Fistfights & Fashion: The Scandalous Life of Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell is arguably one of the most controversial, successful, and scandalous supermodels in the world. She’s constantly making waves in the fashion industry and has had to work extremely hard to get to where she’s at.

Naomi Campbell / Naomi Campbell and Nelson Mandela / Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington / Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell
Source: Getty Images

Facing constant discrimination in her line of work, the model has grown some tough skin and has never been one to back down when faced with injustice. She’s thrown her handbags at paparazzi, yelled at her assistants, and sued her former lover. But she’s also donated huge sums of money to combat poverty and improve woman’s rights. In short – Naomi is a little bit of everything.

She Never Knew Her Dad

Naomi Campbell’s biological dad, a man of Jamaican Chinese heritage (this explains her exotic looks), cut ties with her mom when she was just four weeks pregnant with her. Naomi said she never had any interest in meeting him − partly because her mom, Valeria, requested that she put it behind her and act as if he had never existed.

A school portrait of a young Naomi Campbell.
Source: Pinterest

His name is completely missing from Naomi’s birth certificate. The model insists that not knowing her father doesn’t bother her at all. She never felt like she was lacking anything – her mom taught her everything she needed to know.

She Took After Her Mom

Naomi’s mom, Valeria, was a modern dancer, and she encouraged her daughter to follow in her footsteps. At the age of three, Naomi was already signed up to a prestigious school of dance. At ten years old, the little dancer got accepted into the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.

Naomi is dancing with her mother in their family home.
Source: Pinterest

Despite being young, Naomi knew she wanted to be a dancer, just like her mom, and of all the forms of dance, she chose ballet. Little did she know that life had other plans for her, and much as she worked hard to improve her dancing skills, modeling would eventually take over her life.

Discovered as a Teen

On an ordinary sunny day, while window shopping with a group of friends in Covent Garden, Naomi Campbell’s life took a sharp turn. It was the day Beth Boldt, head of the Synchro Model Agency, spotted her in the crowd.

Naomi’s first modeling job.
Source: Pinterest

When she was approached by Beth, Naomi seemed puzzled. Two of her girlfriends were standing beside her… Why did Beth approach the “girl who was all angular arms and legs?” She ran home to tell her mom the exciting news, but her mom wasn’t too happy about it.

She Had Her Doubts

Naomi’s mom didn’t trust the modeling agency. And in any case, she had already paid a hefty sum for Naomi’s dancing lessons. Valerie had heard tales of con artists pretending to be “scouting agents” just so they could rip people off.

Naomi Campbell models on the beach.
Source: Tumblr

The promise of modeling jobs seemed too far-fetched. Naomi was better off sticking to dancing, Valerie thought. She wanted her daughter to focus her energy on finishing school and told Naomi to let it go. But Naomi didn’t listen.

Secret Meetings With the Agency

Naomi was never one to sit quietly. If something she wanted was within reach, she would stick her arm out and grab it. She eventually snuck off to meet Beth Boldt several weeks later.

A portrait shot of Namoi Campbell.
Source: YouTube

During their secret first meeting, Beth snapped Naomi’s first professional modeling photos in black and white. After a whole lot of convincing and explaining, Valeria let Naomi model, but on condition that it didn’t interfere with her studies. Three months later – she got her big break.

She Was a Teen Model

At the age of 15, Naomi Campbell landed her first big photo shoot with British Elle in New Orleans. The magazine was blown away by her wide and infectious smile, and the display of emotion she showed led to a stream of calls from other agencies.

A photo of a laughing Campbell.
Source: Tumblr

She was being approached by people from the US, who desperately hoped to recruit her. Naomi’s career was skyrocketing, and a little over a year later, she was invited to Paris to shoot for French Elle magazine. During her time in Paris, Naomi ran into a sticky situation.

She Lost All of Her Money

During the shoot in Paris for French Elle, Naomi found herself dealing with a heartbreaking setback. She forgot to lock her personal belongings and had all her valuables stolen from her. Naomi had promised her mom she could count on her – so she was reluctant to let her know!

