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Happy Birthday Naomi Campbell! Here’s an Interview with the Supermodel from Our November 2000 Issue

"My whole life has been based on challenge."

Since its launch in 1977, FASHION magazine has been giving Canadian readers in-depth reports on the industry’s most influential figures and expert takes on the worlds of fashion, beauty and style. In this series, we explore the depths of our archive to bring you some of the best fashion features we’ve ever published. This story, originally titled “Naomi Campbell’s Second Career” by Tim Blanks was originally published in FASHION’s November 2000 issue.

 

Naomi Campbell’s efforts to get a life after super modelling have exposed her to ridicule in the past. (Does anyone remember that novel?) But with her new self-titled fragrance (in collaboration with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics), she is right where she belongs—in the thick of the beauty business. This time the fit is right, and it shows in the sales so far in Japan, Australia and Germany.

On the eve of its North American launch, an entire floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan has been turned over to the Naomi machine. One room alone is filled with racks of Alaïa dresses and enough Fendi baguettes to satisfy the appetite of the most ravenous fashion fiend. Although she will keep Barbara Walters waiting for over an hour later in the day, Naomi is in distinctly un-diva-like form. Maybe it’s the break she has just enjoyed chez Evangelista in the South of France.

TIM BLANKS: You mentioned Linda looking back on her years in the business and not missing it all.

NAOMI CAMPBELL: No, she doesn’t miss it, but she does miss her friends. Linda is a part of my life. She helped me in my career so much. She’d say to designers like Dolce & Gabbana, “Have you ever seen Naomi Campbell walk? You’ve never put a black girl in your show, you must take her.” And they’d listen to Linda. We used to help each other, and I feel that’s what is missing from modelling today. The camaraderie is not the same as it was for my group of girls. It was a very special time and I will always have fond memories.

You have been very opinionated about the fashion business. Do you think it’s still racist?

Well, I haven’t seen a black model on the cover of a magazine in North America in the last year and a half. We see all races in music and in dance and in theatre, so why don’t we see them in fashion?

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone’s even realized.

Do you think fashion has been hard for you?

My whole life has been based on challenge. I have a fighter’s instinct in that way, because I like to prove things that they say are impossible to do. I think that is what has kept me going in the industry. I also love what I do and when those challenges work out my way, I feel very triumphant, not just for me but for my whole race.

I recently read that you’re no longer interested in the term Supermodel. These days, you want to be thought of as a working model.

Working model I like, because when you’re working for yourself, it’s such an exhilarating feeling. I’m really happy now that I didn’t get contracted to a big company before, because I’ve realized that if I put my face to someone else’s product, this might not have worked out for me. Once you put your face to someone else’s brand, people associate you with that brand for the rest of your life. Having this type of contract with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics is like I’m working for myself at the same time.

I notice you’re wearing Azzedine Alaïa today. It seems his time has come again.

There’s no one like him, no one in the world. Gianni used to only invite one designer to his show and that was Azzedine. He’s so honest with me. I call him Papa. I mean, this man took care of me and protected me from when I was 16. I lived with him for four years—I have my room still in his house—and I think he protected me from what can happen on the other side of the street.

Does he discipline you?

Oh God, yeah. He tells me when he’s mad and why he’s mad.

There can’t be many men who can do that.

Yes there are, and those are the men who I think are right for me, because I don’t like men who I can walk all over. That doesn’t work for me.

That’s your challenge to the world?

I guess so. I like the man to wear the pants. That’s what he’s supposed to wear and I like him wearing them and not me.