: So you feel it’s an accurate portrayal of your personality that people are seeing?
NC: Yes, they’re seeing me! I mean, they haven’t seen me like that because I’m a model. They see me do interviews here and there, but this is a side of me that they’ve never seen and whenever I commit to something, I do it with 110 percent full conviction and I try to do it the best I can. I want the girls to have the best of me. I do love them and I do pamper them. I just want them to get it and to do well. The bigger picture is I want them to go out into the world of modeling with the knowledge I’ve given them and use it and succeed.
L+T: Who would you personally consider your mentors or close friends in the industry that you go to for advice?
NC: I have people that I’ve known for many years; designers, photographers. I didn’t really have a mentor, but I guess it would be my mother. If there was a show like The Face around when I started modeling, I’m sure I would have loved to have wanted to enter. But for me, the way I was discovered wasn’t planned, so it’s something that came around in a very unusual way. I mainly speak to the people I’ve known since I was 16 years old; people I trust, those are the people that I go to for advice and criticism.
L+T: You’re a muse and inspiration to many but do you have any muses or inspirations you draw from creatively?
NC: Not really. It’s rather difficult for me to answer. It depends what realm you’re talking about. I don’t really have any muses, no but there are people that I look up and respect and admire. I’ve always loved Josephine Baker, Daniela Luna, Iman, Naomi Sims. I never really thought about muses because I didn’t plan to be a model. But as I’ve grown up in this business these are people I’ve looked up to. Lauren Hutton, Marisa Berenson…
L+T: A lot of people widely consider the likes of you, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss as the last real era of supermodels. Are you trying to bring that back with The Face?
NC: No, the show’s not about making me, it’s not about me. I’ve got my career. The show is to help young aspiring models understand the true authentic way of how the business goes. And that’s why when I became an executive producer and became a part of this with Shine Productions and Princess Productions in London, my main concern before making a commitment to come on board was that it would be authentic. It’ll involve people that I’ve known and worked with since I was 16 years old, we will be at a certain high level and has a great prize that will have the winner working immediately when the general public will see her and say, “Wow, that’s the girl that won The Face!” I wanted to make sure the girl starts working immediately because, besides Simon Cowell’s shows, those are the things I don’t see. I don’t watch other modeling shows but I kept hearing the same complaint from the public. “Yes, but what happened to her? We never saw her! What happened to her after she won?” I was very adamant to say that wasn’t something I wanted to have on this show, and as an executive producer we have managed and tried very hard not to do and hope to continue not to do.
L+T: But do you feel the era of the supermodel is over?
NC: It’s not over because all of us are working. Cindy [Crawford], Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Stephanie [Seymour], Kate [Moss], Claudia [Schiffer]; we’re all working and doing different things all centered around fashion in some way. We still do shoots and magazine covers and when we all work together; it’s like a big reunion. I do feel it won’t happen again because it’s not the same relationship that models have with designers and photographers; it’s just not the same. There are so many people now in between and at that time, it was a special moment, because designers and photographers really supported us and we had a really close relationship with them. So if you’re asking if you’re going to get that group of women together again coming up together, it hasn’t happened so far has it? You just get one Giselle [Bundchen], or one of this one or one of that one. You’re not getting a group of women coming up together who are friends, real friends and supporting each other.
L+T: The likes of Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn seem to be helping bring that feeling back. They seem to have a great camaraderie. The press have even compared them to you and Kate…
NC: They’re friends and that’s wonderful! I love Jourdan like a little sister. I love her because she’s a risk taker and she’s a wonderful model. I won’t say for what but there were certain things that I was up for and it was a sort of “Best of the British” and she wasn’t on it and I was like, “Excuse me? If she’s not on it, I’m not doing it!” For me, it’s great that Jourdan and Cara are friends, but that’s just two. It’s not a group of women where there were six or seven of us. People say five, but they forget Tatjana [Patitz], people forget Stephanie [Seymour]. There were more than five of us – it wasn’t just the British Vogue cover. There were more than five of us, there just happened to be five of us on that cover. I don’t know if that’s going to happen again but it warms my heart to see Cara and Jourdan’s friendship, because you need to be supportive of each other, you need each other in this business. You need to be able to bounce things off each other; no one knows how it goes more than the two of you, using Cara and Jourdan as an example, you can help each other with mental and moral support. But I don’t read the press and to me Cara is Cara, Jourdan is Jourdan. I’ve never read that Cara and Jourdan are the new Kate and Naomi and I don’t believe that. Everyone is who they are; they’re an individual and everyone has a different persona. I don’t believe in people replacing anyone else.
