Naomi Campbell’s road to success was paved with obstacles — due in part to the color of her skin.
The 53-year-old catwalk queen opened up about the dark side of her triumphant fashion career during episode 1 and 2 of the new Apple TV+ documentary The Super Models, which explores her rise to prominence alongside fellow models Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford — who also share their stories from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Campbell, who grew up in an Afro-Jamaican household in the U.K., recalled experiencing racism early on, but said it didn’t affect her as much until she moved to the U.S. to pursue modeling.
When she was five years old, Campbell was called the N-word in elementary school. “I wasn’t going to accept being bullied at school for the color of my skin,” Campbell explained. “My mother was paying my school fees just like everybody else. I had every right to be there, so take your bullying somewhere else, is how I felt.”
Things changed, however, when Campbell moved to New York. “At the time, modeling was kind of looked down on in my family. My mother had no idea I was doing any of it,” she shared.
Despite her mother’s apprehensiveness, Campbell pushed forward. She said her mother warned her about racism in America as well as prejudices in the south.
“I started to understand culturally that I was going to have to work really hard to feel accepted,” Campbell recalled. “There was no way I could go back home with my tail between my legs … I was going to go harder and further.”
Still it wasn’t easy, and adjusting to life in a new place, as a Black woman made things difficult. “I would put my hands out many times on New York City streets, and the taxis would fly by,” Campbell shared. “Then Christy would put out the hand and they would stop. The guy would be like, ‘I don’t want to go to Brooklyn,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to Brooklyn.’ I was just like, why is he saying that? It didn’t strike me until, you know, Christy would have to stand out in front of me, get me a taxi to get it to work.”
Campbell and Turlington, now 54, went on to live together and the two created a strong bond. Campbell shared that Turlington and Evangelista, now 58 — who she fondly referred to as her “sisters” — advocated for her when she was met with discrimination.
“Naomi wasn’t always booked to do the shows,” Evangelista shared. “I didn’t understand. Naomi, I thought, was more beautiful, had a much more rocking body than I did and a better strut. [I was] like, ‘Why aren’t they booking her?’ I said to them, ‘If you don’t book her, you don’t get me.’”
Campbell praised Evangelista’s support, sharing that Evangelista and Turlington “absolutely put themselves on the line for [me],” which she said kept her going on the hardest days.
While Campbell experienced a number of setbacks, she has since become one of the most influential models in the world. She was the first Black model to ever cover Vogue France in August 1988 and the first Black model to open a Prada show in 1997. She’s starred in numerous beauty campaigns and can still be found on a runway today.