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naomi campbell, the one who started it all

Naomi Campbell is an i-D institution. A best friend of i-D Consultant Fashion Director Edward Enninful, the pair have worked together consistently over the years and produced a body of work which can only be described as epic. For her 12th cover of i-D, Edward styles Naomi within an inch of her life, dressed entirely in white bondage gear, photographed by Nick Knight. With their powers combined, this is simply iconic. Reflecting upon her career in fashion, her work with i-D and her supermodel heyday, here Naomi opens up like never before.

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Hi Naomi, so lets start at the beginning, what does i-D mean to you?
i-D is an institution of British trend setting. It’s on the edge and iconic, because the people contributing get to express their art and their creativity to the full. They are able to give themselves 100 per cent and that’s why I think everyone loves doing i-D. Terry [Jones] has always been very free in giving photographers, editors and models the reign to do that, and you just get really amazing results.

You have worked so closely with i-D Consultant Fashion Director, Edward Enninful over the years, when did you first work together and how did you meet?
The first time we worked together was on my i-D cover [September 1993]. It was with my Whitney Houston hair, my ‘Bodyguard’ hair as I called it. It was Jeny Howorth that introduced us. It was great, I got along with Edward right away. The cover was done so quickly, ya’know what? We shot it in less than an hour. I remember it was about 8 o'clock at night, because it stays very light in Paris during the summer after one of the couture shows. I think I was wearing Comme des Garçons. This was the start of my additional family...

...so it’s fitting that Edward and yourself should work together once again for this iconic, 30th year, anniversary issue.
Edward is like family to me and I literally break my neck anytime he calls me and wants me to do something. I can be on the other side of the world and I will get there for him because its always worth it. It’s just great to work with someone that you care about and love. He reminds me of myself; we are very similar in a lot of ways.

When did you first work with Nick Knight?
I have worked with Nick since I was 16, our first job together was Yohji Yamamoto advertising in 1986 or '87. I love what Nick does, to me his work is futuristic and he is a real gentleman. There are certain people in my life that I will cross the waters to get there for and do my utmost best. Myself, and all the models of colour, couldn’t have been more grateful to Nick for the video he did of me 'Untitled' for SHOWStudio. The words that he gave in the video really supported all the young models of colour that find it hard to find good work, we were very grateful. No other photographer, apart from Steven Meisel, has ever come out and said what photographers are told by clients when they ask to shoot a model of colour. ‘Black models do not reflect the values of the brand’ or ‘black models are not aspirational in some markets’. So it’s great to be here shooting for this iconic issue with Nick.

Yourself and Kate Moss have become the most frequent cover stars of i-D, what is it about i-D that has kept it close to your heart?
I’m sure Kate feels the same way; that it is family. It’s a magazine that’s been supportive towards each of our careers. i-D gave us a start in the beginning, so we feel loyalty and gratitude. We always want to be there, we wanna participate. For me, it’s very enthusiastic, I get excited to see if I can reinvent myself another way. As this is a magazine that I have been doing for so long it’s always a challenge, which I love.

What do you remember of the one cover that yourself and Kate shot together for i-D for The Us Issue, August 1994?
It was great to be with Kate and to do that cover. It was with Steven Klein and this is when I first got to work with Pat McGrath [i-D Beauty Director]. I remember we shot on 14th street, New York, in the Meatpacking District. It was a night time shoot and there was a lot of people around, the Meatpacking District has changed a lot now, but back then there were a lot of ‘vogue’ house dancers and trannys that used to be in that area and they were shouting at us and telling us how to pose, supporting us and giving us shouts outs ‘Naomi’, ‘Kate’ (laughs). The trannys were my friends and they gave me a lot of advice (laughs). I love that cover.

When models are grouped, it can create amazing dynamics, before ‘Kate and Naomi’ there was ‘Linda, Naomi and Christy’. How was it to be in force with these other girls?
It was an honour to be with my girls and it was such a support system. Certain designers would say ‘we don’t wanna have a black model in our show’ and these two women really put their own career at risk for me. People just don’t do that! You know, we dined together, we went shopping together and we really truly enjoyed our friendship together, contrary to what people may think. It was great because Gianni [Versace] used to ask us what we would think and how we would like to dress, he very much included us. He treated us so well. What was really nice about Gianni is that when he had to get an award, he would invite us as his guests because he said we were part of it. To be there and to enjoy it when something good was happening to him, it was so nice, it really was and I will never forget that.

