Naomi Campbell ‘I didn’t think I’d still be working past 25 Years, let alone 50’
Even in quarantine, Naomi Campbell is very busy. The supermodel, speaking from the hotel in Nigeria where she’s quarantining pending a negative Covid test, has a schedule stacked with press engagements, Zoom meetings and shoots for her YouTube channel.
“It’s full-on here,” she says, her voice like honey down a crackly phone line from Lagos. “It’s kind of strange trying to get used to being back in the groove. It’s taking a minute for my mind to switch back into the hustle and bustle of it all.”
For Campbell, the hustle and bustle never really stopped. She’s in Lagos to support Arise Fashion Week, an event she’s backed since its 2018 launch. This season, the main attraction is the “30 Under 30: The New Stars” competition, a showcase of work by emerging designers who will present collections in livestreamed catwalk shows and compete for a grand prize worth $100,000.
“The stuff I’ve seen so far, I’m really happy with,” she says. “Although this has been a pandemic and a time of loss and sadness for many, it’s also been a time of people really using their minds and being so creative.”
Lagos has become something of a second home for Campbell. Usually she spends five to six weeks a year in Africa, but her usual travel plans, like everyone else’s, were disrupted by Covid. This is the first time she’s been able to make the trip since January. “I’ve missed Africa so much, I can’t tell you.”
Campbell may have been more prepared than most for travel in the age of contagion. Last summer, long before the term “social distancing” entered the lexicon, Campbell posted a video detailing her pre-flight cleaning routine to her YouTube channel. She donned gloves, used Dettol wipes to “clean[s] everything you touch” and draped her first-class seat in a protective cover.
Her routine has only become more intense since the start of the pandemic. In May, she wore a mask, gloves, goggles, face shield and full hazmat suit to fly from London to Los Angeles. She finished her outfit with a Burberry cape. “A museum wanted an outfit that depicted 2020, and they asked me for my outfit with my Burberry cape, my hazmat suit, my gloves, my mask. So I donated it.”
This time, “I flew the way I always fly, covid or no covid. I flew with my mask… Now I have a few extra bags of PPE and cleaning supplies, a few extra additions. But it’s all good. I’m very cautious.”
Really she would have done anything to make it to Lagos for the young designers she’s there to support. “I was very happy to come here and to be here for Arise and for these young designers. This is what I care about. I’m thrilled that it worked out.”
Designers participating in 30 Under 30 include Bibi, Lagos Space Programme, Ghetto and Elfreda Dali. For international fashion fans, the most familiar name on the list will be Kenneth Ize.
Ize, a 2019 LVMH Prize finalist and Arise’s designer of the year, creates vibrant, handwoven designs drawing on the artistry and expertise of weavers at his factory in Ilorin, in Western Nigeria. Campbell walked in his Arise-winning show and has become one of Ize’s highest-profile champions.
“I feel great wearing Kenneth’s designs. They’re authentic, they feel easy, I feel like I’m wearing the clothes and can put my own spin on it. I love that he uses the authentic artisan way of making his clothes and making his culture modern for the world,” she says.
“Kenneth has had a lot of great attention. It’s been wonderful how he’s been embraced. But we still have a lot to do in terms of getting him set up and recognised worldwide in the way designers should be.”
Campbell’s ambition is for the world to know a fashion week roster’s worth of African designers, not just celebrate one or two leading lights. “I want to see the fashion world embrace African designers and all these young designers from emerging markets. They need to be accepted and given a platform. Whatever I can do to help make that happen, that’s why I’m here, that’s what I’ll do.”
Speaking about African fashion, Campbell is fully in advocate mode – not a role she foresaw for herself even a few years ago. “All of it is a surprise in a way. There was no strategy or plan.”
But then, so much about her story is unexpected. That a girl from Streatham would go on to become a monomial star outshining and outlasting her peers over a three-decade-plus career wasn’t expected. Nor were her long working relationships with Azzedine Alaia, Karl Lagerfeld, the Versace family… None of it guaranteed or given to her, especially in light of received wisdom about a fashion model’s limited career longevity in the Eighties.
“I didn’t think I’d still be working as a model, because we were always told we would never work past 25 years.”
She’s still at the top of her game at 50, but still not making plans. She doesn’t even know where she’ll be for Christmas.
“I have no idea…. Wherever I’ll be, I just want to be still,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the new year, though. It’ll be nice to see friends and be able to hug them. Not being able to hug people you love is tough. I know we’ll get there.”