After almost four decades in the fashion industry, Naomi Campbell can still be seen dominating nearly every major fashion magazine cover and all the top runways. But to hear the supermodel tell it, her top priority in business at this very moment is elevating the voices of marginalized designers of color. That’s the idea behind her collaboration with the U.K. fast-fashion brand Pretty Little Thing, she tells me over the phone on a late summer afternoon. Campbell linked with PLT on a full collection consisting of swingy party dresses, faux-leather trench coats, and suiting—with help from designers Victor Anate and Theophilio’s Edvin Thompson, both of whom were guest designers for the collection dropping on September 5. (On that same day, the line will be unveiled at an exclusive New York Fashion Week event.)
“The PLT opportunity came through friends and family,” Campbell says. “Alex Avant, the son of late Clarence Avant—or Beloved Uncle Clarence—reached out to me. Before, I felt that it wasn’t the right timing for me. Now, I hope that this is something Pretty Little Thing will continue to do. And that’s something I would like to help them with.” Below, Campbell discusses bringing young designers into the mainstream fold—and how she feels concerning the criticism of fast fashion.
Am I correct in saying this is your first collaboration with a fashion brand ever?
I’m trying to think if there have been any others. Not that I can think of. I did something in Brazil many years ago. I did something with Fiorucci, but I’m talking about twenty-something years ago.
That’s surprising. I would think a collab with you would be a no-brainer for any brand.
Well, I’ve done my cologne—I’ve had that for years, which I am now rebranding. I was the first model to have my own perfume, since 1999. But no, not really. I think those opportunities for collaborations are given more to the Caucasian models. If you really look at it, you’ll see the pattern.
How does this collection with Pretty Little Thing correlate with your Emerge initiative which supports the education of and investment in emerging talent from Africa, the Diaspora and developing regions worldwide?
Everyone who knows me knows I’m good at connecting people and connecting deals from all over the world that I think should be matched to each other in doing business. Just to give an example, a couple years ago, I was in Africa and people were asking [me and my team], “Can you recommend this designer? We are looking for this type of person.” So I was like, you know what? We need to start doing this properly—start a proper fund and take care of these designers, which is what we’re in the middle of doing now: making sure the young designers gain knowledge of how to do their production.
We helped Gucci, for instance, when they had their whole blackface issue. I said to Marco Bizzarri, the former CEO, “Let’s find a solution here: why don’t we start to give internships so these lovely creatives can come to these big brands and see how you work on your platform and learn—as well as you learning from them?” I found myself placing designers and young creatives in different realms of fashion, helping them shine a light on their platform. That’s exactly what happened [with Pretty Little Thing]: I met with [PLT CEO] Umar Kamani and I said, I’m interested, but this is what I’m doing and I would like this to be incorporated. Everyone’s seen that there are no borders—and especially in fashion, there shouldn’t be. We need to embrace all creatives. There has been a block of sorts in the past, and that block needs to be banished.
What was the actual design process for your PLT collection?
I’m pretty simple. I like structured clothing, I like things that are easy, things that don’t get creased when you’re traveling too much. So there are a few rules that I incorporated in my regimented way. I went through each look with the stylist Carlos Nazario, and if there was something that I loved, or something that didn’t look right, I would say so. But the collection is also for a demographic of people wearing it that’s much younger than me, because that’s the PLT demographic. People thought the whole collection would be all g-strings, and no, that’s not the case. That’s not who I am, showing my g-string through my clothes. But the PLT team would keep me up to speed and say, “Nope, this is what the kids are wearing.” And I’d be like, “Okay, noted!” So I’m not saying it’s not going to be in the collection, but I’m not saying it’s what I wear [laughs].
Since you announced the collaboration with Pretty Little Thing, there has been some backlash. People are questioning why you would link up with a fast-fashion brand—a category that’s known for environmental and social issues like pollution, waste, and worker exploitation. Have you seen this response?
I haven’t really seen it. I haven’t had time. I got two kids, two babies, to take care of. But you know what? I’ve made my commitment and I’ve done what I wanted to do. I want to collaborate with young, emerging designers. And so for me, if I can get them on the platform, and get the light shone on them, and give them a helping hand in their career and what they want to do with their own designs, helping them on their journey, that makes me happy.
At a time when there’s so much focus on sustainability, it does seem like an interesting decision for you to go with PLT.
I understand people’s criticism. I understand what people are going to say, but I took it from a standpoint of getting to know the audience of the younger generation and being able to share my platform. There are so many other fast-fashion brands out there—do people say anything about other models when they work with them? Do they say anything when other Caucasian models have worked with fast-fashion brands and done collaborations? They’ve said not a word. They’ve praised them. So why are they coming for me? I want PLT to continue to work with young, emerging designers across the world, especially from the emerging regions, where they don’t get the same platform and recognition of our fashion capitals—end of [story].
Do you think young designers might be able to find a way to make fast fashion more sustainable?
I think that’s where it’s going to go. But if there’s opportunity first, let them know that a collaboration is possible. That’s how things evolve, isn’t it? I totally agree that they could make a change, but they need to get the opportunity.
When it comes to your guest designers, Victor Anate and Theophilio’s Edvin Thompson, how much or how little did you work with them on the actual clothing itself?
We gave them a guideline of what I wanted, and they came up with their designs according to that. They both understood the assignment perfectly well. It’s great working with them both, I love their enthusiasm. They’re so respectful and very happy to be doing this. It’s nice to work with people that I want to help. This is what it’s all about: we have to have our own. Even now, I’m looking at Beyoncé wearing Tongoro, which is Sarah Diouf’s brand in Senegal. And I’m happy to see it.
Speaking of Beyoncé, you went to a concert from the Renaissance world tour recently.
“Concert” is not the word for Renaissance. It’s a movement. I’ve never seen anything like it. I love seeing everybody dressing up and making the effort. It’s a real night out, it’s the total experience. I went a few times.
Did you dress up?
Yes! I wore McQueen one night and Fendi the other night—but I wore it all my way.
You’ve said your two children will often travel with you while you work. Any chance they went with you to Renaissance?
Well, when I went to the Renaissance world tour, my son wasn’t born yet. So far, he is only weeks old. We’ve only done one trip, and for that, we stayed put. If I’m going to fly somewhere for three or four days—and it’s a big time change—of course, I’m not going to take him for that. That will mess them up. I do it when it’s a weeks-long trip.
What has this round of motherhood been like for you?
I’m really just chilling with my babies and enjoying them, enjoying these blessings that have been bestowed upon me with my family. And a great thing is, I’m getting to relive my childhood. There are so many things they have now that I didn’t have when I was a kid: the toys, the things they watch. It’s so much fun.