Naomi Campbell’s decades-spanning career and impact as a supermodel defies labels, but now the British Fashion Council is officially recognising her outstanding contribution to the industry. At the Fashion Awards 2019 on December 2, the Vogue contributing editor will take home the Fashion Icon Award – one of the special recognition accolades that acknowledges individuals who have used the platform lent to them to effect positive change.
“This is a very emotional award to me, I feel blessed and humble,” Campbell told Vogue of the honour. “I would say an icon is someone who has a special aura, but also a presence and wisdom. I have always strived to give people from all backgrounds, all colour and cultures, courage through my words and my actions.”
Since scoring her first shoot a month before her 16th birthday (she signed to Synchro modelling agency at 15 after being scouted after school in Covent Garden), Campbell has pushed for better representation and equality on and off the catwalks. “I used to have to fight for the same fee as my [white] counterparts doing the same job,” she told Vogue in April. Now 49, she conceded that “it’s still not balanced completely”, but her global activist efforts, including the 2013 campaign “Diversity Coalition”, which aims to eliminate racism in fashion, are far from over. On her last birthday, she signed to a new agency, Models1.
Campbell began her philanthropic work with Nelson Mandela in 1993, and in 1997 he named her an “honorary granddaughter” for her endless drive for social change. In 2005, the south Londoner founded the charity Fashion For Relief, which organises fund-raising catwalk shows to aid victims of disasters worldwide, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010. After touring the globe, Fashion For Relief will return to its roots – it was one of the major organisations to help people affected by the UK’s 2007 floods – during London Fashion Week in September.
“Naomi has made an incredible contribution to the fashion industry throughout her career as a supermodel, as well as through her global philanthropist work with charities and incredible fundraising efforts for a more diverse and equal future, especially in Africa,” Caroline Rush, BFC chief executive, told Vogue of Campbell’s Fashion Icon Award, which she looks forward to celebrating in December. “Naomi is an incredible ambassador for Africa, building bridges between nations and putting African designers at the forefront of the global fashion community through events such as ARISE Fashion Week in Lagos. She is an inspiration to many of us and has contributed through her career to change for the better.”
Campbell’s mission to push the envelope has seen her sit down with power players in a variety of fields, including Sadiq Khan and Jony Ive, for Vogue, which she first covered in 1987. She was the first black model on the front of French Vogue in 1988 and American Vogue in 1989. “When I was younger, in the 1980s and the 1990s, there were certain designers who hadn’t used models of colour in their shows,” she recalled to Vogue. “Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista would say to them, ‘If you don’t take Naomi, then you don’t get us.’ My friends and comrades stuck up for me and I will never forget that. It is the reason why I’m always incredibly touched when young models of colour tell me that I have inspired them.” Nowadays, she counts exercise and her “healthy body for [her] healthy mind and healthy spirit”. “I know that what comes from within is projected outwards,” Campbell wrote via a personal essay in the July 2019 issue of Vogue.
“There has been so much written about her over the years, but I think many would be surprised to discover how loyal and generous she is,” wrote Edward Enninful in his March 2019 editor’s letter of Vogue, which Campbell covered. “As a friend, she is kind and very sensitive, yet at the same time she is a fighter – Jamaican, a buffalo soldier – who stands up for herself. To me, she will always be a legend, like the last of the silent movie stars: Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Naomi Campbell. With all the flashbulbs, the fashion, the entourages, the jets, the philanthropy, the red carpets and the world leaders on speed dial, she seems to live at twice the pace of the rest of us. All the clichés genuinely do apply to Naomi – you could not make her up and she really is larger than life.”
With a catalogue of campaigns – her portfolio is a veritable A-Z of household-name brands from Chanel to Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Versace – and list of industry accolades – including the Special Recognition Award at the British Fashion Awards 2010 and the CFDA 2018 Fashion Icon Award – already under her belt, Campbell doesn’t need another statuette. The world can see her icon status already radiates from the inside and out.
“I wouldn’t never change a thing,” she mused on the advice she would give her younger self. “I would say to young Naomi, ‘Don’t be afraid to speak out about issues, especially when you come across things like inequality and racism. Make sure your voice is always heard. At the same time, stay focused on whatever you’re doing and give the very best. However big or small the occasion, you never know who is out there.”