A portrait of Naomi Campbell.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

But Naomi didn’t know anyone in Paris. She eventually ran into fellow model Amanda Cazalet, who felt sorry for her and decided to take her under her wing. Naomi tagged along with Amanda to one of her fittings where she met a fashion designer who became one of the most important figures in her life.

She Met Her “Papa”

Through Amanda Cazalet, Campbell came across Azzedine Alaïa, a well-known Tunisian fashion designer. Naomi thought Alaïa was a bit intimidating at first, but his calm and collected demeanor helped open her up.

Naomi Campbell and Azzedine Alaïa pose together.
Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Getty Images

Alaïa suggested that Naomi stay at his place for the rest of her trip in Paris, and after talking to her mom on the phone, she moved in. From that point onward, Naomi called Alaïa “Papa,” and by hanging around with him, she met even more huge names that shaped the way her career unraveled.

The World’s First Supermodel

As Naomi met with more influential people, she began to land modeling gigs for fashion magazines all over the globe. She soon became a household name and was tagged along with five other girls as part of the “Big Six.”

Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford pose together.
Source: Peter Lindbergh

The Big Six was the first group of models that the fashion industry decided to crown “supermodels.” However, being a supermodel didn’t give her immunity against racist comments and prejudice…

Naomi Faced Discrimination

From a very young age, Naomi “understood what it meant to be Black,” she told reporters at The Guardian. “You had to be twice as good,” she explained. Due to the color of her skin, the model found herself rejected from modeling on certain runways.

Photo of Naomi Campbell
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Huge names in the industry, from Calvin Klein to Armani, had a tendency to stick with just one color of model. Determined to smash through those barriers, Campbell worked hard to make good connections and never took the work she landed for granted.

Her Friends Had Her Back

Luckily, Naomi wasn’t alone in her fight against discrimination. Her fellow models from the Big Six, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista had her back. They gave the fashion designers they worked with an ultimatum.

Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington attend Night of 100 Stars Gala
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us,” they repeatedly stated. With the help of their support, additional doors opened for the young model, and in 1987, Naomi made history by becoming the first Black model since 1966 to grace the cover of British Vogue.

It Wasn’t All Smooth Sailing

In the summer of 1988, Naomi landed a shoot for the cover of Italian Vogue. But shortly before her pictures were taken, her makeup artist ran into trouble because he forgot to bring the right color of foundation for her skin.

Campbell is on the cover of Italian Vogue.
Source: Vogue

Disappointed by how the photos came out, Naomi made it her priority to always bring her own makeup to set from then on. This event was one of many that further encouraged Naomi’s desire to change the modeling industry.

More Discrimination

Naomi Campbell was one of French Vogue’s regular models. However, she never graced their cover. After several photoshoots, she mustered up the courage to ask why. The magazine editor’s answer was devastating.

Campbell is on the cover of French Vogue.
Source: Vogue

The editor told her that “a cover wasn’t a possibility” because of her color. In fact, French Vogue had never had a Black model on their cover before. Naomi wasn’t willing to take no for an answer, and with the help of a famous friend, she managed to break the mold.

Yves St. Laurent Fought for Her

Upon hearing of her rejection, the famed designer Yves St. Laurent threatened to cut ties with the magazine and withdraw advertisements if they continued to discriminate against Black models.

Naomi Campbell wears jewellery by Harry Winston during a photo shoot.
Photo by julio donoso/Sygma/Getty Images

Shortly after, she became the first Black model on the cover of French Vogue. This had a major impact on the representation of minorities in the fashion industry. But Naomi wasn’t willing to stop there – she had fashion runways to dominate as well.

No Formal Training

With no personal guide to help her with her catwalk, Naomi had to teach herself how to walk down the fashion runway. Many years of dance surely helped, and the experience she had working her body led to the creation of her signature walk.

