Naomi Campbell has never been quiet about prejudice in the fashion industry. As the black supermodel of the 90s, she’s managed to carve out a successful career despite working in a predominantly white industry, with trailblazing achievements like being the first black model to cover French Vogue in 1988. But this iconic moment almost didn’t happen, she revisited in yesterday’s Hearst Master Class talk in New York, a series that has featured many other industry insiders.
“They won’t give me a cover,” the Super remembers crying to her friend, the late, great Yves Saint Laurent, at the time. “I saw the other girls asking for the cover and I said, ‘I want one too,’” – but the publication reportedly denied this, despite it being a logical move in Campbell’s career, having been contracted to big brands like YSL for three years already. Outraged, Laurent used his sway to help rectify the injustice: “He goes, ‘No, no, not even a question.’ Next I heard he was not going to put advertising (in the magazine).” It worked – “Next thing I was getting my cover.”
It’s a tale that she has told before, but one which still bears relevance. Talking about the moment now, Campbell brings to mind the make-do attitude she had to have in a time when – she once described to Teen Vogue – “girls with darker skin (had to) know how to make their own make-up,” and bring their own hair products. (It’s worth noting here that times haven’t changed that much – just last year fellow British model Leomie Anderson also called out her experience of this, twenty years later.) “People say, You’ve gone through racism. I wouldn’t say I’ve gone through racism. I would never accept it. And I would rise to the challenge to prove it and find another way to get around it and get what I wanted.”
And she still won’t accept the industry’s intolerance. “I do feel that Iman and I will not shut up until it gets to the point where it’s equal, balanced,” she also made a point of saying during the talk. “We really hope it’s not going to go backwards – I always try to be optimistic – but if it does, then they will hear us again.”