Iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell is celebrating 33 years in fashion, which is no mean feat considering how unforgiving an industry it can be.
The 48-year-old has posted a throwback photo on Instagram, with an emotional caption to go with it. "They said I would only last 11 years, but here I am today celebrating 33 years in the business of fashion!" she wrote.
"I go from plane to plane, from city to city, almost daily and I’m constantly working. My friends are always telling me to slow down and rest but I’m at a point in my career where my vision is crystal clear and, for now, I’m on a mission.
"A mission to nurture the new and next generation. A mission to ensure that my industry – the fashion industry – is a place that’s diverse and of equal opportunity and I’m on a mission to change the narrative and perception of the great continent of Africa!"
It’s clear Campbell has no intentions of settling for a quiet life any time soon, even though she’s already achieved so much. So, at this milestone in her career, how has she been such a game changer in the fashion world?
She is a trailblazer for models of colour
Campbell is vocal about the racism she’s experienced in the fashion industry. She told the Guardian: "From attending auditions and performing at an early age, I understood what it meant to be black. You had to put in the extra effort. You had to be twice as good."
Despite the barriers facing her, Campbell has consistently set a new standard for women of colour in the industry. Perhaps most importantly, she was the first black model to grace the cover of French Vogue in 1988.
She epitomised an iconic time in fashion
Campbell became famous in the late Eighties and reached new levels in the Nineties as part of an iconic era of supermodels. Along with Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Kate Moss, Campbell formed a squad of top ‘supers’.
Evangelista, Turlington and Campbell made up ‘The Trinity’ – they were the biggest and brightest in a time full of iconic supermodels defining an era of fashion.
Along with Crawford, the quartet walked the 1991 Versace runway arm in arm, lip-syncing to George Michael’s Freedom! ’90 – a music video they also appeared in. It was a moment that immediately made fashion history.
Campbell was also muse to Tunisian-born designer Azzedine Alaïa – their bond was so close she even called him ‘Papa’.
She’s not afraid to be herself
As we celebrate the Year of Mandela, @NaomiCampbell is reminding us just how extraordinary of an activist he was. Thank you for sharing your stories of Mandela with us, Naomi, and see you in South Africa! pic.twitter.com/FEo8NgeAXX— Global Citizen (@GlblCtzn) September 30, 2018
Campbell’s career has seen ups and downs – she particularly made headlines in 2007 for turning up to her last day of community service (she’d pleaded guilty to throwing a phone at her maid) in a stunning, full-length sequinned Dolce & Gabbana gown.
Tidbits like this have divided opinion over Campbell, but you can’t deny the supermodel respect for always being herself. In fact, she says this comes from Nelson Mandela, with whom she had a close relationship. She said at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in New York that Mandela "taught me to be my true self, my most authentic self, and to be true to whatever I would commit myself to, and to stick to my integrity."
In keeping with this ethos, Campbell founded Fashion for Relief with 2005 – a charity which puts on star-studded fashion shows to raise money for disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
She’s constantly pushing the industry to be better
With such a long and successful career under her belt, Campbell could be forgiven for slowing down a bit – something she has no intentions of doing.
She’s a contributing editor to British Vogue, and when Edward Enninful became the new editor she immediately took to social media to criticise the lack of diversity at the company. Campbell is constantly speaking out about the need for diversity on the runways, and campaigns for models of colour to get paid as much as their white counterparts.
Campbell is also hard at work promoting the work of African fashion designers. Last week she spoke at the Condé Nast Luxury Conference in Cape Town, and Vogue reports her as saying: "I do believe that an African designer is going to walk away with the LVMH Prize this year. Instead of having Western designers use African designers’ textiles and not get it right, let them do it, give them the credit. Because that’s what happens, they don’t get the credit and it’s wrong."
Thankfully, Campbell is increasingly being rewarded for her efforts. Last year she landed her first ever beauty contract (for NARS) and followed in the footsteps of David Bowie and Rihanna by being awarded the Fashion Icon Award at the CFDA Awards.