Naomi Campbell walks down the runway, modeling Alaia Strapless Dress.
Photo by Michel Arnaud/Corbis/Getty Images

With her stunning, beaming smile and fierce strut, Naomi quickly became one of the most sought-after runway models in the world. But things weren’t always smooth sailing on the runway. Unlike a magazine shoot, the runway is a live show in which many embarrassing blunders can happen.

She Tripped and Fell

High couture fashion shows normally dress their models in eccentric, bizarre, and often impractical pieces of clothing. During one show, Campbell wore a 12-inch-high heel and ended up tumbling.

Naomi Campbell attempted to get herself off the floor after falling on the runway.
Source: YouTube

As she walked down the runway with the towering platforms, she worked hard to maintain her posture. Then, disaster struck. Naomi took a wrong step and ended up tumbling onto her back in front of a startled crowd of spectators.

Her Reaction Was Priceless

Naomi fell flat on her butt yet managed to let out a smile. She then ran backstage where she was met with Vivienne Westwood who was terribly concerned. Naomi didn’t let the fall faze her and jokingly told Westwood:

Naomi Campbell and Vivienne Westwood embrace for a photo.
Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images

“Vivienne, I am going back on that catwalk now, but if I fall down again, I am not getting up, and you will have to come and get me!” Naomi was true to her word and went straight back to the catwalk – this time, without falling!

They Wanted Her to Fall Again

The following day, Naomi Campbell’s fall was all over the British news. But then, things took a weird turn. She received so much press attention, that fashion designers called her to ask whether she would be willing to fall on the catwalk with their clothes as well!

Naomi Campbell at the 'Backstage' movie party.
Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images

As it turns out, her dramatic fall received so much attention that other fashion designers wanted in on the free press too! Naomi rejected the bizarre offers. But this wouldn’t be the last time her name would be all over the news.

“Crazy and Uncontrollable”

In 1993, Naomi Campbell was fired from Elite Model Management, the agency that had been working for her for over a decade. The head of the agency, John Casablancas, told the press that they had to let her go because she was:

Campbell is ducking under a barricade.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“Crazy, irrational and uncontrollable, and no amount of money or prestige could further justify” what the model was putting the poor crew through. So, what exactly did Naomi Campbell do to the agency’s staff members?

She Had Them in Tears

When John Casablancas fired Naomi, people struggled to understand why. How could he let go of one of the most successful supermodels in the world? Well, she apparently had to do some really mean things to get there.

John Casablancas and Naomi Campbell speak at an event.
Source: Getty Images

“She has been having people around here in tears,” John explained. In addition, he mentioned that his staff lied about the model’s behavior to cover for her. Naomi, after receiving the news of her firing, brushed off his accusations, calling his words just a bunch of “sour grapes.”

Could a New Agency Handle Her?

As a supermodel, Naomi wasn’t without an agency for long. She was recruited by Ford Models Inc. who insisted Naomi wasn’t fired and that she was the one who made the decision to ditch her old agency.

A portrait of Naomi Campbell.
Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Getty Images

Head of the agency, Kate Ford was quoted saying: “Naomi is a top star. She’s expanding her career into other areas and thought we could handle her better.” Indeed, Naomi really did expand her career into other areas, but the results weren’t very pretty.

She Got Into Music

In 1994, Naomi Campbell decided she had enough of simply modeling, and decided to follow another passion of hers – music. She released an album titled Baby Woman. Sadly, music critics mocked her record which ultimately flopped.

Naomi Campbell sings on stage.
Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma/Getty Images

The reviews were so harsh, and the album was so cringy, that it inspired something called “The Naomi Awards.” These so-called awards went to people who made horrible pop music. The ceremony included categories like “Outstandingly Bad Contribution to Music.”

She Became an Author…of Sorts

In that same year, 1994, a little after the release of her album, Naomi published a novel called Swan. The story was about a supermodel who was being blackmailed. This project, much like her album, received bad reviews.

Naomi Campbell promotes her book
Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic/Getty Images

To make matters worse, it was discovered later on that Swan wasn’t even written by Naomi. It was ghostwritten by a woman named Caroline Upcher. Campbell’s response? The model said that she “just didn’t have the time to sit down and write a book.”

