Naomi Campbell is used to breaking down barriers.
As the first British black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue, she defied her working class roots to become one of the world’s most in-demand supermodels.
Despite her extraordinary success – which led to a £40million fortune – she says she is still discriminated against because of the colour of her skin.
She told the Mirror how she modelled for a recent campaign but an Asian country refused to take the advert.
“It shocks me but it keeps my drive going,” the 49-year-old says. “It keeps things in perspective that the work is never done. That’s why I don’t give up.”
Six years ago she launched a campaign – the Diversity Coalition – which aimed to increase black and ethnic minority faces on the catwalk.
Joining forces with late David Bowie’s model wife Iman and agent Bethann Hardison, they put their names to an open letter addressed to the governing bodies of the fashion industries in New York, London, Paris and Milan.
It pointed out at New York Fashion Week 6% of models were black and 9% were Asian and that fewer black models are used now than in the 1970s.
It went on to list fashion houses guilty of using too few black models including Victoria Beckham, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel, Armani, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Roberto Cavalli and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
The campaign worked. The figure rose to nearly 40% at last year’s fashion weeks across the world.
Naomi was left delighted with the results – but says the fight doesn’t stop there. “I am very proud and happy but what’s next to come is that these models of diversity get the same pay cheque. It has to happen.
“If you are doing the same work why aren’t you getting the same cheque?
I went through that when I was younger and I compromised myself many times. But it shouldn’t be that way any more.
“I used to do a campaign because it was prestigious, or a great photographer, or because of the creativity. But there comes a point where it was no. That’s when I would speak up.”
She says her agent at the time was initially left horrified by her turning down work out of principle.
“But I said I’m not selling myself that way, and you’re not going to sell myself that way either,” she says. “People forget that models are self-employed. It was insulting to take that for my race.” Even now, Naomi is forced to take a stand and decline work. She says she was asked to do a catwalk at Paris Fashion Week – but it wasn’t diverse enough.
“I didn’t feel the message was right. Diversity has to be balanced across the board for all races. It’s not about the money.”
Naomi, originally from Streatham, South London, was discovered at 15 while window shopping and her breakthrough came when she made the cover of Elle in April 1986.
Her early career was guided by Elite Model Management Paris, which also created supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford.
But she has also become known for her activism. Last year she even teamed up with then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson to promote the importance of girls’ education.
The pair backed the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign, which wants all girls across the world to receive at least 12 years of proper education by 2030.
Since Mr Johnson was propelled into the Tory leadership campaign, the spotlight has been cast over racial slurs made by him in the past.
Asked her thoughts on him, Naomi replied: “I go on how people treat me to my face. To me, he was very gracious and passionate about this project, which is why I
met him.” Quizzed if he would make a good Prime Minister, she says: “Well, we need someone to run this country. I am staying out of politics.”
Naomi was speaking after it was announced she was being given the Icon prize at the 2019 Fashion Awards in recognition of her contribution to the industry as well as her charity work.
She will be given the award in a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in London on December 2.
British Fashion Council chief executive Caroline Rush said: “We cannot think of a more deserving recipient than iconic Londoner Naomi Campbell. S
he has achieved exceptional work in the industry.
“Naomi represents female empowerment, activism and glamour and her voice is used for great impact.”
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