Naomi Elaine Campbell was born 22 May 1970 and is an English model, actress and businesswoman. Discovered at the age of 15, she established herself amongst the most recognizable and in-demand models of the late 1980s and the 1990s and was one of six models of her generation declared supermodels by the fashion industry and the international press.
In addition to her modelling career, Campbell has embarked on other ventures, including an R&B-pop studio album and several acting appearances in film and television, such as the modeling-competition reality show The Face and its international offshoots.
Campbell was born in Streatham, South London to Jamaican-born dancer Valerie Morris. In accordance with her mother’s wishes, Campbell has never met her father, who abandoned her mother when she was four months pregnant and went unnamed on her birth certificate. She took the surname “Campbell” from her mother’s second marriage. Her half-brother Pierre was born in 1985. Campbell is of Afro-Jamaican descent, as well as of Chinese-Jamaican ancestry through her paternal grandmother, whose surname was Ming.
Campbell spent her early years in Rome, where her mother worked as a modern dancer. On their return to London, she lived with relatives while her mother travelled across Europe with the dance troupe Fantastica. From age three, Campbell attended the Barbara Speake Stage School and at 10 she was accepted into the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, where she studied ballet. She also attended Dunraven School.
Campbell was 7 in 1978, when she made her first public appearance in the music video for Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”. At the age of 12, she tap-danced in the music video for Culture Club’s “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”. She had studied dance from age 3 to 16, and originally intended by to be a dancer. In 1986, while still a student of the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Campbell was scouted by Beth Boldt, head of the Synchro Model Agency, while window-shopping in Covent Garden. Her career quickly took off—in April, just before her 16th birthday she appeared on the cover of British Elle.
Over the next few years, Campbell’s career progressed steadily: she walked the catwalk for such designers as Gianni Versace, Azzedine Alaïa, and Isaac Mizrahi and posed for such photographers as Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts, and Bruce Weber. By the late 1980s, Campbell, with Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, formed a trio known as the “Trinity”, who became the most recognizable and in-demand models of their generation.
When faced with racial discrimination, Campbell received support from her white friends; she later quoted Turlington and Evangelista as telling Dolce & Gabbana, “If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us.” In December 1987, she appeared on the cover of British Vogue, as that publication’s first black cover girl since 1966. In August 1988, she became the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue, after her friend and mentor, designer Yves St. Laurent, threatened to withdraw his advertising from the magazine if it continued to refuse to place black models on its cover. The following year, she appeared on the cover of American Vogue, which marked the first time a black model graced the front of the September magazine, traditionally the year’s biggest and most important issue.
In January 1990, Campbell, who was declared “the reigning megamodel of them all” by Interview, appeared with Turlington, Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz on a cover of British Vogue, shot by Peter Lindbergh. The group was subsequently cast to star in the music video for George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90”. By then, Campbell, Turlington, Evangelista, Crawford and Claudia Schiffer formed an elite group of models declared “supermodels” by the fashion industry. With the addition of newcomer Kate Moss, they were collectively known as the “Big Six”.
In March 1991, in a defining moment of the so-called supermodel era, Campbell walked the catwalk for Versace with Turlington, Evangelista and Crawford, arm-in-arm and lip-synching the words to “Freedom! ’90”. Later that year, she starred as Michael Jackson’s love interest in the music video for “In the Closet”. In April 1992, she posed with several other top models for the hundredth-anniversary cover of American Vogue, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. That same year, she appeared in Madonna’s controversial book Sex, in a set of nude photos with Madonna and rapper Big Daddy Kane.
In 1993, Campbell twice appeared on the cover of American Vogue; in April, alongside Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Stephanie Seymour and Helena Christensen, and again, solo, in June. She famously fell on the catwalk in Vivienne Westwood’s foot-high platform shoes, which were later displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Despite her success, however, Elite Model Management, which had represented Campbell since 1987, fired her in September, on the grounds that “no amount of money or prestige could further justify the abuse” to staff and clients. Elite founder John Casablancas described her as “manipulative, scheming, rude and impossible.”
In 1998, Time declared the end of the supermodel era. Campbell continued modeling, both on the runway and, more frequently, on print. In 1999, she signed her first cosmetics contract with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, a division of Wella, through which she launched several signature fragrances. In November of that year, she posed with 12 other top models for the “Modern Muses” cover of the Millennium Issue of American Vogue, shot by Annie Leibovitz. The following month, she appeared in a white string bikini and furs on the cover of Playboy.
In 2007, she walked the catwalk for Dior’s 60th-anniversary fashion show at Versailles. In July 2008, she appeared with fellow black models Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez and Jourdan Dunn on the gatefold cover of a landmark all-black issue of Italian Vogue, shot by Steven Meisel. In September of that year, Campbell reunited with Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Stephanie Seymour for “A League of Their Own”, a Vanity Fair feature on the supermodel legacy.