A Mix of Fashion and Food

At one point, Naomi Campbell decided to invest in the Fashion Café, a place that hired fashion icons to promote their food. But the image of long-legged, skinny models eating large portions of food didn’t sit well with the diners.

Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer attend the Grand Opening of The Fashion Café.
hoto by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell’s name was written on the menu, but it was misspelled! Instead of Naomi’s Fish and Chips, it was printed as “Noami’s Fish and Chips.” But this little typo proved to be the least of Naomi’s problems…

She Joined Forces With a Thief

The Fashion Café ran into a sticky situation, and its promotors, among them, Naomi, suffered from the backlash as well. The model discovered that one of the restaurant’s founders, a man named Tommaso Buti was stealing about $10,000 a day from the place to cover his debts.

Tommaso Buti and Daniela Pestova during a Fashion Café event.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Buti was also stealing cash from the restaurant to indulge and enjoy a lavish playboy lifestyle. After the news came out, Buti was charged with money laundering and other crimes. Shortly after, Naomi also found herself on the wrong side of the law.

She Repeatedly Attacked Her Staff

Naomi Campbell became known as an uncontrollable and impatient model with anger issues. She reportedly threw cell phones at staff members who didn’t follow her requests. In 1998, the model pleaded guilty to harassing her personal assistant.

Press overwhelm Naomi Campbell on her way to court.
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

After being charged with assault, Campbell agreed to sign up for anger management classes. She was finally coming to terms with the fact that her behavior was completely unacceptable. Sadly, the classes didn’t help much.

“Naomi Hit Me and I Loved It”

By the early 2000s, a number of employees who had worked with the model stepped forward and accused her of hitting them. She had to pay damages to some of her former workers as well as sign up to additional sessions of anger management classes.

Naomi Campbell is wearing the offensive shirt.
Source: Tumblr

Naomi clearly didn’t learn her lesson because her next move was ridiculously lacking tact. She walked around the streets wearing a shirt that read: “Naomi Hit Me…and I Loved It.” She was making fun of the claims, brushing them off with her tone-deaf sense of humor.

She Did Five Days of Community Service

In response to the charges, Naomi Campbell had to do five days of community service in New York’s sanitation department. The model reportedly swept the floors and scrubbed walls. But being the supermodel she is, she did so in style.

Naomi Campbell leaves the New York City Sanitation Department Depot.
Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Naomi didn’t want to be caught cleaning sewers in ordinary clothes. She showed up to her cleaning shifts in fedoras and furs. She even wore a $300,000 silver gown! Her behavior drove the press mad and the public furious.

She Actually Enjoyed Cleaning

Despite how dirty and unglamorous cleaning sewers was compared to modeling, Naomi said she actually liked the change in her routine. She called the days she served cleaning “peaceful” and “pleasant.”

Naomi Campbell reads a letter of apology outside Criminal Court after receiving a sentence.
Photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage/Getty Images

“Maybe doing this service at the sanitation was meant to be like a humiliation punishment, but it isn’t at all,” Campbell dished in an interview she did shortly after. Getting in touch with her softer side encouraged her to dive into philanthropy.

The Diversity Coalition

Along with a few other Black models, Naomi Campbell formed the “Diversity Coalition,” a group that argued for minority representation in the modeling world. With the help of the group, Naomi successfully formed new policies and guidelines for diversity.

Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell during Grace Jones' 42nd Birthday Party.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Naomi used her connections to spread the word. She went so far as to personally call fashion designers who turned down models of color. Naomi said she wasn’t going to stop until her advocacy work reached international levels.

Meeting Nelson Mandela

As an enthusiastic philanthropist, Naomi Campbell decided she wanted to reach out to other like-minded people. On a trip to South Africa, she began supporting Nelson Mandela in his fight against apartheid by donating the money she earned from a photoshoot she did in Tanzania.

