When Naomi Campbell first started modelling on the eve of her 16th birthday, there was no social media – no platform for her to use to voice her opinions. She was “just a picture”, she tells Vogue. The supermodel, whose career now spans over three decades, is in a reflective mood, as she is unveiled as the recipient of the British Fashion Council’s 2019 Icon Award.
“I have always strived to give people from all backgrounds, of all colours and cultures, courage through my words and my actions,” she continues. What started as Campbell’s personal fight to be paid the same fee as her white counterparts has become a life-long mission to end racism on and off the runway.
Social media, she believes, has been integral to her ability to communicate directly and raise awareness of issues, such as the the current crisis in Sudan. “Now, more than ever, people from the industry have the power to speak up and [to speak] louder,” she says.
“Let’s convert it into action.”Campbell’s philanthropic efforts, such as 2013’s Diversity Coalition campaign and 2005’s charity Fashion for Relief, are as central to the south Londoner’s career highlights as her moments in front of the camera.
Her first cover for French Vogue in 1988, for example, came about thanks to her own request. She had never seen a black model on the front of the magazine before.
“It’s encouraging to see all the opportunities young models of colour have now,” says Campbell. “It’s an important moment for the fashion industry to stand for diversity, equal opportunities and race across the board, but we still have a long way to go.”Here Campbell, who feels “humbled and blessed” by the badge of honour bestowed on her by the BFC, talks Vogue through the moments that have contributed to her icon status.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she muses. “I would say to my younger self, ‘Make sure your voice is always heard.’”