Tom Bryant, Mirror, October 29, 2013
Supermodel Naomi Campbell has revealed that she phoned Victoria Beckham at the height of the controversy over racism on the catwalk.
The 43-year-old launched a campaign to expose discrimination in the fashion industry just a month ago and put Posh’s design house on the “accused of being guilty” list.
The former Spice Girl, 39, was reportedly furious at being attacked for using only one non-white model in her 30-strong London Fashion Week Show.
The battle between the celebrity fashionistas made headlines around the globe–“Naomi Cambell accuses Posh Spice of ignoring black models”. . . “Defiant Victoria Beckham: I am not a racist”.
But in an exclusive interview Naomi reveals she spoke to Victoria in person.
Londoner Naomi, who is spearheading the anti-racism Diversity Coalition with David Bowie’s model wife Iman and agent Bethann Hardison, explains: “I called Victoria and I spoke to her.
“I don’t want to pin-point anyone. It isn’t a blame game. Everyone’s name was on that letter because they’d done it. It could have been completely unintentional. She is one of the designers on there like anyone else.”
The controversy erupted when Naomi and her Coalition colleagues 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 that at New York Fashion Week just 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 this racist act” including Victoria Beckham, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel, Armani, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Roberto Cavalli and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
So was Naomi the slightest bit worried about upsetting so many acquaintances?
With a defiant look in her eyes she says: “Absolutely not! There is no way to candycoat this sort of thing. You have to be straight.
“We had the percentages and we were armed with the facts and you can’t be nervous about upsetting people.
“I speak the truth. People might not like it but I am doing it.”
Naomi, the world’s best-paid model who reportedly earned £25million last year is, of course, no stranger to controversy.
Of Jamaican-Chinese extraction, she grew up in working-class Streatham, south London, and was discovered by a fashion boss at 15 while window shopping.
Her breakthrough came when she made the cover of Elle in April 1986 and she later became the first black model to grace the front of the French edition of Vogue.
Naomi’s early career was guided by Elite Model Management Paris which also created fellow supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford.
But in 1995 she was sacked from Elite Paris and agency boss John Casablancas – who died earlier this year at 70 – launched a withering tirade against “odious” Naomi.
He called her “a manipulative, scheming, rude and impossible little madam who has treated us and her clients like dirt”.
Despite the attack Naomi kept silent. But now she has exclusively revealed a racist incident sparked her decision to leave.
She says: “I have never spoken about this. But one of the reasons why I left . . . it wasn’t because I was difficult, it was because I refused to take a job.
“Why was John mad at me? He was mad because I refused to take a job at a very high- level cosmetics company when my white counterpart was getting millions.
“I can’t even tell you the percentage, it was so ridiculous. I spoke with a girlfriend under contract to the same brand and she said to me ‘This is what I get – you can’t get this’.
“So I told them No. I was with Elite and I thought he was going to kill me. He was so happy thinking I was going to get this deal but I really felt insulted as a black woman.
“And as much as I wanted to be one of these girls with this brand, I couldn’t sell out like that. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue, I was still getting less.”
Naomi is talking to me in her TV dressing room ahead of a chat show interview. As an array of assistants flutter around, she sits on a high stool having her make-up done while I have been designated a low chair in line with her kneecaps.
I feel like a commoner bowing down to a Queen. But then, of course, Naomi is very much fashion royalty. Explaining more about her drive to expose racism she says: “You will be surprised at some of the models who confide in me.
“A lot of them are very big. They are told ‘We don’t want you in our show, this isn’t the united colours of Benetton’.
One model who said this to me is on about three covers right now. She is one of the lucky few and she’s still experiencing it.”
Naomi says she has also encountered racism recently but refuses to go into details. “It happened not so long ago but I am not going to talk about me because, as a whole, my career has been blessed. But these young girls don’t know how to speak up and if they do, they will never be booked again.”
She tells me her close friendship with Nelson Mandela–who she calls her “honorary grandfather”–inspired her to try and make a change. “To be able to speak out and help others is something Mr Mandela has always said to me to do,” she explains.
Hearing Naomi talking with such passion, it’s easy to forget her somewhat chequered history. In 2007, she pleaded guilty to assaulting an assistant with a mobile phone and was sentenced to anger management.
A year later came the scuffle with British Airways over lost baggage which saw her banned from the airline.
I ask if she’s worried her legacy may have been tainted by these episodes. “I am human,” she sighs. “I have always said I’m not perfect.
“But the one thing you can’t take away from me is my job and my career. You can’t do that. I have been doing this for 27 and a half years and no-one can fault me for that.”
“As for retiring? Forget it. I don’t believe in that word,” she says. “And in any case why would you announce it . . . especially if another great job comes up.”