On the supermodel's 44th birthday, we look back on the moments that shaped her
Happy birthday, Naomi! The Streatham-born supermodel turns 44 today. Over her decades-long career, Naomi Campbell has pretty much rewritten fashion history: one of the original supermodels, she was one of the first black model on the cover of French Vogue and Time. Everything from her kinetic energy on the runway to her icy, can't-touch-this glare screams OG supermodel. If you disagree, make sure you avoid any mobile phones thrown your way.
In recent years, Campbell has relaunched herself as the stony-eyed reality TV judge and mentor of The Face, where she dispenses fierce one-liners and brings aspiring models to tears. We wouldn't have it any other way. In honour of her 44th birthday, we pay homage to the earliest moments that shaped her career.
TAKING A TUMBLE AT VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
Many a model has been felled by too-tall shoes, but Naomi made the tumble of all tumbles at Vivienne Westwood's 1993 show. Later on, she successfully completed her walk on the monstrous platform heels on the Jonathan Ross Show. Watching a model fall on the runway is never pleasant, but we could watch Naomi do it all day. She makes personal injury look iconic.
NAOMI THE PRE-TEEN STAR
Naomi didn't shy away from the limelight as a child. Prior to her modelling career, she'd racked up appearances in music videos ("Is This Love" by Bob Marley and Culture Club's "I'll Tumble 4 Ya"). But her pre-teen stardom wasn't limited to music videos – Naomi also had a cameo role in British children's TV show The Chiffy Kids. The adorable eight-year-old played a hopeful pre-schooler actress who called herself Snow White.
THE HOLY TRINITY
As an industry newcomer, Naomi found herself under the wing of more experienced model Christy Turlington. When Steven Meisel paired them with Canadian rookie Linda Evangelista, the Trinity was born. The close-knit trio became the power BFFs of the fashion industry, racking up eye-watering fees (hence Evanglista's line: "we don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day") and conquering every runway they strode down.
HER FIRST VOGUE COVER
In 1987, Naomi covered Vogue as a 17-year-old ingenue. "I can’t even begin to explain what this cover meant to me," she told Styleist. "It showed my family that being a model was a good choice. It made my family proud." A year later, she became the first ever black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue.
HUMBLEBRAGGING ABOUT FAME
In this extract from a 1994 documentary about models coping with fame, Christy Turlington says that she's only in the spotlight at the shows, and she can only walk down the street in peace at home. Naomi then cuts in: "I have the opposite problem. I can't walk down the street in London." Classic Naomi.
SINGING "FREEDOM" AT GIANNI VERSACE'S SHOW
This super-powered moment in fashion history has an inspiring story behind it. In 1990, Peter Lindbergh shot Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington for the cover of Vogue, inspiring George Michael to feature them in the music video for "Freedom! '90". Gianni Versace decided to send all four supers down the runway of his 1991 show, arms linked, George Michael blasting on the soundtrack. Iconic.
HER BRIEF MUSIC CAREER
In 1995, Naomi released her album babywoman. The album, which featured "Love and Tears" as a debut single, didn't make it past No. 75 on the UK charts. Japan, on the other hand, were big fans of Naomi's foray into music – babywoman sold over a million copies there.
HER FRIENDSHIP WITH GIANNI VERSACE
Naomi has always cultivated friendships with designers like Azzedine Alaia, but Naomi's relationship with Gianni was a particularly close one. Christy Turlington introduced the the 16-year-old Naomi to Gianni, who went on to cast her in his shows and campaigns for the next 20 years. When Gianni was murdered outside his Miami Beach home in 1997, Naomi described it as a "disgusting and uncalled for" crime.
APPEARING ON HOUSE OF STYLE
This much-loved MTV series marked the peak of public interest in supermodels, promising an unvarnished and intimate look at the lives of some of fashion's biggest superstars. In practice, that meant models like Cindy Crawford and Naomi applying zit cream, showing off her wardrobe and advising on the importance of good underwear. Think of it as a proto-reality show – with infinitely better-looking stars.
HER RIVALRY WITH TYRA BANKS
When Tyra Banks was discovered at 17, she was quickly hailed as a successor to the more established Campbell. Naomi went to extreme methods to protect her status: she convinced Karl Lagerfeld to ban Banks from the Chanel runway and she tried to force her then-agency, Elite Model Management, to choose between her and Banks. Campbell later apologised to Banks on an episode of The Tyra Banks Show. You can judge her sincerity for yourself here: