the a-z of naomi campbell

As she celebrates her 46th birthday, we round up what makes the iconic model, actor, and activist so very super, from Azzedine Alaïa to Zach Braff (yes, Zach Braff).

by Emily Manning
22 May 2016, 11:35pm

Photography Simon Harris, Fashion Director Edward Enninful. Vintage Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière top from S/S 02. Bikini bottoms Jo De Mar. Earrings and necklace Naomi's own. [The Hot Beach Issue, no. 288, June 2008]

A is for Azzedine Alaïa: During one early trip to Paris, a teenage Campbell had all of her valuables stolen. So Amanda Cazalet invited Campbell to come back to her apartment, just as soon as she finished a fitting with a designer. Campbell rolled up to Alaïa's house on the Rue du Parc-Royal, and after explaining to him how all of her money had just been stolen, he insisted she stay with him — he even chatted in French with her mom on the phone to seal the deal. From then on, Campbell writes in her recently released memoir The Art of Beauty, she stays with Azzedine, whom she calls "Papa," whenever she visits Paris.

B is for Beth Boldt: Then head of Synchro Model Agency, Boldt discovered Campbell window shopping in Covent Garden on her way home from school at just 14. Though her mother insisted she stay in school, Campbell secretly met with Boldt on her own. "On my first visit, she parted my hair in the middle, did my makeup and took me up on the roof in my school uniform to take a few black-and-white pictures," Campbell recalled. Eventually, her mom warmed up to the idea, so long as modeling didn't interfere with exams.

Photography Nick Knight, Styling Edward Enninful. [The 30th Birthday Issue, no. 308, Pre-Fall 2010]

C is for Coffee: Though she'd often have to wake up at 5 am while filming episodes of her reality series The Face, Campbell's never touched the stuff; she doesn't like its smell. She much prefers herbal tea and like four green juices each day.

D is for Diversity: Throughout her career, Campbell has spoken openly on the adverse experiences of being a model of color, and crusaded tirelessly to change the industry. Recently, she joined forces with Bethann Hardison and Iman for Balance Diversity, an initiative combatting inequality throughout all corners of fashion. "When I started out, I wasn't being booked for certain shows because of the color of my skin. I didn't let it rattle me," Campbell writes. "I understood what it meant to be black. You had to put in the extra effort. You had to be twice as good."

E is for Empire: Though she's appeared on The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Ab Fab, Campbell's most major acting role is her most recent: Camilla Marks on musical smash Empire. The conniving cougar's storyline might have met its shocking conclusion this season, but not before Shayne Oliver immortalized it in his epic Hood by Air collaborative capsule.

F is for French Vogue: In between becoming the first black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue since 1966 (in 1987) and the first to appear on American Vogue's September Issue (in 1989), Campbell was busy making history at another offshoot of the magazine. In 1988, she became the first black model to ever appear on the cover of French Vogue, a boundary-smashing achievement spurred on by her friend and mentor, Yves Saint Laurent. The iconic designer threatened to withdraw his advertising if the magazine continued to marginalize models of color.

G is for Gianni Versace: Campbell also maintained a close friendship with the iconic Versace founder, who enlisted her, Turlington, Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford to stride arm in arm down his fall/winter 1991 runway belting George Michael's "Freedom! 90," after they appeared in its music video. The super lost many close friends in 1997, a year she calls one of the worst of her life. Attending Gianni's memorial service in Milan, she spoke with Princess Diana. "Gianni loved you very much. You must always remember that," Diana told Campbell. "That was the last time I saw her," Naomi writes.

H is for (holy) Trinity: Campbell first met Christy Turlington on a Warehouse catalogue shoot when she was just 16 and still in school. A few months after Turlington encouraged Campbell to be her New York roommate, Naomi met Linda Evangelista in Paris and boom, the iconic Trinity was born. Not simply a union of the world's most powerful supermodels, the girls used their individual platforms to look out for each other and make their collective careers stronger.

I is for Iron Mike: Before dating Robert De Niro, Campbell linked up with heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who she's maintained a friendship with. The pair were captured by Bruce Weber and Grace Coddington on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the summer of 1989, an afternoon she described to Nick Knight for SHOWstudio. According to the ear-biting prizefighter, it's Campbell who's really "scared of nothing."

J is for Journalism: In addition to modeling, acting, singing, and fighting for charitable causes, Campbell has enjoyed something of a successful career in journalism, having served as a contributing editor to British GQ. She's interviewed Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, former Brazilian president Lula, and Vladimir Putin (seriously). "When I got to Moscow, a gift from him was waiting in my hotel room: a book on martial arts (one of his hobbies)," Campbell writes.

Photography Steven Klein, Styling Edward Enninful. [The Us Issue, no. 131, August 1994] 

K is for Kate Moss: The baby of the "Big Six" supers, Kate has been Campbell's BFF for over 25 years. In the 90s, they'd cook English roast dinners on Sunday afternoons at their shared New York apartment, and after one meal, they decided they wanted to see Nirvana play at Columbus Circle. Problem was, they didn't have tickets. "We decided to blag it," explains Campbell, and it wasn't going too well at first. But, since Moss' Calvin Klein campaign was plastered all over the city, "they must've thought, 'well it must be true.' So in the end we got to see Nirvana and we got backstage. Where there's a will there's a way, we'd say."

