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Naomi: In Fashion

Four decades of supermodel catwalking

The first black model to feature on the cover of Vogue, Naomi Campbell ranks alongside Coco Chanel and Valentino as one of fashion’s most important icons. After being discovered by model agent Beth Boldt at the age of 15, the south Londoner very quickly saw her life turn into a fashion fairy tale. By the late 1980s Campbell had joined the supermodel gang, walking for every major designer, posing for the best photographers and appearing on more covers than any other black model of her generation.

The V&A is poised to make history with the unveiling of its ground-breaking exhibition NAOMI: In Fashion, which explores Campbell’s 40-year catwalk career as well as her activism and philanthropic endeavours.

Produced in collaboration with Campbell herself, the show gives unprecedented access to her life beyond the Naomi portrayed in the press. Interviews, candid photographs, and personal artefacts will provide an intimate perspective on the woman behind the iconic persona.

From the left: Naomi as a kid in New Orleans and at the zenith of her career, photographed by Steven Meisel, the American photographer with whom Naomi worked in several occasions.

The exhibition starts with clips of Campbell on the catwalk, illustrating her legendary “walk” and setting the scene for this unique celebration of the supermodel’s unparalleled career. From there, the show takes visitors back to her childhood in south London.

NAOMI: In Fashion draws upon Campbell’s extensive wardrobe of haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles she wore during key moments in her career along with loans from designer archives and objects from the V&A’s collections. Highlights include a dramatic 1989 Thierry Mugler car-inspired corset, Campbell’s outfit for her starring role in Sarah Burton’s last show as creative director at Alexander McQueen, a pink Valentino ensemble worn at the 2019 Met Gala and the pair of staggeringly high Vivienne Westwood platform shoes the supermodel was wearing when she infamously toppled over on the catwalk in 1993.

Examples of Campbell’s earliest covers are also on show in this section, including Patrick Demarchelier’s shot of her for the August 1988 issue of Vogue Paris.

From the left: the car-inspired corset by Thierry Mugler from 1989 (courtesy of Mugler Archives); dressed by Naomi’s mentor, Azzedine Alaïa (courtesy of Azzedine Alaïa Foundation); and the Vivienne Westwood platform shoes the supermodel was wearing when she fell over on the catwalk in 1993 (courtesy Vivienne Westwood). All images: Victoria & Albert Museum.

Successive sections of the exhibition put into context the supermodel years of the 1990s, her special relationship with designer Azzedine Alaïa – who would become her mentor; how she dealt with serving community service as one of the most famous women in the world, and her pioneering collaborations with top fashion houses.

Her alchemy with the camera is presented through a series of photographs from world-renowned photographers such as Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh and David Bailey.  

The show also explores how Campbell has advocated for race equality from an early age, joining the Black Girls Coalition in 1989 and fronting the 2007 ‘black issue’ of Vogue Italia among other initiatives. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, she has also become a tireless philanthropist, with her dedication to a number of causes – in particular healthcare and education in Africa and the promotion of young creative talent – still very much part of her life.Top of Form

Naomi: In Fashion
V&A South Kensington. Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
22nd June 2024 – 6th April 2025|
Details and tickets, HERE.

Words: Lavinia Dickson-Robinson

Opening picture: © Dave Benett / Getty images

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