The legendary Naomi Campbell continues her stylish reign
The legendary Naomi Campbell – in Singapore for a quick 24 hours – has transformed herself from model to mentor; party-goer to executive producer. And yet she still works the camera like a seasoned pro and shows what great basics such as a leather jacket, a bodysuit, and a sculptured dress can do for any woman of any age. Styled by Kenneth Goh. Photographed by Gan.
The suite is warmer and more humid than the rest of the hotel where Naomi’s staying – she’s in Singapore to walk for Digital Fashion Week. Her back faces me and her legs are propped atop the desk while her personal entourage works on her hair and make-up. For a few seconds, that’s all I see – her endless legs. I take the chair next to Naomi and she looks up and smiles warmly. But she is distracted, with her BlackBerry in her hands and her iPhone on her lap. Naomi’s stunning face and firm body, loosely clad in a colourful sundress, are in full view. And yes, those legs. Naomi is all legs. Looking at her, you realise why the 43-year-old is still soughtafter even after 27 years in the fickle fashion industry.
Before I ask a question, Naomi reels off a list of requests to her PR team and hairstylist: “Can I get a small pillow for my back?” “Is this the hair that BAZAAR wants? Let’s just go right into the hair they want so we don’t waste time. Can you get me a cup of hot chamomile tea? Make sure it has honey in it.”
What comes across as strong to some can also be perceived as decisiveness by others. “When I’m committed to something,” Naomi says about her latest project The Face, “I’m in. I’m fully in. And I make decisions quickly and firmly.” The original supermodel is the executive producer, star, and mentor of the new reality TV show that sets out to help young models become successful in their careers. “What’s great about being part of The Face are the different people you get to meet and the different girls you get to work with from all over the world. But most importantly, you’re helping someone understand and learn about the business they really want to be in and it’s wonderful to be able to share that.”
Helping young aspiring models is something close to Naomi’s heart. After all, she was merely 15 – from working-class Streatham – when she was talent-scouted while window shopping in London’s Covent Garden. By the time she was 16, she’d already flown to the US via a private jet for a modelling assignment and five years later, was the first black model to grace the cover of Time magazine.
“I was kind of thrown into this high-fashion world at that young age. I didn’t know how to walk, but I had my ballet training and my mum was a professional dancer.” Naomi reveals, “She was the one who taught me how to walk the runway.”
And it’s a walk that Naomi is famous for – from falling down in 1993 in those Vivienne Westwood platforms to strutting down the catwalk to an overwhelmed and hushed audience recently at the Atelier Versace Autumn/Winter 2013 show. And even Singapore got a piece of Naomi’s stardust at the recent Digital Fashion Week runway show, where she wowed the crowd in two looks by Zenchi. Yes, Naomi’s hip-swinging catwalk strut doesn’t change, regardless of the situation.
As the conversation goes on, I notice how passionate Naomi gets on the topic of sharing. Her eyes light up when she talks about her charity work for Fashion for Relief, an effort she initiated in 2005 when New Orleans got hit by Hurricane Katrina. It’s since gone on to benefit victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2009, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. More recently, Fashion for Relief raised, and continues to raise, funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Even before Fashion for Relief, Naomi has been an activist for the women and children in South Africa, shortly after she visited the country in 1992. She is also involved with the Nelson Mandela (whom she regards as her grandfather after he declared her his “honorary granddaughter”) Children’s Fund and founded the charity We Love Brazil to raise awareness and funds to fight poverty in Brazil in 2005. “I don’t talk about my charity work much so it’s not a well-known fact that I’m an activist,” Naomi shrugs, “which is okay, because the publicity is not why I do it. And sometimes the press wants to focus on other things; there’s nothing I can do about that, either.”
However, the one thing Naomi definitely wants the media to focus on is another issue she’s passionate about – the underrepresentation of minorities in the industry. “In 2013, only nine percent of the faces used in shows and advertising campaigns were Asian and six percent were black,” Naomi says animatedly. “That’s such a poor representation of the world’s population! In fact, the number of Asians in the media used to be worse. China has economic power now so companies are sitting up and thinking that it makes financial sense to have more Asian faces. It’s not because they feel for minorities.”
“Having more minorities in fashion shouldn’t be about trends,” Naomi says urgently. “Balance and diversity should be the way in every aspect. With social media now, you have every race and creed buying designer clothes. You can’t say ‘Oh, this country or this person, just due to the colour of his or her skin, doesn’t go in the store to buy this brand or that.’ You can’t say this is true anymore.”
Naomi continues to speak out about the minority issue and last year, joined fellow black models Iman and Bethann Hardison in an advocacy group called Diversity Coalition. She reminisces about the days when “my girls, Linda [Evangelista] and Christy [Turlington] would tell the designers and magazines, ‘If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us.’ And that’s how we should support one another. And it’s not just in fashion, but in every aspect of life.”
To survive Naomi has had to be fearless. But sometimes this fearlessness can be viewed by the media as aggression. “I understand how I can be viewed that way and it doesn’t bother me anymore,” Naomi says, “I am in a good place. If I need to shut off, I just go off on my own into the jungles with a book and read. That’s me at my happiest. It’s really that simple.”
“My girls, Linda and Christy, would tell the designers and magazines, ‘If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us.’”