Naomi Campbell still sees racism in fashion, despite the industry’s growing efforts to embrace diversity. In an exclusive interview from the Condé Nast Luxury Conference in Cape Town, the supermodel tells Vogue that only when Africa – its models and its designers – is properly represented on the runway will equality really be achieved.
South Africa is so close to London-born Naomi Campbell’s heart that she considers it her second home. “When you think of South Africa you think of Nelson Mandela and that’s the way it will always be,”she says of her late friend (whom she affectionately calls “Grandad”) and the first democratically elected president of the country. It was with Mandela she would often stay when visiting South Africa, and to this day it’s to the Mandela family that she makes a first call when in Johannesburg.
On that occasion, the original supermodel was in the country’s Mother City, Cape Town, for 48 hours and had just come off the stage at the Condé Nast Luxury Conference where she spoke alongside Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri about the fashion house’s recently launched initiative for diversity and inclusion, as well as the wealth of untapped design talent from the continent. We met at this year’s conference venue, the lookout, had a 360-degree panorama of the city, including Robben Island where Mandela spent the majority of his 27 years in incarceration.
Campbell’s unlikely friendship with Mandela was forged in 1994, the year he became president and finally brought an end to the brutal apartheid era. Campbell had come to The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa’s North West Province to judge Miss World, and decided to donate her fee to his ANC party.“When I came off the stage I got a call to say that I was going to meet President Nelson Mandela,” she remembers. “I screamed because he was a symbol of hope for me and for so many others. He represented solidarity, freedom, he was non-judgemental, and humble.”
Never did he demonstrate these qualities more than when he decided not to run for a second term. “He told me he was going to step down from being president and I asked him why,” Campbell remembers. “He explained that it was much easier for him to take care of the children of the future in South Africa being non-political because he could get more help from outside.”
“Grandad told me to speak my truth, to not be in fear of that and to use my voice to help others,” she continues, choosing her quotes carefully as she has to save some for an upcoming book that’s on the horizon. Although her trip was short, she made time to visit children at the Amoyo Performing Arts centre and Marian RC Secondary School.
On Sunday April 14, Campbell told me, marked her 33rd year in the fashion industry – she had her first fashion shoot a month before her 16th birthday. It was the late 1980s and at that time Campbell was one of the only models of color on the runway. “I used to have to fight for the same fee as my white counterparts doing the same job,” remembers the 48-year-old. And were it not for her sisterhood of supers, namely Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, “jeopardizing their own careers” by insisting designers “who were not into even thinking of using a model of color at that time”, Campbell would never have been cast in their shows.
Author: PAR LIAM FREEMAN