Another close friend and collaborator was the brilliant Alexander McQueen who recently passed away. What are your favourite memories of Lee?
I miss him, I think about Lee quite often. It still hasn’t registered with me properly that he’s not here. I feel that I’m gonna get a text or a phone call ‘lets have a cosy little dinner’. And I miss those dinners, I know Lee was very private and I would respect his privacy, so I always would attend dinner on my own. You know, many people would ask me what he was like and I would never tell, I would always just say he was a great guy and a great designer because I wanted to respect his privacy. I was one of the lucky few to get to enjoy him at home, cooking. He was very instinctive, very intelligent. He would pick up the phone and say ‘what’s the matter?’ even though I hadn’t told anyone, he would know how I was feeling. He was a good friend and he would always tell me how much I’d helped him and how much I’d done for fashion, but I’d never listen to him. When I organised a fashion show for Nelson Mandela in Barcelona, a lot of designers weren’t coming back with answers, whether they wanted to be part of it or not, and when we called Lee, he came straight over. He was extremely professional, I mean, so on the ball, he said ‘I’m gonna commit to this show’. It was the first charity fashion show he’d ever done, but he proceeded to call the hair and make up on the phone and book all the models himself. He was very in tune with what was going on. A very special man, very talented and caring and I have great memories of Lee, which I will always treasure. I know his brand is going in the direction that he would have wanted and we all support Sarah [Burton].

You also had personal and professional relationship with Michael Jackson. A year from his passing, how do you remember MJ?
It was a dream come true for me to work with Michael, because I remember groups of us in school would dance to Off The Wall and Thriller. I grew up with Rockin’ Robin, I mean, The Jackson 5! It was just unbelievable, it really was, and lots of fun.

What three words would you use to describe Michael?
I would say he was a perfectionist, professional and big-hearted.

As well as a special anniversary year for i-D, this year marks the 25-year anniversary of your modelling career. What plans have you made to celebrate?
I had my 40th birthday party recently, so that was a joint celebration, it was huge and lots of fun. I’m doing a set of T-shirts with Dolce & Gabbana that go on sale September 10 in New York, then selling in Milan, Paris, London, Moscow and Brazil. All of the proceeds from that will go towards Fashion For Relief. I also have a book coming out with Taschen, and what’s exciting about the book, is that all the photographers that I have worked with over my career have given images to be used. So it’s the first time a book has been put together from the model’s point of view. We have been asked now to do Fashion For Relief for Nigeria and Abu Dhabi, which will be in November if it happens. It is a really great, very busy year.

With 25 years of experience within the fashion business, what would you change if you were to start over again?
In my modelling career? Personally, I wouldn’t change anything. I would hope that the lack of using models of colour would improve, but that’s about it. Otherwise I wouldn’t change anything. I was discovered, that was the way it was meant to be. I believe that was how my path was set to be. It’s been a colourful journey so far, really memorable! And it’s been a blessing in many ways. Anything that happened to me that hasn’t been good, then good came from it. I would learn from it, so it was a lesson in life.

Tell me a defining moment in your career.
When I said I was working with Steven Meisel at age 16 everyone was like ‘Oh.. My... God! You’re working with Meisel!’ I didn’t know who he was until I got to New York and I realised he was such a big deal, then I couldn’t believe it myself. He was the first photographer to shoot me in America. I am blessed to still know him now, 25 years later, the same with Nick, I have been working with Nick for 25 years too. I love working with Steven and Nick as I love to be directed; I try to put myself as a blank canvas and them direct me into what they want.

When you started modelling, did you ever imagine the celebrity side would be so brutal at times?
No I didn’t; we only really cared about doing our covers, our shows and our campaigns. We never thought about how the public would perceive us and how things could turn out.

Has it become easier to ignore the negative press?
The press have been awful to me many time, for instance today and yesterday, so no, it’s not. What I have gotten better at is zoning it out. I just zone it out and continue to do what I do best.

Do you follow the world cup?
Yes, I love football and the England team. It was an honour to be asked by Antoine Arnault to place the actual World Cup trophy into the case designed by Louis Vuitton and for it to be escorted to South Africa. I was like ‘No Way!’. They called me and I was like ‘I’m there!’. It was a real privilege. To see all the blood, sweat and tears the players go through to win that cup, and all the players that have touched that cup is amazing, Maradona - OHMYGOD! I took so many pictures and no one believed me, they thought it was a replica!

Do you have an absolute favourite of the i-D covers you have shot?
No, they are all so different, and represent individual parts of my life and my history. It’s me documented. So I can’t pick one, they are all so important to me.