Nelson Mandela and Naomi Campbell at the Press Conference for the World Aids Day Concert.
Photo by Michelly Rall/WireImage/Getty Images

To her surprise, she received a phone call shortly after saying, “You are leaving tomorrow for Johannesburg. The president wants to meet you.” Just like that, Campbell met Mandela face to face. They formed a genuine bond that went deeper than she had expected.

Nelson Mandela’s Granddaughter

Shortly after their meeting, Naomi began working closely with the president as a part of the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund. She began visiting sick children in Africa, as well as making regular donations to the fund.

Naomi Campbell and Nelson Mandela speak at a press conference.
Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma/Getty Images

In light of her charity work, Nelson Mandela surprised the model by releasing a heartwarming statement. During one of his press conferences, he told those who gathered in front of him that Naomi was his “honorary granddaughter.”

She Thought Her Granddad Was Immortal

Naomi was touched by his words and rapidly became a close member of the family. In 2010, Naomi was given the news that her honorary grandfather was bedridden and ill. She always felt like he was practically immortal, so news of his sickness was hard to stomach.

Naomi Campbell observes a statue of Nelson Mandella during an honourary dinner.
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Sadly, Naomi couldn’t make it on time to his bedside, and his death left the model feeling adrift and purposeless. Without her adopted grandad, she felt empty. The model didn’t bounce back until several years later.

She Brought Africa to the Global Stage

Naomi Campbell gradually found a way to support her honorary grandfather’s cause. With the help of industry experts, she began reaching out to up-and-coming designers in Africa and worked to bring the fashions and colors of the continent to the global stage.

Naomi Campell visits Lagos Island Maternity Hospital.
Photo by Bennett Raglin/WireImage/Getty Images

Naomi believed that letting Africa’s colors shine on stage would help shed light on the topic of poverty and women’s rights across the continent. And she wasn’t satisfied with just Africa, she began reaching out to other countries as well.

She Founded Her Very Own Charity

Eager to deepen her charity work, the supermodel founded “Fashion for Relief,” an organization that hosts fashion shows and donates all the earnings to different causes all over the world. Through “Fashion for Relief,” Naomi collected money for different causes.

Naomi Campbell walks the runway at the Fashion for Relief show.
Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

She donated funds to improve education, help communities struck by natural disasters, and combat poverty in third-world countries. Through her philanthropic work, Naomi got to meet a host of world leaders. However, she also ran into a lot of trouble.

The Blood Diamond Scandal

In 2010, former President of Liberia Charles Taylor was accused of selling blood diamonds, some of which he reportedly gifted to Naomi during a charity dinner event. When the news came out, the model kept silent and refused to testify in his court case.

Liberian President Charles Taylor speaks during a Christian prayer service
Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Naomi was scared for her loved ones and didn’t want to put any of her friends and family at risk. Finally, she was ordered to appear in court and was forced onto the stand. Unwillingly, the model became deeply involved in Charles Taylor’s criminal trial.

She Said She Knew Nothing of the Diamonds

Naomi Campbell reported that she received some “dirty-looking” stones after the dinner party from two men she had never seen before. She didn’t realize that it was a gift from Taylor until the next morning.

Naomi Campbell testifies in court.
Source: YouTube

The model claimed that she gave the rocks away, saying that she had absolutely no clue that they were blood diamonds. But Naomi’s fellow dinner mates, Carol White and Mia Farrow had an entirely different take on what really happened.

Contradicting Testimonies

Mia Farrow and Carol White participated in the trial and testified that Naomi had been flirting with Charles Taylor throughout the evening. They said she knew Taylor was going to hand the blood diamonds. Even more, they said the thought of having them excited her.

Mia Farroe testifies in court.
Source: YouTube

They claimed that the model said she was going to donate them to the Nelson Mandela Children’s funds. Naomi denied the claims. White and Farrow’s testimony was scrutinized, and after a thorough examination, it turns out that their story was shady.

They Weren’t Telling the Truth

Naomi Campbell’s attorney questioned the validity of Farrow and White as witnesses in the case. The defense challenged Farrow’s memory. The sketchy witness struggled to recall basic information, like her son’s age.