L is for Lemonade: Before Beyoncé sang about keeping hot sauce in her bag (swag), Campbell has been packing Jamaican spices on deck.

M is for Music videos: Though Campbell has some killer (uh, literally) TV credits under her belt, they don't touch her music video cameos. The super has appeared in videos by Culture Club, Duran Duran, Anhoni, George Michael, and Madonna. But her most insane cameo (and yes, we remember grinding up on Michael Jackson in "In the Closet") was her first public appearance ever. Campbell appeared in Bob Marley's "Is this Love?" video when she was just seven-years-old. "He was the most handsome man, with beautiful bone structure; mellow, too, and soft-spoken, with a strong Jamaican accent, the kind I already knew from home," Campbell writes in The Art of Beauty.

N is for Nelson Mandela: The South African president and icon of peace adopted Campbell as his "honorary granddaughter" after the African National Congress invited her to meet its leader in 1994 (prior to their meeting, Campbell had donated proceeds from a photoshoot in Tanzania to the ANC). In the 20 years following, Campbell supported many of Mandela's charitable efforts, including throwing a benefit Versace show at his presidential residence in 1998. Kate Moss came along, too.

O is for Olympics: Alright, we'll be real: it's tough to beat the reunited Spice Girls belting "Spice Up Your Life" while perched atop illuminated black cabs zipping around Olympic Stadium Mad Max style. But British fashion came a super close second at the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremonies, when models including Lily Cole, Stella Tennant, Jourdan Dunn, and Kate Moss paraded to David Bowie's "Fashion" wearing some of the nation's most celebrated designers. Naomi destroyed in glimmering Alexander McQueen, taking home the gold for jaw dropping.

P is for Philanthropy: Campbell has worked on countless charitable efforts throughout her career, including breast cancer research, maternal health advocacy, sustainable work programs, and aid for victims of violence and natural disasters. For the past decade, she's used a platform she founded, Fashion for Relief, to raise awareness and upwards of $5 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Haitian and Japanese earthquakes, and more recently, the ebola virus.

Q is for Questions: Only the important ones.

R is for Roses: According to Campbell, she has two roses named after her in Holland. Would a Naomi by any other name slay a runway?

S is for South London: "Raised in Streatham, born in Brixton," Campbell told Nick Knight of her South London roots. Places where, apparently, Tunisian-born Alaïa fits right in; when the longtime friends went back to Brixton Market for a Vogue shoot, the ever-accurate Daily Mail misidentified the iconic designer as one of the "locals."

Photography Robert Erdmann, Styling Caryn Franklin. [The Dramatic Issue, no. 39, August 1986] 

T is for Twelve: The number of times the stunning super has graced i-D's cover! Robert Erdmann first captured Campbell for August 1986's Dramatic Issue (though you might not be able to tell it's Naomi, as Erdmann used an electric blue negative effect). Since then, Nick Knight, Steven Klein, Paolo Roversi, David LaChapelle, and many more have caught Campbell flashing a wink.

U is for United States: Though Campbell is one of the UK's most iconic models, her first big shoot actually took place on American soil. Just a few months after signing with Synchro, British Elle flew her to New Orleans, where the magazine "shot one story on prairie-style dresses with me and another model (who got sent home because they thought she was bratty)," Campbell recalls.

V is for Vanilla Ice: In 1991, Campbell sang backing vocals on "Cool as Ice," the title track from a feature film you didn't know existed: one in which Ice plays a motorcycle enthusiast whose rap crew rolls through a small town. Its tagline: "When a girl has a heart of stone, there's only one way to melt it: Just add Ice." Yes.

W is for Westwood wobble: Falling never looked so good (the Victoria & Albert Museum knows; it has the shoes that caused Campbell to take that famous runway tumble in 1993).

X is for XXX: In addition to appearing in Madonna's "Erotica" music video, Campbell made a memorable cameo alongside Big Daddy Kane in the Material Girl's controversial photo book Sex in 1992. "I have a lot of respect for Madonna being bold enough to come out and do a book on sex. I've never reneged on that," Campbell said during 2002 court proceedings, when Daily Mirror lawyers tried to shame her for celebrating her sexuality.

Y is for Yeezy Season 3: Considering that Kanye's epic presentation-cum-listening-party was last season's most diverse show by a mile, it was only right that the equality activist held court at Madison Square Garden alongside him. Midway through the two hour extravaganza, Campbell climbed the Vanessa Beecroft-designed platform and began moving fluidly throughout Yeezy's streetcast army.

Z is for Zach Braff: The Scrubs star made light of Campbell's diva reputation in a commercial he directed for Dunkin Donuts in 2007. 


Text Emily Manning
Photography Simon Harris
Fashion Director Edward Enninful
[The Hot Beach Issue, no. 288, June 2008]