Already have an account?
Get back to the

Naomi Campbell Says Linda Evangelista Protected Her When She Faced Racism During Early Modeling Days

Naomi Campbell Talks Experiencing Racism Early in Her Career
Naomi CampbellTheo Wargo/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell’s road to success was paved with obstacles — due in part to the color of her skin. 

The 53-year-old catwalk queen opened up about the dark side of her triumphant fashion career during episode 1 and 2 of the new Apple TV+ documentary The Super Models, which explores her rise to prominence alongside fellow models Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford — who also share their stories from the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Campbell, who grew up in an Afro-Jamaican household in the U.K., recalled experiencing racism early on, but said it didn’t affect her as much until she moved to the U.S. to pursue modeling. 

When she was five years old, Campbell was called the N-word in elementary school. “I wasn’t going to accept being bullied at school for the color of my skin,” Campbell explained. “My mother was paying my school fees just like everybody else. I had every right to be there, so take your bullying somewhere else, is how I felt.” 

Naomi Campbell Talks Experiencing Racism Early in Her Career
Naomi Campbell wears a dress by Yves Saint Laurent at his autumn-winter 1987-1988 fashion show in Paris. Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Things changed, however, when Campbell moved to New York. “At the time, modeling was kind of looked down on in my family. My mother had no idea I was doing any of it,” she shared.

Birthday Girl Naomi Campbell’s Best Runway Moments

Related: Naomi Campbell’s Hottest Runway Moments of All Time

Despite her mother’s apprehensiveness, Campbell pushed forward. She said her mother warned her about racism in America as well as prejudices in the south. 

“I started to understand culturally that I was going to have to work really hard to feel accepted,” Campbell recalled. “There was no way I could go back home with my tail between my legs … I was going to go harder and further.” 

Naomi Campbell Talks Experiencing Racism Early in Her Career
Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington on May 31, 1992 in London. Dave Benett/Getty Images

Still it wasn’t easy, and adjusting to life in a new place, as a Black woman made things difficult. “I would put my hands out many times on New York City streets, and the taxis would fly by,” Campbell shared. “Then Christy would put out the hand and they would stop. The guy would be like, ‘I don’t want to go to Brooklyn,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to Brooklyn.’ I was just like, why is he saying that? It didn’t strike me until, you know, Christy would have to stand out in front of me, get me a taxi to get it to work.” 

Campbell and Turlington, now 54, went on to live together and the two created a strong bond. Campbell shared that Turlington and Evangelista, now 58 — who she fondly referred to as her “sisters” — advocated for her when she was met with discrimination.

Naomi Campbell Talks Experiencing Racism Early in Her Career
Naomi Campbell modeling a striped body suit circa 1990. Michel Arnaud/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

 “Naomi wasn’t always booked to do the shows,” Evangelista shared. “I didn’t understand. Naomi, I thought, was more beautiful, had a much more rocking body than I did and a better strut. [I was] like, ‘Why aren’t they booking her?’ I said to them, ‘If you don’t book her, you don’t get me.’”

Campbell praised Evangelista’s support, sharing that Evangelista and Turlington “absolutely put themselves on the line for [me],” which she said kept her going on the hardest days. 

Vogue World London 2023

Related: The Best and Boldest Fashion Moments From Vogue World: London 2023

While Campbell experienced a number of setbacks, she has since become one of the most influential models in the world. She was the first Black model to ever cover Vogue France in August 1988 and the first Black model to open a Prada show in 1997. She’s starred in numerous beauty campaigns and can still be found on a runway today. 

In this article