L+T: It’s amazing to see that you and Kate and all the models of that era are still close friends. Do you all keep in touch a lot?
NC: Absolutely! Kate is like my little sister, even though there’s only a few years between us, I look at her like a little sister and always will. We’re all real friends. It’s not just about the work, we’re friends. We like to have dinner together, we like to have tea together and we like to go to away together. We’re friends and friendships shouldn’t have to be all about work. When we do work together, we’re very happy. We come in and complement each other and we’re very supportive of each other. That’s how I’ve always been and that’s how it always will be. Everyone has their paths, I’ve never been jealous of my girls or my group of girls and what they’ve achieved and I’m happy for each and every one of them. I believe we all have different things to do as well as modeling. I’m very supportive of Kate and what she does with Topshop and Phillip Green, I think it’s fantastic that the masses can get a piece of Kate Moss. I think it’s wonderful!
L+T: You are easily one of the most ground-breaking and iconic supermodels, but sometimes it seems people focus on negative incidents from your past rather than your legendary career. Do you ever feel misunderstood?
NC: What people think about me is their business and not mine. I just need to wake up with a new day, thank God that I’ve woken up and move forward with my day. I stay in the day, try to stay positive, I want to focus on my work and whatever my commitments are to my loved ones who are around at the time and that’s really it. I really want to keep it simple so I don’t focus on the negative. I don’t want to go back and rehash things. It’s not who I am today and it’s not who I want to be.
L+T: How would your friends describe you?
NC: All my friends describe me as very honest, loyal, and very generous.
L+T: Would you ever consider writing a tell-all book or writing a movie about your life?
NC: I don’t know. Unless I was a producer of it or part of it, I wouldn’t want it, no. I don’t think anyone really knows who I really am. You’re getting a taste of who I am by watching The Face but unless it was something I was involved in where I would be completely honest. I think things like that can be very therapeutic, but I don’t think anyone could ever get it right. I haven’t really thought about it though. I have a lot on my plate at the moment. I’m currently doing The Face in Australia then we have to start planning again for launching in America for season two so right now I’m just in The Face world. I’m also trying to think of girls I want to put up as mentors and executive producers in non-English speaking countries. As other countries buy the show I need to think of who I want those girls to be. It’s a big commitment I’ve taken on and I realise that. I didn’t know it would grow this quickly, but it’s something I want to make sure I do again. I want to give 110% and make sure it’s done the right way. TV people don’t know fashion and fashion people don’t know TV so I want to make sure they get the right girls in each country that wants to do The Face.
L+T: Are you enjoying doing TV?
NC: I am! I’m learning new things and I’m enjoying it. It’s completely different and the hours are different but I’m enjoying it very much. I’m learning as I go along and it’s fun!
L+T: You have created some of the most iconic pictures in fashion. What are some of your favorite pictures or moments in your career?
NC: I have a fashion book coming in early 2014 and I think that will explain it all. I have two fashion books coming, in fact. I think both will be a testament to my pictures and whom I worked with and whom I respect and honor, so that’ll be like a timeline into my career. The second one will also be a timeline into my career but with me having written down quotes and some words to accompany the photos. That’s probably the best way for me to answer that question. It will be a great celebration of my work.
L+T: You recently spoke out about racism in the fashion industry, particularly in casting for runway shows. Have you seen positive feedback since? Have any designers reached out to you?
NC: We’ve gotten some great feedback where they’re open to discussion and wanting to sit down, understand and wanting to know, so that’s always positive. This was always about being open to discussion; it was never about accusing. It was just about creating awareness and saying, “Let’s sit down, sort this out and see where we can go and if we can make an improvement.” It was never about calling anyone racist; it was simply saying it’s coming across as a racist act. “Do you want to correct this?” That’s it.
L+T: Joan Smalls is ranked as the number one female model on models.com which is brilliant, but then there are only three black models in the entire top 50. Do you feel like it is always one step forward and one step backwards and it’s an on-going battle?
NC: Yes, it is exactly like an on-going battle and maybe I should have spoken up sooner, but we’re speaking up now. I don’t want to think I’ve put 27 years in this business and we’re going backwards. It’s just heart-breaking.
L+T: So finally what can we find on Miss Naomi Campbell’s iPod?
NC: I’ve been listening to Magna Carta… Holy Grail a lot actually; I went to see JAY Z in Paris last month. I’m very much looking forward to the new U2 album. Bob Marley is always on my iPod and forever will be. I like deep house; I got to Ibiza every summer. I think dancing is very therapeutic and I love to dance.