Naomi Campbell regrets ‘not speaking out more’ about racism during early days of career

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PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) British model Naomi Campbell walks the runway during the Kenneth Ize show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 24, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

Naomi Campbell is known for walking the walking and telling it like it is, but now, she wishes she would have been more outspoken earlier in her career, especially in regards to racism.

The supermodel recently spoke with designer Marc Jacobs for Interview Magazine and opened up about how she regrets not speaking up more about racism in the modeling industry when she was coming up. When Jacobs asked Campbell what her biggest mistake was, she replied with: “So many. I should have spoken out more, but back then if you spoke out, people wouldn’t work with you.”

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He follows up with, “You mean speaking out in terms of your views on people of color?” She simply responds, “Yeah.”

The model is no stranger to racial bias. In 2019, Campbell said she was turned away from a French hotel due to the complexion of her skin. Although she has one of the most recognizable faces globally, Campbell was turned away from a Cannes Film Festival event because she was Black.

“I was recently in a city in the south of France, at the time of the Cannes Film Festival, where I was invited to participate in an event in a hotel whose name I will not mention,” she revealed at the time to the Paris Match. “(The doorman) did not want to let my friend and I in because of the color of my skin.”

The fashion icon recalls the doorman letting other people in, despite telling her and her friend that the party was at capacity. Campbell was the first Black supermodel to cover French Vogue in 1988.

PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) British model Naomi Campbell walks the runway during the Kenneth Ize show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 24, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

In the interview, Campbell and Jacobs mention model and activist Bethann Hardison as someone who is a big advocate for diversifying the fashion world and the person the cover girl gives credits to for helping her maneuver the industry. 

“Bethann was my rock. Being 17 or 18, I was calling her and telling her everything. She gave me her ear, but she also gave me the courage to speak out,” Campbell shared.

The fashion industry is well-known for its lack of diversity and inclusion, and in recent years, fashion magazines are just starting to diversify their editorial teams. In 2020, Samira Nasf was named the first Black editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and in 2017, Elaine Welteroth became the first Black editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue.

Campbell also explained that she is working on a docuseries with fellow models, Linda EvangelistaChristy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford, about the lack of rights models have to their images and overall work.

“One of the things that’s really come to surface right now for me is that we don’t have any control over our image as models, and that’s really sad. When I was doing my book with Taschen, there were a few photographers whose names I won’t say, but who we do know and who I’ve worked for over the years for, like, one dollar, who came back saying they wanted all this money to be in the book. And I was like, “Excuse me, you’ve forgotten,” shared Campbell.

She goes on to add: “It’s our legacy that we’re talking about. I’m bringing this up because I feel like it’s going to come up sooner than later, so it might as well come up now. When we signed papers giving our lives away, no one ever explained anything back then, and when you’re younger, you want so much to be in a magazine or to do the shoot, so you just sign these things, but no one ever really, really explained what the small print was about.”

Runway - Fashion For Relief London 2019
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Naomi Campbell walks the runway during the Fashion For Relief catwalk show London 2019 at The British Museum on September 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Fashion For Relief)

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The 50-year-old model of Afro-Jamaican descent said she is spending most of her time in Africa and rocking caftans these days. She also lets it be known she only wears heels when it is necessary.

When Jacobs asked if she ever walked the runway in clothing she did not like, Campbell admitted “yes” but added that she knows when to draw a line. “There were a couple of times back in the day in Europe when I had to say, ‘No, I’m not going to wear this outfit,’ because it was very stereotypical, and I wasn’t doing it. I’m not going to go on the runway looking like a Rastafarian,” said Campbell.

Known for being candid and outspoken, when the fashion icon covered Vogue back in 2019, she opened up about how she felt about the “angry Black woman stereotype” that comes with knowing what she wants.

“I am quite over it,” she told the publication. “Is it now that we have permission to speak? Well, I have always spoken.”

As the interview with Jacobs comes to an end, when asked, “Naomi Campbell is…” the British actress and businesswoman finished the sentence by simply stating, “Real.”

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