In 2011, Campbell appeared with Liya Kebede and Iman on the cover of the 40th-anniversary issue of Essence. She also starred as Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon in the band’s music video for “Girl Panic!”, with Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova and Yasmin Le Bon portraying the other band members; they appeared in the November edition of British Harper’s Bazaar in an editorial titled “The Supers vs. Duran Duran”. Campbell performed with Kate Moss and other supermodels in the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, where they modelled haute couture to represent British fashion. Campbell wore a design by Alexander McQueen—a staggered hem gown with a train speckled with flecks of gold.
Campbell has walked the runways for Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, Chloé, Diane Von Furstenberg, Prada, Chanel, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Zac Posen, Blumarine, Karl Lagerfeld, Gianfranco Ferré, Versace, Helmut Lang, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gaultier, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Anna Sui, Louis Vuitton, Hermés, Marchesa, Roberto Cavalli and Valentino.
She has appeared in advertising campaigns for Fendi, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Chloé, Versace, Givenchy, Blumarine, Yves Saint Laurent, Isaac Mizrahi, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, La Perla, Dennis Basso, Philipp Plein, Mango, Thierry Mugler, Balmain, Nars, Roberto Cavalli, David Yurman, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, DSquared2, Express, H&M, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Macy’s, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Gap, Avon, Revlon and Victoria’s Secret.
In September 2017, Campbell appeared in Versace’s Spring/Summer 2018 show celebrating the late Gianni Versace, alongside Schiffer, Crawford, Christensen and Carla Bruni and also featured in the campaign for the collection. In February 2018, Campbell and Moss returned to the runway and closed Kim Jones’ final menswear show for Louis Vuitton.
In June 2018, Campbell received the Fashion Icon award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
In 2019, Campbell received the first beauty contract of her career, with NARS Cosmetics.
In the spring of 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Campbell began her own web series on YouTube, No Filter with Naomi, in which she conducts conversations with various guests. Her inaugural guest was Cindy Crawford, while subsequent guests ranged from Marc Jacobs, Adut Akech, and Christy Turlington to Ashley Graham and Nicole Richie.
In October 2020, Campbell and Apple TV+ announced a documentary about Campbell and fellow supermodels Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, directed by Barbara Kopple. The documentary, named The Supermodels, comes from Brian Grazer’s and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries.
Despite her status as the most famous black model of her time, Campbell never earned the same volume of advertising assignments as her white colleagues, and she was not signed by a cosmetics company until as late as 1999.
Throughout her career, Campbell has been outspoken against the racial bias that exists in the fashion industry.
In 2013, Campbell joined fellow black models Iman and Bethann Hardison in an advocacy group called “Diversity Coalition”. In an open letter to the governing bodies of global fashion weeks, they named high-profile designers who used just one or no models of color in their fall 2013 shows, calling it a “racist act”.
Campbell is involved with several charitable causes. She supports the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, for which she organized a benefit Versace fashion show in 1998. Held at Nelson Mandela’s South African presidential residence, the show was the subject of a documentary titled FashionKingdom, or alternatively, Naomi Conquers Africa. Campbell, whose mother has battled breast cancer, also supports Breakthrough Breast Cancer. In 2004, she was featured on FHM’s charity single Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?, as well as in the accompanying music video, of which all profits were donated to Breakthrough. She appeared in a print and media campaign for the charity’s fundraising initiative Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, and she opened a Breakthrough breast cancer research unit in 2009.
In 2005, Campbell founded the charity We Love Brazil, which aims to raise awareness and funds to fight poverty in Brazil through the sale of fabrics made by local women. That same year, Campbell founded the charity Fashion for Relief, which has organized fund-raising fashion shows to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and the Japan earthquake in 2011. By 2011, Fashion for Relief had reportedly raised £4.5 millions. In 2018 Campbell held another Relief charity gala and the theme was Race To Equality.
In 2012, the charity teamed up with YOOX China and leading global and Chinese fashion designers, including Phillip Lim and Masha Ma, to design Chinese-themed T-shirts to help fund its efforts and the various international charities it works with. Since 2007, Campbell has been the honorary president of Athla Onlus, an Italian organization that works to further the social integration of young people with learning disabilities. In 2009, Campbell became a goodwill ambassador for the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. She has since joined the charity’s patron, Sarah Brown, the wife of former British prime minister Gordon Brown, on several missions to promote maternal health.
Campbell has received recognition for her charitable work. In 2007, she was named an ambassador of Rio de Janeiro by mayor Cesar Maia in recognition of her efforts to fight poverty in Brazil. In 2009, she was awarded Honorary Patronage of Trinity College’s University Philosophical Society for her charitable and professional work. In 2010, Sarah Brown presented her with an “Outstanding Contribution” award from British Elle for her work as an ambassador for the White Ribbon Alliance, as well as her work in the fashion industry.
Campbell, who has never met her biological father, regards French-based Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, whom she met at 16, as her “papa”. She also holds high respect toward record producers Quincy Jones and Chris Blackwell as adopted father figures. Former South African president Nelson Mandela referred to Campbell as his “honorary granddaughter”. She first met Mandela in November 1994, after his party, the African National Congress, invited her to travel to South Africa to meet with their leader. She had previously donated the proceeds from a photo shoot in Tanzania to the ANC. Over the years, Campbell has lent support to many of Mandela’s political campaigns and humanitarian causes.