After being the face of Vogue numerous times during her illustrious modeling career, Naomi Campbell is slightly amused by the controversy over Kim Kardashian and Kanye West appearing on the cover of the April issue of the magazine.
As the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue and Russian Vogue, as well as the first British black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue, she is more concerned about the continuing issue of diversity in the modeling industry than the latest in the Kim-ye soap opera.
"There has been some progress, especially in ad campaigns," says the supermodel who has graced over 500 magazine covers. "Runways, there needs to be improvement, especially in England (where she was born). "We don't want it to be a trend, we want to make it consistent. We want people to be more conscious and more aware of the need for diversity"
She is especially thrilled that the March issue of British Vogue has more models of color than ever before.
"I was so happy to see this issue,” Campbell says. “You’ve got Prada [featuring Cindy Bruna and Malaika Firth], you’ve got Tom Ford Beauty [featuring Betty Adewole]. I mean I’ve never seen anything like this. This shows that there is a change for the positive and we’re going in the right direction. So this issue is a treasure, because it’s the first landmark.”
Another landmark will be when one of Campbell's mentors, Bethann Hardison, is honored with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Founder's Award on June 2nd at Lincoln Center for her campaign to increase diversity. Campbell was thrilled to sit with CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg when she made the announcement recently at the Sirius XM satellite radio studios in Manhattan. Hardison has led the fight for diversity for over thirty years. Last year her organization Diversity Coalition, which includes Campbell and Iman, wrote open letters to organizers of fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris and Milan naming designers who rarely or never used models of color.
"In the 1980s in New York City we had the Black Girls Coalition which is now called Diversity Coalition," Campbell remembers. "We would meet after Fashion Week and discuss the situation. Iman was the first black model I was aware of when I was growing up in London. I would see her Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims in magazines. I always looked up to them and Bethann. They all paved the way for me."
Campbell has consistently fought and spoke out against discrimination, stating, "The American president may be black, but as a black woman, I am still an exception in this business. I always have to work harder to be treated equally."
Now Campbell plans to fulfill another goal, by working harder as a designer.
She revealed this week at the British Vogue Festival in London that she plans to launch her own fashion line.
"I will design not just for women of color, but for all," Campbell explains. "I see there's lots of things that are not there that I feel that I'd like to have, and so I'd like to share it with everybody. So yes, I will, and hopefully one of the things will be out by 2015."
In the past Campbell avoided creating her own line to avoid antagonizing designers, however she has overcome those fears.
While she develops her designs, Campbell continues to pave the way for a new generation of models on the second season of the Oxygen reality series "The Face." As executive producer and one of the supermodel coaches, she whips the girls into shape like an army drill sergeant to become ‘The Face’ of Frédéric Fekkai’s 2014 national ad campaign. She is extremely demanding because she is committed to making her models fully prepared for a challenging industry.
"I like mentoring," says Campbell. "I love being with the girls. I am with them daily for weeks. When it ends I am depressed because I miss them. I wake them up. I care about them. I care about them after the show ends."
"I went with the first winner Devyn (Abdullah) to Singapore," Campbell says. "I was proud of her. I want to make sure the winners work immediately. On too many shows, you don’t see the winners working."
Campbell continues constantly working around the world, building on her 28 year legacy of fabulous ad campaigns for the who's who of fashion: Burberry, Prada, Versace, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and more. She was discovered at the age of 15, after getting a taste of show business at the age of seven in Bob Marley's "Is This Love" video. Since then, she has appeared in videos with music icons Michael Jackson and Madonna.
However her most influential icon is not an entertainer, but a trailblazer whose human rights struggles and triumphs personally touched her, the late Nelson Mandela.
She began charity work with the former President of South Africa in 1993, and in 1997 he named her his “Honorary Granddaughter” for her activism. She continues to support the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
"In 1992 I was in South Africa," she remembers. "Blair Underwood educated me about the ANC (African National Congress). I donated my fee to the ANC. I was summoned to meet Mandela and it was incredible to meet him. His smile lit up the room. I can’t believe I knew him for over 20 years.
Campbell says meeting Mandela completely changed her life. "I was searching for something I didn’t know," she admits. "He gave me courage.”
She was also inspired by the courage of the South African children. "The kids were smiling and singing despite their suffering." she recalls. "I wanted to cry, but he told me I had to conceal my pain, not to let the kids see me crying."
Working with Mandela inspired Campbell to devote herself to charitable work around the world. In 2005, she established Fashion For Relief which has presented fashion shows in New York, London, Cannes, Moscow, India and Africa to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the India terrorist attacks in 2009, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and the Japan earthquake in 2011. "Now I want to do something to help the children in Syria (who have been devastated by civil war).
Campbell loves assisting children, and now at the age of 43, she is focused on having her own child.
"I will have a baby," she declares, "even if I have to have it on my own and raise it on my own." She was infertile until successful surgery removed a cyst and provided her with new hope to become a mother.
Campbell admires her own mother who was a professional dancer, and she planned to follow in her footsteps and become a ballerina. Her mother is her role model, however Campbell admits earlier in her life she rejected the idea of being a paragon for others to follow.
"When I was in my 20s," she recalls," I didn’t like the pressure. I did not want to be a role model. Now I am committed to helping others."
Obviously Campbell has been involved in several incidents not worthy of a role model. She admitted a five-year addiction to cocaine and recovered through rehab. Her violent temper has led to nearly a dozen assault charges. Her indiscretions appear to be in her distant past, however, her angry reputation has resulted in unflattering media coverage which she calls "nasty press that of course bothers me."
Campbell is definitely a diva who demands what she wants. She strives for perfection and will not hesitate to let it be known when she is not happy. "I am honest," she states. "If I don’t like the makeup, I will say it even if you have been doing my makeup for 12 years."
In addition to modeling, she has expressed her creativity in a variety of ways, including releasing an album and a book in 1994, and acting in several television series including "The Cosby Show" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
As one of the five original supermodels along with Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer, she calls the highlight of her career appearing with Britain's greatest models in a spectacular fashion show at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.
"I was proud to do something for my country," Campbell says with a huge smile.
After three decades of global success, what hasn't she accomplished?
"I want to appear on 'Saturday Night Live'," she boldly states. And more importantly, she is determined to become a mother.
"I’m going to give it a damn good try."
Of course, there will not be a lack of men volunteering to assist the process.