The world has been attempting to describe her for three decades.
The supermodel and campaigner, though, would rather handle things on her own terms.
Naomi Campbell’s origin story plays a significant role in the mythos around her as a supermodel, activist, fashion star, and occasionally hothead.
I’ll reiterate what you likely already know: Campbell, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from the relatively nondescript streets of London’s Streatham area, was discovered by a model scout while window-shopping in the city’s West End.
It’s a very different narrative from how today’s most successful models appear to be found either via Instagram scouting or being thrust to the head of the line because of their well-known parents.
Together with Kate Moss, another ’90s icon (and close friend), Campbell is to blame for inspiring a generation of British teenage girls to try their hardest to appear “modely” as we browsed the expansive Topshop on Oxford Street in the hopes that we too might be “spotted” while out on a Saturday afternoon.
Campbell’s background gives the impression that a fortuitous encounter is what altered the course of her life as if hers is some type of “right place, right time” Cinderella tale. Then, however, as you’re seated next to her in a hotel suite in a secretive part of Europe, you realize that with a face like hers—those imposing cheekbones reaching upward as though in homage to the celestial entities that must have played a role—there must have been some sort of celestial influence.
Naomi Campbell was destined to become renowned because of how they were made and those full, proportionate lips.
“I’ve been requested to write a book by virtually everyone,” she tells me, sinking into a sofa.
The thought of a Campbell memoir is tantalizing one wonders what her perspective of the countless tabloid headlines that have been published about her would be but so far she’s held off. “It’s time-consuming,” she argues, and anyhow, she doesn’t want to use a ghostwriter. She prefers to tell her own story.
Campbell epitomizes Old Hollywood; she exudes the confidence of someone who has experienced pre-2000 stardom, or legitimate popularity.
She does not engage in the calculated humility or relatability politics that seem to be the norm among today’s rising stars. She constantly mentions the incredibly well-known celebrities and fashion designers she counts among her close pals, and her Instagram is covered in glitz and jet-setting.
She has managed to hang on to her position as the hot spot of fashion for more than three decades, and she will go down in the annals of the business. So of course I agree to quit everything the day after Christmas and board a plane in exchange for just one hour of her time.
Despite her haughtiness, Campbell can also be extremely girlish at times, such as when we sneak outside to her hotel room’s terrace so she may smoke a cigarette. She tells me in a slightly conspiratorial manner, “I’m going to resign on New Year’s Eve.”
Her recent travels included flights from Milan to Miami, Miami to London, London to Egypt (where she sat front row at a Dior menswear show), back to London for the British Fashion Awards, and then on to the Senegalese city of Dakar to see Chanel’s first-ever catwalk show in sub-Saharan Africa.
Saudi Arabia then travels to London. from London to New York. Get back to London.
She will soon travel to the Middle East once again before returning to Senegal for a vacation.
She still puts forth a lot of effort, I wonder why. Most of her countrymen had long since retired, occasionally resurfacing for a legacy campaign but, for the most part, appearing glad to slow down. Campbell, in comparison, is still as booked and active as she was during her heyday in the 1990s; just this past year, she fronted advertisements for Balmain, Hugo Boss, and Pat McGrath Labs. What possible new peaks could she possibly climb?
“I just like what I do,” Campbell claims. “I consider myself fortunate to have the freedom to decide what I do at this stage in my life. And it’s a blessing that I still have access to so many wonderful chances. Why not then?
She goes on to say, “I have nothing to prove. I enjoy doing it, so. Although my work is challenging, I enjoy it.
The fact that you enjoy what you do is crucial. I still find enjoyment in what I do.
For quite some time, that effort has not only involved modeling.
Now, a large portion of Campbell’s time is devoted to activism, philanthropy, and cultural ambassadorship, frequently through Fashion for Relief, the nonprofit organization she established in 2005 to support Hurricane Katrina victims and which has since raised more than $15 million charitable causes around the world.
She introduced Emerge in October with a star-studded gala and fashion show in Qatar, an effort aimed at finding and nurturing the following generation of creative talent from emerging communities around the world. In layman’s words, that refers to internships, coaching, and skill development in the creative industries, which include tech, art, entertainment, and fashion in addition to fashion.
The number of young models Campbell has taken under her wing is another indication of her commitment to supporting the next generation of fashion creatives.
Adut Akech, a doll-faced 23-year-old model from South Sudan who is currently one of the most in-demand faces in the business, is one of those people.
This is large because of Campbell’s backing for her career.
“You know how a mother takes care of her child? I always feel comfortable when I’m around her,” adds Akech. “She’s like a comforter. I feel like I have another mother figure who is raising me even though I’m so far away from my original mother. On the set of Tim Walker’s Alice in Wonderland-themed Pirelli Calendar photo shoot, which famously included an all-Black ensemble, Akech first met Campbell in 2017. That was a “fangirl moment,” according to Akech, “but I was like, ‘Don’t be strange.’ ” A few months later, when she moved to New York City by herself, she contacted Campbell because she had given her phone number. She treats me the same way she would treat her own daughter, says Akech
“She always makes sure I get into my car safely whenever I hang out with her. As soon as you get home, text me. If I don’t SMS her, she won’t go to sleep.
Mothering can be done in a variety of ways. When I bring up the subject, Campbell replies, “I mother a lot of people. She claims that her desire to be one has always been clear. “Always.”
Campbell announced the birth of her daughter in May 2021. It didn’t matter when she claims. “Everyone’s life develops in a unique way. And it’s about who, and it’s a crucial question because you need to be certain that you’re doing that with the appropriate person.
For the rest of your life, you are linked. She takes a momentary pause that seems to last much longer. “For that reason, I decided to go it alone.”
Yet starting out as a single parent at 50 is a big commitment. Was she not afraid of the possibility?
In no way?
“No, no.” After some time, she changes her mind. “Yes, I suppose I might be anxious in the sense of wondering if I’m doing everything correctly. Yet, you follow the flow.
The actress Cameron Diaz (or “Cammie,” as Campbell calls her), who Campbell now consults for parenting guidance, was one of the few individuals Campbell told about her plans to have a kid.
She’s someone I’ve known for a very long time, and I genuinely respect and love her. When I told her, she just said, “Alright,” She’s just a solid, trustworthy friend.
Nevertheless, Campbell is hesitant to talk much about parenting because she doesn’t want it to become the focal point of her public persona—a sentiment that many women who become mothers would understand.
The sun is starting to set while we are still outside on the terrace, where we have moved permanently from the hotel room. It is an impossibly lovely scene, perched high on a hill and looking down at the dazzling lights of a nearby town. In light of this, Campbell relaxes.
Though Campbell frequently describes herself as a “global citizen,” it is obvious that this is the region of the world that genuinely has captured her heart. In the coming days, she will travel to Senegal for a holiday. “I immediately sense the absence of racism as soon as I land in Africa. So that’s a big tick off the box,” she says, noting the psychological weight that is lifted when one can simply blend in with their skin folk and not have to worry about the possibility of a racial microaggression (as much as someone as famous as her can ever truly blend in).
Campbell speaks wistfully of Kenya, her home country, and its breathtaking natural beauty.
She talks eloquently about Senegalese dishes like thieboudienne and yassa as she says, “I’m just happy that people are finally understanding how beautiful the African continent is.
(Sensing a chance, I attempt to prod her into choosing a side in the “jollof wars,” a jocular competition between diasporic Ghanaians and Nigerians over which country makes the best jollof rice, but she politely avoids my attempts to coax her to join Team Nigeria.
I won’t be participating.
Content courtesy of Bazaar & NFH