‘Naomi: In Fashion’ at Victoria and Albert Museum Is a ‘Biography for Her Children’

Naomi Campbell fans will be able to tap into the model’s heart — and mind — with the new exhibition “Naomi: In Fashion” at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which runs from June 22 to April 6.

It was Edward Enninful, the former editor in chief of British Vogue, who came up with the idea for a show dedicated to the supermodel, who also is one of his closest friends.

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“Although a number of exhibitions and displays such as ‘Diva’ or ‘Africa Fashion’ have featured Black female designers, artists and performers, ‘Naomi: In Fashion’ is the first major V&A solo show dedicated to a Black woman,” says Sonnet Stanfill, senior curator of fashion at the V&A who worked with Campbell on the exhibition.

The show will feature a variety of looks from the supermodel’s long career, including a Kenneth Ize striped dress from the fall 2020 runway show; an Yves Saint Laurent feathered cocktail dress from his fall 1987 collection, and a beautifully embellished Alexander McQueen gown that she wore to the Fashion Awards in 2019.

Vivienne Westwood platform shoes worn by Campbell during her famous 1993 catwalk fall
Vivienne Westwood platform shoes worn by Campbell during her famous 1993 catwalk fall.

Then there are the famed Vivienne Westwood nine-inch platforms that Campbell was wearing when she fell during the brand’s fall 1993 show, “Anglomania.”

“The V&A acquired the shoes soon after that famous fall and they are shown for the first time since with the tartan skirt and velvet jacket and pink feather boa that formed the ensemble on the catwalk,” Stanfill says.

Another piece on display will be a John Galliano panther print dress from the designer’s fall 1996 collection, The Baby Maker, which the model wore on the runway. There is also a gray two-piece suit with a matching coat from Boss, which is sponsoring the V&A exhibition.

Although Campbell never dreamed a day like this would come, she’s been caring for many of her wardrobe pieces, and keeping them safe.

She still has a few items from when she was 16 years old and remembers the very first piece that the late Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa gave her, a purple body suit with a skirt.

Each piece in the exhibition holds significance and sentimental value to the model.

1989 Thierry Mugler car-inspired corset
The 1989 Thierry Mugler car-inspired corset.

“It’s very hard to say there’s one particular piece that’s a favorite of mine because I put in the time, even if it was just a fitting, it’s time believing in the creativity of the designers that you are working with. That’s commitment,” Campbell says.

“There’s nothing strategic about my career. Believe it or not, people may think there is but there is nothing strategic. I’m not a strategic person. It’s been ideas, but it really has just been [about] trusting my higher power and being open to the flow of life, and what it’s going to bring you,” she says with precision.

Whenever she says anything, her words are chosen carefully with poise and there’s no mincing around in her speech.

Azzedine Alaïa
An Azzedine Alaïa dress.

Campbell clarifies that this exhibition in a way is her biography for her children.

“My kids will see this one day and that’s why I’m telling the stories clearly, it’s important they understand what mummy used to do and who she worked with,” she says.

“There’s some personal objects of mine that I’ve added. I just wanted it to be very cozy. It’s not humongous and it’s just intimate,” says Campbell, taking sips from her ginger ale.

The showcase also contains personal letters that Campbell has both written and those she’s received from designers, magazine covers and video footage.

Andy Warhol-print dress from Gianni Versace’s Spring/Summer 1991 show
Andy Warhol print dress from Gianni Versace’s spring 1991 show.

There are three magazine covers in the exhibition that Enninful believes act as chapters in Campbell’s trajectory as a model and as a woman.

One is a Taxi magazine cover from 1987, the model’s cover debut, which Enninful remembers vividly because it was a time when very few Black women were on magazine covers.

“I knew somehow from that very moment that we would become friends,” he says.

Another is Campbell fronting Vogue Italia’s The Black Issue overseen by Franca Sozzani in 2008 photographed by Steven Meisel and styled by Enninful.

Naomi Campbell by Steven Meisel.

“I wanted to honor the legions of Black women who were shaping the industry, but who, at the time, were more often than not underrepresented. If anything [we] went against [the] notion that Black models don’t sell,” he says.

The final one is a British Vogue cover of Campbell holding her daughter, whose name she has not revealed, which Enninful says is a testament of their close bond.

Enninful pulled the strings for the exhibition by calling the V&A’s director, Tristram Hunt, with the proposition.

Naomi Campbell's twentieth birthday party.
Naomi Campbell’s 20th birthday party.

“He essentially said yes on the spot,” recalls Enninful, who helped curate the image selection.

Campbell admits that the pressure is on and it’s an overwhelming feeling to put on a show.

“It’s overwhelming and it’s an incredible honor and I’m truly grateful. More people keep telling me, ‘Do you understand? Do you understand? Do you understand?’ I’m just a bit more scared, but what I want people to take away is that it’s an intimate portrayal of me,” she says, wearing a relaxed black tweed Chanel suit paired with pearl necklaces and white hotel slippers.

The model, who turned 54 at the end of May, confesses she had made no real birthday plans to mark the occasion and that the V&A exhibition itself feels like 20 birthdays in one.

“And now I’m just my daughter’s mother. That’s what I am. That’s it,” Campbell says.

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