Charles Taylor / Naomi Campbell
Source: Tumblr

Moreover, at the time of the trial, White was fighting against Campbell about a whole different topic. She was filing a lawsuit against the model for a “breach of contract.” Now that both of the witnesses were deemed unreliable, they needed a fourth person to clear up what really happened that evening.

She Had Done Nothing Illegal

The former director of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Jeremy Ratcliffe, stepped forward to put things in order. Jeremy confirmed the model’s version of the story, revealing that Naomi had given him the illegal diamonds.

Naomi Campbell, Charles Taylor, and Nelson Mandela take a picture together.
Source: Reddit

As it turns out, Jeremy had been holding on to them the entire time. He argued that Naomi had done nothing illegal. While his statement put an end to one problem in her life, another sticky issue surfaced shortly after. This time, it had to do with her ex-boyfriend.

Sued by Her Former Lover

Throughout her career, Naomi Campbell went out with numerous men. However, the relationship that may have caused her the most trouble was her odd love story with the Russian billionaire, Vladislav Doronin.

Naomi Campbell poses with boyfriend Vladislav Doronin.
Photo by Alan Davidson/FFR/Getty Images

After they broke up in 2013, Vladislav sued her. His claim was that she was holding onto $3,000,000 worth of his personal belongings. Naomi obviously denied the claims and tried her best to fight back. The case is still ongoing…

She Attacked Paparazzi

In 2015, Naomi Campbell ran into some trouble after lashing out at an Italian paparazzi man. The model was vacationing off the north coast of Sicily when a cameraman named Gaetano di Giovanni began snapping photos of her.

Naomi Campbell was seen during London Fashion Week.
Photo by Mark R. Milan/GC Images/Getty Images

Clearly unhappy about the situation, Naomi began hitting di Giovanni with her handbag, allegedly scratching his eye. Afterward, the Sicilian Court charged the model and sentenced her to six months’ probation.

Banned by British Airways

Naomi was passing through London Heathrow Airport on one of her trips when she lost her luggage. She went up to two officers in the airport and demanded their help. However, their conversation took a dark turn.

Naomi Campbell disembarks off an airplane.
Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

She ended up attacking the officers. For her rowdy behavior, Naomi received 200 hours of community service. Oh… and British Airways banned her for life. Unfortunately, the model’s airport shenanigans don’t end there…

A High Maintenance Germaphobe

Naomi Campbell is one troublesome airline passenger. Apparently, before sitting down on a plane, the model thoroughly sanitizes and cleans everything she possibly can before takeoff. If it isn’t squeaky clean, she can’t sit still.

Naomi Campbell sits in a plane fully gloved, masked and ready to clean her seat.
Source: Twitter

According to some close sources, her routine plays out like this. Wearing a mask, gloves, and perfumed sanitizing wipes, she wipes down everything she may possibly touch on the plane, claiming “I do not care what other people think of me. It’s my health.”

She Shed Tears on the Runway

In 1997, the supermodel made headlines when, out of the blue, she started bawling on the runway. Initially, the crowd’s reaction was, well, confusion. But afterward, they learned that there was a heartbreaking story behind her tears.

Esther Cañadas and Naomi Campbell get emotional on the runway.
Photo by Alexis DUCLOS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Naomi was wearing a dress chosen from the last collection that her good friend Giovanni Versace designed. The two had become close friends in the ‘90s. A serial killer named Andrew Cunanan gunned down Versace at the gate of his home. He died on the spot.

What Happened to Naomi’s Hair?

Naomi Campbell has been suffering from bald patches recently. The model explained that the cause of her hair loss is due to years of extensions, weaves, and tight braids. She’s been diagnosed with a form of permanent hair loss called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia.

Naomi Campbell attends the screening of
Photo by Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage

“I do take more care of my hair now because I lost all of it with extensions,” the model told ES Magazine. “I am more careful, and I do different things.” Naomi’s bald patches are thankfully growing back, and the model has been extra careful about the things she puts on her hair.