London's V&A celebrates Naomi Campbell's far-reaching cultural impact


By AGENCY

Photographic transparencies by British fashion photographer Robert Fairer are displayed through a magnifying loop at the 'Naomi' exhibition, exploring the career of fashion model Naomi Campbell, at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum in London. Photo: AFP

In 1987, Naomi Campbell became the first black model to grace the cover of British Vogue in 20 years, and her trailblazing career is now being recognised by London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Campbell was such a fixture on catwalks in the 1990s that she was referred to by her first name only, just like fellow supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista.

She remains a highly influential figure in the industry and is the first supermodel to have a V&A exhibition dedicated to her.

The Naomi In Fashion show, which runs through March 3, 2025, explores the dozens of looks that have marked the history of fashion during Campbell's 40-year career.

Born in 1970, Campbell saw herself as a dancer, like her mother, when she was a child.

Aged 15, an agent spotted her in London's Covent Garden and two years later she had already appeared on several fashion magazine covers and in shows in New York, Milan and Paris.

'Peerless'

Some have questioned the choice of the V&A, a revered art and design museum, to dedicate an exhibition to a model.

But curator Sonnet Stanfill said: "The best fashion models are not simply models. They serve as creative inspiration and they are creative collaborators.

A car corset and sequin skirt made by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler (left) are displayed at the 'Naomi' exhibition in London. Photo: AFP A car corset and sequin skirt made by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler (left) are displayed at the 'Naomi' exhibition in London. Photo: AFP

"Naomi Campbell's peerless walk and her alchemy in front of the camera are the stuff of fashion legend," she added.

Stanfill interviewed the model for hours as part of her preparation for the exhibition.

"She has an incredible memory. She remembers where she was when she was wearing something, who she was with, where she went out that night," she added.

She was also allowed to dig through Campbell's personal collection, including accessories, photos, clothes and even Concorde tickets between London and New York.

A section is dedicated to the great fashion designer Azzedine Alaia, who died in 2017, with whom she lived from the age of 16 when she was in Paris and whom she called "papa".

He found a muse in what he called her "perfect body".

Campbell also praises designer Yves Saint Laurent in the show, whom she said "really helped women of colour and changed the course of my career".

"God bless Yves," she added in quotes that appear on the label describing the feather dress the London-born model wore for a 1987 autumn/winter show - her first for the French designer.

Saint Laurent famously threatened to withdraw his advertising from Vogue if it did not place Campbell on the front of its French magazine in 1988. As a result, she became its first black cover star.

The show also features magazine front-pages projected onto the wall and video broadcasts of her best-known shows for the biggest fashion houses.

A video journalist films a projection during a press preview for the 'Naomi' exhibition in London. Photo: AFP A video journalist films a projection during a press preview for the 'Naomi' exhibition in London. Photo: AFP

Designer Vivienne Westwood's 1993-era look, which required Campbell to wear 15cm (six-inch) platform shoes, is also on display.

The shoes infamously led to her taking a tumble on the catwalk, with the picture of her laughing after her fall from grace going around the world, helping to soften her icy image.

Pioneering

Campbell did have a reputation for her temper. In 2007, she was sentenced to five days of community service in New York after having thrown her phone at an assistant.

The paparazzi were waiting every morning she turned up for her community service, and a symbol of her defiance is featured in the exhibition.

"When the last day came, I decided I wanted to walk out and leave with my head held up high. I chose to wear this," she said, pointing to a Dolce & Gabanna evening dress.

But it is her pioneering work in opening up the industry to black models, which began in 1988 when she campaigned for equal pay, that underpins the exhibition.

While this is a retrospective, Campbell, now 54, continues to model, recently appearing on the catwalk for Burberry.

The exhibition ends with tips on how to "walk like Naomi", with a podium set up for budding supermodels to practice on.

"Shoulders back... move with the music" and "focus your gaze on the camera," she advises. - AFP

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