Discovered at 15, Naomi Campbell soon became the first black model to cover both British Vogue and Vogue Paris—as well as one of the elite members of the infamous 1980s supermodel “Trinity.” Her extracurricular activities are equally legendary, from rehab to court-ordered community service. Now, however, those scandals are history, and she’s reaching a whole new generation as mentor-star of modelling competition show The Face. Herewith, Campbell—an unexpectedly kind interview subject—addresses her idiosyncratic life.
Why The Face?
After saying no to television for 12 years, what attracted me was the mentoring. I like that we could share our knowledge with young hopefuls. [As executive producer] I’m able to call up the people I’ve known since I was 16 years old to help me [including Zac Posen and Christian Louboutin]. I wanted this show to be as authentic as possible to what New York life in the fashion business is like.
Did you really like being on reality television?
I like to stay private so it was scary to expose myself. Every Tuesday, I clench my teeth and think, “Oh my God, it’s coming on tonight.”
Who mentored you when you started?
Gianni Versace, YSL, Marc Jacobs, Steven Meisel, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista. Ann Wintour—I was on the cover of her first September issue, which is a big deal for her. I am very grateful to them to this day.
What was it like to break fashion’s colour barriers?
Honestly, at the time I didn’t have time to think about it. I’ve come to learn that it was important, but I’m not happy when I hear the statistics. For instance, at the [Fall 2013 shows], only six percent of models were of colour. It’s very disappointing. Was it really worth it for me? I’m speaking about it now because it shouldn’t be kept quiet anymore. I have a responsibility when models of colour reach out to me and tell me how they feel. Everything else is changing, why can’t this change too?
During the supermodel era, when you were working with Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford, did it feel like you were part of something big?
No, it felt great to be together and work together [but] we had no idea what the outcome would be. We were just going from one job to the next. Friends, first and foremost, we would see each other outside of work as well. I am blessed to be part of that group of wonderful women.
Is modelling creative for you?
Marc, John Galliano—whatever they do I love. But when I started with Azzedine Alaïa, Johnny and Karl Lagerfeld, they would ask me, “Do you like this on you?” They wanted my input. Still, when I go to Paris I still stay with Azzedine. It’s amazing watching how he still cuts everything himself. He’s a genius.
Good in a Crisis
“During Hurricane Katrina, I was horrified that people didn’t have anywhere to go,” says Naomi Campbell of the inspiration behind Fashion for Relief, her fast-moving charity that stages star-studded runway shows and auctions to raise funds for recent humanitarian disasters. “We put a show together in seven days.” Since then, the charity has also created events in support of victims of the Haitian earthquake (2010), the Mumbai terrorist attacks (2011) and Hurricane Sandy (2012), among others.