From wild nights out to police rescues, Naomi Campbell shares an extract from her candid new book
One of the most famous models in the world, Naomi Campbell has led an exceptional life. Now aged 50, she has released a book with Taschen, offering a candid journey through her career and personal life, exploring how a Black teenager from Streatham became a global force for change and equality.
Here, she shares an extract, detailing what really went on in the '90s supermodel era, when she, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and a young Kate Moss reigned supreme.
There were wild nights in New York, glamorous parties and frenzied fan moments, but ultimately this was just a group of girls, albeit with inherent aesthetic gifts, navigating their way through what was to become a historic moment for fashion.
None of us really understood what impact we were having, particularly when we appeared together in the George Michael video or the Versace show. We had no idea how those things were being received. We were in the middle of it, too busy travelling with work.
There were so many incredible jobs on offer, and we often had to choose between them because we couldn’t be in two places at the same time. I remember one campaign for Jasper Conran where they couldn’t get me, so they took my mother instead. It was shot by Robert Mapplethorpe, who I never got to work with but always wish I had.
Later that year, in an interview for the October issue of American Vogue, poor Linda said that we didn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000, or something similar.
She didn’t mean it – it was a joke – but that quote has haunted us for years. (If anything, it was designers like Gianni, Azzedine and Karl Lagerfeld who set the standard for how we were paid; the press tried to suggest we demanded it, but we didn’t.) Up until then we had spoken to the press quite freely, but after that we realised we had to be careful. Things could easily be misinterpreted. It was a valuable lesson to learn.
People had already started to use the word ‘supermodel’. Everything we wore and every restaurant we went to was written about in the papers. It seemed weird to us that people should care.
We couldn’t walk down the street without people chasing us. I remember we once went shopping in Rome and we couldn’t get out of the store because there were so many fans. The police had to come and rescue us. We had no idea why that was happening. By the time Peter Lindbergh asked us to appear in Models: The Film, we understood that people wanted to know a lot more about us.
Erin O’Connor, unknown, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Amber Valleta with Donatella Versace in 1999
The film starred Cindy, Tatjana, Linda, Stephanie and me. Peter had photographed us all individually and he used those earlier shoots as inspiration for Models. We shot on location around Brooklyn, Jones Beach and Coney Island. It was a film about us as models, but we were really in character. Linda played her accordion and I sang ‘C’est Si Bon’, the song I’d mimed in the commercial for Yves Saint Laurent’s Jazz.
Everyone did something they were connected with. I think the film helped people see us in a whole new way, as celebrities rather than just fashion models. Even so, Models was still about work for me; I’m not private about my work. I am private about my personal life, however, and it was hard when our private lives became the subject of such scrutiny.
Who were we dating? Who were we meeting? Most of the time, the stories were a web of lies. I was dating someone very famous at the time and I started to understand why he’d become so protective of his privacy.
I was dating someone very famous at the time and I started to understand why he’d become so protective of his privacy
There were still a few places we felt safe. Like Café Tabac, tucked away off Second Avenue on East Ninth Street. We could go there, chill out and enjoy ourselves away from prying eyes, perhaps because it was run by our friend Roy Liebenthal. It was the kind of place you could go for an intimate dinner, get up and dance and not really care. There was good music and nice steak and chips. You could play pool. It was cosy, not too big and not chichi, just an easy place to be, which is why we liked it. Whoever was in town from fashion, music or film would turn up. The Roxbury in LA was the same, but larger and full of movie stars. Our friend John Enos was a partner there, so we went to support him.
I also loved Muse restaurant in LA, which is where Herb Ritts threw a birthday party for me and Tatjana when I was 22; he bought the pair of us Tiffany diamond bracelets. Herb was nice like that. I love New York’s Laura Belle, too; that’s where I held my 21st birthday party. We got a lot of attention for that. Jason Weinberg and Kelly Cutrone organised the party and invited everyone: Madonna, Steven Meisel, Isaac Mizrahi, Beverly Peele, Sante D’Orazio... We let Vogue cover it exclusively.
Oribe and François did my hair and make-up back at my apartment and I turned up in a black-and-white checked Alaïa dress. I tried that dress on again recently and it still fits. I’m lucky, I suppose. I have never been on a diet. I could always eat whatever I wanted, although in moderation; now, of course, I make a point of eating well.
'Naomi' is available to buy now at taschen.com
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Written by Naomi Campbell on Harpers Bazaar.