Champion of diversity

Champion of diversity

SINGAPORE - British supermodel Naomi Campbell has a lucrative job as executive producer of modelling reality show The Face these days.

But the 43-year-old says that she still makes it a point to model regularly.

This month, she is on the cover of Vogue Thailand and L'Officiel Netherlands, and she is also in a W magazine fashion spread.

She tells Life!: "I do the jobs that I like to do. Part of the reason why I still care to do these covers is that I want people not to forget the woman of colour."

The 1.77m-tall supermodel was the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue and Russian Vogue, and the first black British model to appear on the cover of British Vogue.

She is of Jamaican and Chinese ancestry and was born in Streatham in South London, and has always been outspoken about diversity.

She flew in from London last Thursday to make her South-east Asian debut by walking last Friday for Singapore-based designer Zenchi Ewe at Digital Fashion Week Singapore 2013-British Exchange.

The four-day annual fashion event, which ends today, is a platform to showcase local designers. All the fashion shows are streamed live on YouTube.

Speaking to Life! at the Raffles Hotel while getting her hair and make-up done for a photo shoot, Campbell says that diversity within the modelling industry is "worse now than before".

"Before, you used to see many beautiful women of colour in a fashion show. Now you would probably see only one," says Campbell who started modelling at the age of 15 in 1986.

Together with Somali model and actress Iman and American activist and former model agency owner Bethann Hardison, she started The Diversity Coalition to call for more diversity on the runway.

In September, the group sent letters to major fashion design councils, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America and British Fashion Council.

In a name-and-shame style, the letter listed fashion houses which had been guilty of consistently using "one or no models of colour".

The list included Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Celine, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Victoria Beckham.

This is why she was not at all pleased with the cover photo on this month's issue of Vogue Thailand. In it, her skin is several shades lighter and her eyes seem more grey than brown.

"For me to have that cover out there is completely wrong," Campbell says.

But she adds that she accepts the magazine's explanation for the way the cover photo turned out.

"They said they did not lighten my skin and it was the lighting that was from the photographer, so I have to be supportive of that," she says.

Campbell is known to be difficult and to have a bad temper but is polite throughout the 15-minute interview.

In 2007, she performed community service at the New York City Sanitation Department Depot after pleading guilty to hitting her housekeeper on the head with a mobile phone.

Asked about public perception of her and she says: "People have the right to have their own opinion, but people who know me know that I'm a very passionate, loyal and generous person."

She still looks very much the image of perfection and says her secret to looking youthful is keeping her skin clean and taking off her make-up at night.

As she is so dolled up for fashion shows and photo shoots, she uses only eyeliner, lipstick and blusher when she is off-duty and all it takes is 20 minutes for her to be ready.

Her TV model reality show, The Face, recently started its run in Britain and has been renewed for a second season in the United States.

She flew to Australia after her two-day stay in Singapore to film the Australian version of the show. On it, she and other supermodels mentor young models and compete to groom a winner to launch on the fashion scene.

When asked if she is still in contact with the contestants she mentored on the American version of The Face, which ended in March this year, she says: "I'm in touch with my girls except for one. I've placed them with agents and I try to see that they are taken care of. "

That one model she does not keep in touch with is likely to be Luo Zilin. Campbell is said to have tried to scupper the 25-year-old's modelling career after the Shanghai-born woman started seeing Campbell's ex-boyfriend, Russian billionaire Vladimir Doronin, 50.

Campbell says that there are plans for Singapore to have its own version of The Face.

"I've seen very pretty women around since I've been here," she says.

staceyc@sph.com.sg


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