4 min

Naomi Campbell remains fabulous at 50

With her YouTube channel and her ‘Essence’ cover, the legendary 1990s supermodel is unedited, occasionally out-of-touch and utterly endearing

Naomi Campbell remains fabulous at 50
Credit: Hahn Lionel/ABACA; Francesca Roh/Xtra

Like many of us, Naomi Campbell is spending a lot of time at home. But unlike you and me, she is also catching up with famous friends on her YouTube series “No Filter with Naomi.” With guests like Anna Wintour (sunglasses on, the entire time) and Marc Jacobs (anxiously vaping and clutching his pearls), Campbell reminisces about the good old days of runway shows and photo shoots. (Other celebrity pals on the series include Venus and Serena Williams, Diddy and Adut Akech, the South Sudanese-Australian model that Campbell affectionately calls her daughter.)

She’s been keeping busy in other ways during the lockdown, too. She shot her own cover image for Essence, to celebrate her 50th birthday, as well as the magazine’s half-century anniversary. And in a nod to the Met Gala, which was cancelled this year, a videographer in full hazmat suit helped her film a throwback video showcasing her favourite dresses and last year’s Met Gala look.

Speaking directly into the camera (i.e. my soul), Campbell is surprisingly touching when speaking of lost friends Gianni Versace and Alexander McQueen—as well as a tad oblivious when praising Paris Hilton for launching 25 fragrances. The ultimate fashion insider, it appears Campbell doesn’t realize just how ridiculous the industry’s excesses can seem to most of us (especially now), which would explain why she welcomes us so candidly into her world. And yet, a fashion legend running a YouTube channel during a global pandemic is providing the out-of-touch glamour I never knew I needed.

In case you weren’t up to date on all things Naomi: She is no longer dating a Russian billionaire or throwing phones at assistants. Nowadays, Campbell is an independent woman living in a New York apartment with a gorgeous view of the Hudson River. After a fictional romance with a younger heartthrob on TV series Empire a few years back, she allegedly dated One Direction’s Liam Payne in real life. Professionally, she continues to model and recently brought all of the shade to her gig as a judge on Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum’s Project Runway follow-up, Making the Cut. Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz of The Cut wrote that she was “born to be a reality TV judge.”

I fell in love with Campbell the first time I saw the video for George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90.” Of all the OG 1990s supermodels—Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington—Campbell’s superstar status has proven to be the most enduring, largely because she has made fashion her true calling.

Her journey on YouTube caught my attention last year when she posted an eerily prescient video of herself disinfecting her first class seat after boarding a plan. But my obsession really coalesced when my “Chosen Family” partner Tranna suggested I watch a video of Campbell flying from Los Angeles to New York in a full hazmat suit, just when Dr. Anthony Fauci was starting to warn Americans about the gravity of the pandemic. Nervous to get home, Campbell was quick to snatch protective equipment and document the trip for her channel.

Over the years, the media has revelled in portraying Campbell as not being easy to deal with (cue the racist, misogynistic “difficult” label). But in recent years, there has been greater recognition of her contributions representing women of colour in the fashion industry—and she is still breaking barriers. In 2019, for the first time in her career, she was shot by a Black photographer for a mainstream publication. When The Guardian’s Nosheen Iqbal asked about how increasing diversity in fashion has created frustration among her white peers, Campbell said: “So you want me to feel bad now that things are turning the other way? No. We just want balance, end of story. I won’t do an all-Black show, for instance, because it would be hypocritical given what I’ve stood for, for so long.”

A model’s job is to help express a designer’s vision and make their work look as beautiful as possible, both in print and on the runway; it’s rare, though, to hear models express themselves unedited. But this is exactly what Campbell does on her channel, and that’s why it’s so enjoyable to watch. She’s been in the business for more than three decades, yet never appears jaded or judgemental of today’s crop of influencers who wish they could command a room like she does (except that time she shaded Kendall Jenner).

It’s tough to feel bad for the fashion elite right now, but Campbell isn’t asking for pity. Instead, she has become a first-rate fashion historian. For example, in one video she walks us through the story of Gianni Versace saving Marc Jacobs’ career after he was fired from Perry Ellis. And, endearingly, when she speaks to Cindy Crawford and Sharon Stone, she still seems to be the young, giddy British girl who is excited just to be invited to the party, unaware that she IS the party. Sure, the appreciation and faux-gratitude can sometimes feel performative (she calls everyone “dawling!”), but Campbell is not fake.

If you thought supermodels were nothing without the photographers, makeup artists and digital retouchers who make them look like a million dollars… you’re not entirely wrong. But Campbell is not your average model. Though the fashion world and our notions of glamour won’t be the same for a long while, Campbell continues to celebrate the importance of artistry and creativity, which feels especially poignant at a moment when so many people in the fashion industry are losing their livelihoods. At 50, she’s willing to share what she has learned along the way. For that, we thank you and wish you a happy birthday, living legend Naomi Campbell.