While many associate the supermodel with being the first Black model to appear on the covers of Time and French Vogue, her current credentials include producer, actress, adviser and more. Inclined to enact change versus pontificate about it, Campbell explained, “I’m looking at myself as a changemaker. As a changemaker, I thought this was something that was a good thing to do. I know that it’s fast fashion, and that people have their criticism. I’m not denying them. But as a changemaker, I felt this was a great way to effect change in the industry in getting my emerging designers recognized and seeing them on a global platform.”
Above all, Campbell would like to see the fashion industry change “by opening up all borders — fashion is not supposed to discriminate — and allowing anyone and everyone who wants to come and show in whatever country. If their dream is to show, then let them show,” she said. “Giving them the support that they need is the most important thing, whether that is how they manufacture or produce. That’s why I started Emerge [in 2021].”
That initiative was one of several that Campbell mentioned in passing — not in a self-congratulatory way but as proof of her actions and the greater collective potential — during an interview. The supermodel will be front-and-center when the PrettyLittleThing by Naomi Campbell collection is unveiled at a Sept. 5 runway show at Cipriani Broadway in Manhattan. It also will air live on PLT’s YouTube and will be available to buy right from the catwalk..
Campbell is sharing the spotlight with two designers — Victor Anate and Theophilio’s Edvin Thompson. Both Anate, a largely unknown 20-year-old Nigerian designer, and Thompson, a Jamaican-born, New York-based creative, joined her on a phone interview Monday.
Their respective heritage — Nigerian and Jamaican — resonated with Campbell, who is bringing unheralded designers to the forefront through Emerge. In addition to wanting to shine a light on those emerging markets, the PLT collaboration has other pluses. “I’m 53. It’s [a matter of] getting to know a whole different audience that I didn’t know before or I thought I didn’t know, or I thought they didn’t know me,” she explained.
Anate collaborated with Campbell and the PLT design team to create a body-con dress with cutouts while Thompson envisioned an elegant off-white satin dress. Hopeful that other companies will follow PLT’s lead with similar endeavors, Campbell said, “This is what we need to be doing.”
As for rating the state of diversity in the fashion industry, she said, “I’m so over the word. This is my point – I feel like so many people just use that word to tick a box, to make sure that they’re not called out or anything like that. I don’t use that word. For me, it’s not about using the word or ticking a box — it’s about doing the action, the pure action. It’s giving a part of your platform and sharing it with someone, who is talented.”
Along with Bethann Hardison and Iman, Campbell started the Black Girls Coalition in 1988 to try to chip away at the lack of representation and improve equity. In the years that followed, Campbell said it’s been interesting to see how some have raised the issue of diversity in some ways that are true and in some ways that were not so true. Although some people now feel as though “they had better do” certain things, Campbell said, “We don’t want it that way. We want it to be true. If it’s true and it comes from a real place, then it doesn’t have to be said. It’s just going to be done.”
Anate and Thompson weren’t left to wonder about Campbell’s views. One collection was completely overhauled due to the time of year. “I’m not the kind of person who is going to say, ‘I love that design,’ if I don’t like it. No. If I don’t like it, I will say, ‘I don’t like it’ and, ‘Let’s try again.’ Or I will say, ‘I love it or I like it.’” Even if their clientele might prefer certain features, Campbell said she would acknowledge that but explain, “‘Yeah, but this is the way that I like it.’” And inevitably, that’s what many PLT shoppers will be buying into.
Above all, her aim is that young designers from around the world see that PrettyLittleThing can be a platform for them to start to get recognition. Although the alliance is one-time only for now, Campbell didn’t rule out others down-the-road.
“Surreal” as this experience has been for Anate, he said it has not been as stressful as he had anticipated, due to PLT’s efficiency. “I’ve known PLT all my life because it’s a big brand. Of course, I’ve known [of] Naomi all of my life. It was still surreal working on the designs with the team until I saw a draft of the press release a few days ago. That’s when it hit me…it’s just me, my mentor in Nigeria and my sister, who know about it. They know how much I love about fashion and are really proud of me. I can’t wait to see the city, the models and the clothes,” he said.
