Naomi Campbell on modelling into her 50s, battling racism and her new museum exhibition

22 June 2024, 00:58 | Updated: 22 June 2024, 06:00

Her name is synonymous with beauty, style and running late.

And when THE Supermodel that is Naomi Campbell arrived for our interview she didn't disappoint in all three categories.

My crew were told to set up for 1pm for a 2.45pm interview, she entered the ballroom at the Dorchester at 5.45pm.

In the moments before her arrival her team made several visits to inquire if we were ready as she was definitely on her way.

Then suddenly the gilded mirrored double doors swung open and in she sauntered.

Campbell was a little preoccupied on her phone as her attendants in waiting preened, polished and perfected her look but as soon as the camera started rolling she enthused about her groundbreaking exhibition at the V&A; entitled NAOMI: In Fashion.

It's the first of its kind and explores her 40-year career as a fashion model, her cultural icon status and the fact that four decades on she is still a highly sought-after working model.

Campbell tells me it's an honour to be the sole subject of the exhibition, that she is totally in awe and feels very blessed.

She follows in the footsteps of David Bowie, Frida Kahlo and Kylie, who have also had solo exhibitions at the London museum.

The 54-year-old's hope is that through the clothes that she's worn, the designers she's collaborated with, the photos that have been taken and the activism she's displayed, visitors to the exhibition will come to understand her as a person, in her own words.

She says she wants people "to see the workmanship, the creatives that I got to work with after these four decades, and the story, the narrative and to understand me as a person more, coming from me".

"You know I never normally do that. I'm going to show things that I've never shown," she adds.

The collection will comprise of pieces taken from different points in her career. It will include around 100 looks from the best of global high fashion including the pair of staggeringly high Vivienne Westwood platform shoes which she famously fell in while walking the catwalk in 1993.

"You know what? God bless her. May she rest in peace. I love Vivienne Westwood. Loved her, loved her, loved her," Campbell says, remembering the designer behind the iconic shoes.

"She was a woman of integrity and did not suffer fools. And she kept her dignity to the very end in terms of staying true to who she was.

"And I loved her for it. Those were her signature shoes and if you didn't know how to walk in them, then learn.

"That was a lesson to me, never rest on your laurels Naomi. Just because you can walk in other heels it doesn't mean you can walk in those.

"I thought I could and I learned the hard way, I couldn't, and I went down."

The fall, far from blighting her career actually added to her star factor because of the way she handled it, giggling on the floor of the catwalk.

In her time she's had to negotiate far greater challenges than foot-high heels.

She was the first black woman to appear as a model on the covers of Time and Vogue France and has made it her mission to champion diversity in the fashion industry.

Campbell has openly spoken about racism and the challenges she has faced as a black woman.

"It's like a way of life because you become conditioned in a way to know you have to deal with it to the point where you could pre-empt and kind of be pro-active to get it out of the way and I found that a lot of things I dealt with that way," she says.

"I would see it coming so I was going to find a way to go around it, go over it, get through it.

"And that's what I did."

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Campbell says that as long as she has anything to do with the fashion business she will stand up for diversity although she believes that recently it has taken a step back.

"We are in a different time where people feel they can come out and just say how they feel whether you like it or not."

Regarding the Conservative Party donor Frank Hester reportedly saying that Diane Abbott made him want to hate all black women and that she should be shot, Campbell describes it as "disgusting and ignorance at its finest" but not depressing.

"It drives me, it drives me," she says.

On her longevity in an industry where many of her peers have long since hung up their heels, Campbell says she doesn't know why she is still gliding down the world's catwalks, but what she does know is that there was never a strategy.

"I got to be a part of this real big fantasy. Some people think that our industry is just not real, it's very real and it is a billion-dollar business."

The exhibition NAOMI: In Fashion runs until 6 April 2025 at the V&A.;