Kate Moss, RuPaul And More Explain How Naomi Campbell Has Stayed Ahead Of The Fashion Game

naomi campbell
How Naomi Campbell's Stayed On Top Dave Benett - Getty Images

Models and athletes. Both are born blessed with enviable genetics; both are cursed with woefully short career spans. In fashion, especially, which famously moves at lightning speed, you could very easily be the darling of the spring-summer season and forgotten by autumn-winter. If you manage to eke out your It-girl status for a few years, land a couple big-name gigs and retire at the respectable age of 27, well, then you’d be considered especially lucky.

It adds some perspective to Naomi Campbell’s venerable reign at the very pinnacle of fashion. At a youthful 53, she’s one of a mere handful to have defied the odds. Thirty years on from playing muse to the likes of Gianni Versace, Yves Saint Laurent and Azzedine Alaia in the 1990s, she’s still to be found tearing up the catwalks (oftentimes the standout of the show) and lending her famous cheekbones to campaigns for the likes of Nars, Burberry and Chanel. And with 16 million Instagram followers and an upcoming V&A exhibition – the first for a supermodel – she’s clearly as in-demand a pop-culture figure as ever.

Is it by chance? Not in the slightest. Rather it’s a testament to her knack for reinvention, her tenacity and her commitment to keeping her finger on the pulse. Never one to rest on her laurels, these days she’s known for supporting up-and-coming young designers and championing African creatives (she was clued into the Afrobeats wave before most). And when’s she’s not rallying her famous friends for philanthropic causes, mentoring the next generation of Black models or tirelessly advocating for diversity in the industry, she might even find time to squeeze in a Drag Race cameo or create a viral YouTube video and win over a whole new generation of fans.


naomi campbell
Quil Lemons

This month, as the Superest of Supers stars on our cover, five industry collaborators and friends pay tribute to her trailblazing career and lay out why she’s still at the top of her game.

Bethann Hardison, former model and diversity advocate

'I’ve never looked at myself as a friend to Naomi – I look at myself as a mother. I always call her my Buffalo Soldier, because she was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival. She didn’t take no stuff. She was always aware of self-value. I think it’s innate.

'[As for her career], she’s never going to stop. I beg her to get off the runway, but she’ll be on it until she’s 75! She’s someone who is determined to be and someone who knows what she’s got. It’s a seed that grows internally. She has always stood strong for herself, and she’ll keep going because that’s how much she believes in herself. Naomi always lands on her feet.'

Kate Moss, supermodel

'I first met Naomi in LA when I was 17. She came to a friend’s house where I was staying. I was so shy and overwhelmed by her glamour. I don’t think I said a word. Eventually, she took me under her wing, and we became inseparable.

Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell | ELLE UK
Getty Images

'Over the past 30 years, we’ve all got to grow up with her and watch her become the incredible woman she is today. I admire her strength and the way she’s never given up in the face of racism and adversity. She’s especially tenacious when it comes to her charity work, such as Fashion For Relief. But at the same, she has the best sense of humour. I never laugh as much with anyone as I do with her.'

Georgia Medley, stylist and ELLE UK contributing editor

'As someone from the UK who worked hard to become a household name in an industry that doesn’t always favour Black woman, Naomi will always inspire me. I actually first met her on a night out when she came up to me and said she’d heard about me. That was such a pinch-me moment that somebody who I’ve admired for such a long time and someone’s who such a big figure in the industry knew who I was.

'I got to work with her for this cover and she’s the ultimate professional. She’s super quick, she knows her angles. We managed to get the whole shoot – seven looks – done in less than an hour. There’s a reason why they call her a supermodel!'

RuPaul, TV personality

'Supermodel is the role Naomi was born to inhabit, but she is so much more than that. To be a superstar in any field, one must be tenacious, ambitious, creative and unwavering, and have the audacity to be the beauty and the beast. Naomi is everything.'

how naomi campbell stayed on top of the fashion game for three decades
Bravo - Getty Images

Beth Boldt, model scout

'From the beginning, Naomi was exceptional. The most beautiful, elegant person, even in her school uniform. Her smile was the most beautiful I'd ever seen. She was disciplined & kind. She has remembered everyone who may have had a hand in her career. I have always felt honored and thankful that Naomi crossed my path in Covent Garden. Through the years, many aspiring models have said “I want to be Naomi Campbell" instead of "I want to be a supermodel".'

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