Campbell, who has acted in numerous films, continues to work as a producer. Earlier this year she co-created the “Dare to Be You” launch communications for BMW XM, the luxury carmaker’s high-performance hybrid vehicle. One of her executive producer credits is for AppleTV+’s docuseries “The Super Models,” which she also appears in with Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. “All I can say about this docuseries is that it was meant to be a celebration. I don’t think it’s the celebration that it started out to be,” she said.
Asked if that meant she was disappointed or it was just different than anticipated, Campbell said, “That [time] was so much fun, so much creativity. Once there were all these great geniuses together at the same time. It was magical, fun and hardworking. There wasn’t time to think of anything so much. It was really a creative time. It was so nice to feel that you, as a model, were involved with the creative — [with] the designers and the photographers. You were part of that.”
Unquestionably, the industry’s ever-churning speed has altered that. “It’s different now. There are some photographers that you can feel that way with. The whole approach of the business is different. It’s so much faster now. Things have to be produced at a faster pace,” Campbell said.
That acceleration applies to the global fast-fashion market in which PLT operates, as well as its parent Boohoo. The global reach of the British-born Campbell will no doubt resonate with many of the e-tailer’s base and reel in new shoppers. The designs are meant to relay a certain confidence — a satin-lapeled jumpsuit, belted faux leather trench, halter neck minidress, an off-white colored evening dress and sequined thigh-baring dress can have that effect. Available in sizes 0 to 26, the styles will retail from $10 to $185.
Campbell models styles from her signature line in an outdoor and social media advertising campaign that was shot by Luigi Murenu and Iango Henzi, who are known as “Luigi and Iango.” She also recently appeared on the much talked-about September cover for American Vogue that was photographed by another rising talent — 30-year-old Brazilian-born Rafael Pavarotti. “I love Rafael. Yeah, he’s very young. I love Edward [Enninful]. Edward said it was going to be Rafael. I had no issue with that. I’d worked with Rafael before. He’s a friend. I was fine and thought, ‘Great.’ I didn’t question it.”
As for the reaction to the cover, Campbell started to respond but was redirected to all matters PLT.
Reached in his New York City Garment District studio Monday, Thompson said he could see Campbell’s image on one of the PLT billboards from a window and was “truly floored.” His hope is that this endeavor will make people in the industry “show up for young designers” like himself and Anate, “and show them that this is what it looks like. It would truly transcend our work and our industry.”
Recalling how “so many” helped her, including “so many who are no longer here,” Campbell paused, seemingly respectfully, in naming some of them — Azzedine Alaïa, Gianni Versace, “‘Mr. Saint Laurent,’ There are too many, oh my goodness. There was Karl Lagerfeld. There are too many. I was in such a blessed place and time.”
With that in mind, she said, “I’ve always believed that you have to share and pass it on. That’s who I am as a person. But I don’t like my kindness to be mistaken for weakness. I do it as initiatives and I do it around the world.…I love working with new young photographers, young designers and a new generation of models.”
As a self-described “doer whether that be something for herself or coming up with ideas for others, who are appreciative of the ideas that I come up with for them,” Campbell said, “I like doing things. I like seeing things come to fruition. Now I work with a media company called Gamma [that was started earlier this year by former Apple executive Larry Jackson]. I’m partners [in] heading up Africa and the Middle East. It’s fun. I’m just enjoying my life and, most importantly, enjoying my family. When I travel, my kids travel with me.”
Asked what people might not understand about her, Campbell played up the positivity. Her willingness to help could be in relation to “anything. It could be recovery,” she said. “That’s who I am. There have been some people that I’ve helped that have not been so grateful. And there are people that I’ve helped that have been very grateful. You learn along the way. I’m human. We’re all a work in progress.”
While the requests — both personal and professional — keep pouring in, Campbell said there are so many things that she hasn’t had the time to get to. “I don’t have plans that are strategic. I’m not a strategic person. I’m someone who comes from instinct. If I see that someone is producing this and I could put this person with that person, I do it — if it’s right. There are a few that I’ve done that I wish I hadn’t done. It’s ok. I don’t give in to regrets.”
With the PLT runway show days away, Campbell is just looking forward to everything coming together. “That’s the last piece of the puzzle of our collaboration with PLT. I’m hoping that people like it.”