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The Year Of Naomi

Four decades after launching her history-making career in ELLE, the model, activist and mother of two is on the cusp of her biggest year yet, with a new V&A exhibition and BOSS collection. Kenya Hunt meets the original super.


Naomi Campbell, a towering barrier-breaker in fashion and the most daring of supermodels, stands in a small hot box, put together inside a bigger, sprawling studio in north London for our cover shoot – the final one of the year. She has a hard stop at 3pm. Cover shoots are normally late-running, long-winded affairs, which stretch from the earliest morning hours to late evening. ‘I’m sorry, but I have to get to my daughter’s school,’ she explains, her voice soft and slightly hoarse from a winter cold.

Heat fans blaze an August-like warmth to suit the crisp cotton shirt and matching hot pants she wears, while the rising star photographer Quil Lemons shoots with a surgeon-like hush and precision. Wizkid plays softly from a speaker in the background as Naomi strikes a serene pose.

The lore surrounding her is larger than life. But, on set, her sense of calm and quiet is notable. Gone are the whizzing entourages one might expect to see trailing the supermodel. Instead, a small crack team of us get to work. Click, click, click. The first shot done, she slips into a white robe and slippers as stylist and ELLE UK contributing editor Georgia Medley pulls out her next look.

There’s a poetic sense of the full circle here. ‘I had my first big shoot with British ELLE when I was 15, a month before my 16th birthday. I’ll never forget it. I never forget the people involved in it,’ Naomi says, several weeks later, from her holiday travels in the Middle East. ‘Whether I’m in communication with them or not, they know I’m grateful. I remember where I come from.’

As the story has it, the model scout Beth Boldt was out for an afternoon in Covent Garden with her teenage daughter when she spotted a young Campbell, dressed in school uniform, shopping with friends. Three months later, despite her mother Valerie Morris-Campbell’s reservations, Naomi was on a plane to New Orleans for her first shoot with ELLE. ‘My mother gave her consent and off I went,’ she says. ‘I can recall it clearly. Most of my pictures in the beginning were where I was jumping, leaping and smiling. They knew that I came from a dance background, so they often wanted me to do those types of poses. And, you know, I really didn’t know how to model,’ she says.

A world of change has happened since then. Life, fame and motherhood. Naomi has appeared on no less than 25 global covers of ELLE since that first shoot. Meanwhile, I grew up in Virginia purchasing those magazines. To my eye, she represented the glamorous world of fashion, exciting British subcultures, and a scintillating new kind of celebrity. Who could forget the images of crowds screaming for the supermodels with a zeal normally reserved for boy bands? Or the sight of Naomi, Cindy, Lindy and Christy lip-syncing to George Michael’s ‘Freedom! ’90’? Or Naomi standing arm-in-arm with Nelson Mandela in South Africa?

But she also embodied an empowered, unbossed and unapologetic picture of Black womanhood that I rarely saw in luxury fashion. I’d go out of my way to buy any issue I saw her grace the cover of. She represented a whole host of things. And still does.

Now, she’s a mother, juggling two children and an enormous career. Naomi announced the arrival of her daughter, whose name she keeps private, in 2021 at the age of 51. Last year, she had a son at 53. She has also recently taken up fashion design, having created a new collection for BOSS, and, in June, will be the subject of an exhibition at the V&A, simply titled ‘Naomi’. The retrospective of her almost 40-year career will be the first exhibition of its kind. Professionally, 2024 promises to be Naomi’s biggest year yet.


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Weight 2 lbs
Dimensions 13 × 10 × 1 in


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