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Naomi Campbell Gets V&A Exhibition

Model Naomi Campbell stands beside mannequins from her upcoming exhibition at the V&A.
Model Naomi Campbell stands beside mannequins from her upcoming exhibition at the V&A. (Dave Benett)

Naomi Campbell has said she feels “overwhelmed and stressed out,” as tickets go on sale for an exhibition in her honour.

The leading lady of Naomi: in Fashion, which opens at the V&A in June, told a press briefing she feels “extra pressure, because everyone expects a great show from me.”

Tristram Hunt, the director of the museum, described the show as “foregrounding the voice and perspective of one of the foremost figures of popular culture.” The sales pitch of “Naomi” is that a ticket will buy an insider glimpse into the model’s life, with dresses from her own wardrobe accompanied by explanatory captions written in the first person.

A media briefing set a ritzy tone, held over a smoked salmon brunch at the Dorchester hotel in London. Campbell, who arrived 90 minutes late, said in an emotional speech that she wanted the show to be a tribute to “everyone who has been good to me.” From the audience, Sarah Burton, the former Alexander McQueen designer, brought a box of tissues to a tearful Campbell.

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The V&A is staging the show, the fashion label Boss is sponsoring it – but this is very much The Naomi Show. The secret of what Hunt called her “frankly unequalled 40-year career” is that Campbell’s physical beauty is matched by her extraordinary force of personality. The message she would like audiences to take away from the show, Campbell said, is “to never judge a book by its cover.”

The curator, Sonnet Stanfill, confirmed that Campbell had been a hands-on collaborator. “It’s not for us to tell Naomi’s story, we want her to tell her story. We want our visitor to hear her voice.”

Dresses made for Campbell by Azzedine Alaïa and Valentino will be on display alongside the platform shoes in which Campbell tumbled at the Vivienne Westwood show, with the inscription “Naomi” written in blue ballpoint pen by a backstage dresser. Also on show will be a Dolce & Gabbana evening gown worn by Campbell on the last day of a period of court-ordered community service.

In a week when racist and misogynist comments made about Diane Abbott by a leading Tory donor have made headlines, the film-maker Steve McQueen, who attended the briefing, noted that it was important for a cultural institution to honour the contribution of a black woman in British society.

Campbell said while progress in diversity of representation had been made in fashion, “we are at a point where the question is, will the progress be sustained? When I look at the catwalk collections now, I get nervous that we are sliding back. I stay doing what I do because my work is not done.”

The championing of diversity, which Stanfill said has “underpinned Campbell’s entire career,” will be illustrated with a spotlight on the Black Girls Coalition she formed in 1989, and with clothes by designers for whom she advocated, such as the Lagos-based Kenneth Ize, who credits Campbell with securing him a spot on the Paris fashion week calendar.

The custom-made mannequin which will display dresses in the show was designed in collaboration with Campbell, with a golden-bronze finish that “looks like a design colour, not like skin. We felt it would not be the right direction for us to simulate a skin colour”, said Stanfill.

The exhibition is scheduled to open to visitors on 22 June. Rumours that it is running late are believed to be unfounded.

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By Jess Cartner-Morley

Learn more:

Naomi Campbell on Cultivating Inclusivity

The British supermodel is teaching a MasterClass on modelling fundamentals for the streaming platform. The lessons will focus on basics like how to pose and develop a signature walk but will also delve into her journey as Black model with many firsts.

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