“We just want balance, end of story,” says Naomi Campbell in a recent interview with the Guardian. Long one of the few black “supers” (as in supermodels), in recent years, Campbell, in partnership with fellow fashion legends Iman and Bethann Hardison, has become an advocate for diversity in the fashion industry. This followed decades of rumors casting Campbell as a territorial queen bee among black models, making her evolution into an advocate and mentor for more black faces on the runway a surprise to many.
“Some people think I wanted it to be that way,” she tells the Guardian, presumably in reference to long-held rumors of rivalry between her and other black models, like Tyra Banks. “I did not want it that way. If I wasn’t there, there would be no one, and we have to have presence.”
Nevertheless, despite the very real presence black models currently have in the fashion industry—a moment many credit to Campbell’s efforts, amongst others—she’s very specific about the representation she and her counterparts have been fighting for.
“I won’t do an all-black show, for instance, because it would be hypocritical given what I’ve stood for, for so long,” she says, clarifying that what she stands for is “balanced inclusion.” Bottom line: Campbell isn’t interested in taking part in any gimmicks. “I can see clearly when brands want diversity because they get it and think it’s the right thing to do—and the ones who just think it will look bad if they don’t,” she says.
For her Guardian shoot, the veteran model celebrated a somewhat confounding first: requesting to work with 26-year-old photographer and director Campbell Addy, it was the first time in Campbell’s decadeslong career that she’d worked with a black photographer “on a mainstream publication.”
“I’m happy for all the new talent and proud to be here right now, witnessing all this music and culture and the lifestyle, and the way it moves in fashion,” she says. “Gianni [Versace] always said it would mix like this, and it finally did.”
By her own account, the 49-year-old Campbell has also significantly evolved beyond the image of an occasionally abusive diva. She tells the Guardian she’s currently in love, which is “fucking hectic,” and that at the moment, her heart is happy. But her mercurial reputation—which includes both incredible philanthropy and mentorship as well as multiple assault convictions and a deeply controversial association involving blood diamonds—still looms large. Recently, photos of her publicly pictured alongside Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein have surfaced, along with speculation about her association with the two alleged sexual predators. When asked about it, she now simply says: “I will not be held hostage to my past.”
“I’ve met thousands of people at events and been photographed with them—there are pictures of me with everyone,” she scoffs. “Are you going to single me out, when there are hundreds of people pictured with the same people, who you don’t care to mention? Do me a fucking favor. I won’t sit there and roll over and take that shit. We all know what that’s about,” she continues, inferring but not specifically saying “racism.”
“I’ve seen how they treat [footballer] Raheem Sterling, how they speak about [racecar driver] Lewis Hamilton and Serena Williams,” she continues. “I don’t know how Meghan Markle deals with this and I’m really glad she’s taken action to defend herself.”
While Campbell has yet to meet the Duchess of Sussex and currently has no plans to, she says “when I heard [she was taking legal action], I was like ‘Bravo. Good for her.’”
In December, Campbell will receive the British Fashion Council’s coveted icon award; undeniably an icon, she’s also unapologetic for her still-evolving journey.
“I’m blessed at the opportunities I still have,” she tells the Guardian. “[B]ut how many times was I called a bitch because I stood up for myself back in the day? Finally, it’s balanced out. But it’s not changed me. This is the way I’ve always been.”