Campbell calls the late fashion industry legend her "papa" who really "protected" and "guided" her in the docuseries "The Super Models"
Today, Naomi Campbell is a household name, but the model says that without the guidance and protection of legendary fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa she never would have been able to make it this far in her career.
In the second episode of Apple TV+'s The Super Models documentary, Campbell opens up about a make or break moment in her fledgling modeling career and the chance encounter that changed her entire life.
"I didn't meet my father. My mother had me at 17. I think he was the same age. That feeling of abandonment, there's nothing she could've done to change that feeling with me," the model explains during an intimate confessional in the doc. "I also believe a lot of that was part of my drive too, not having my father figure in my life. But then I got blessed."
Working in Paris at age 16, Campbell says that she was completely on her own when one day her purse got stolen.
"I had all my money stolen, my traveler's checks I should say. Mum gave me traveler's checks. I was going to dinner with another model because she [took] pity on me and that's when I met Azzedine Alaïa," a meeting that would alter the course of fashion history. "He doesn't speak English, I don't speak French, but there's something," Campbell says of their first encounter.
"And then he gave me an outfit and he asked me to put it on to see what his clothes look like on me. I put it on and he liked how it looked and then he asked me where I was staying, and I told him at the Hôtel Lenox. He then said to me, 'Where's your mother?' and I said, 'My mother's in London, my mother speaks French.' So he said, 'Call her.' So I called my mum and they spoke, and he told my mum that he would take care of me, that I would stay under his roof, and that I would be safe to stay there. My mother did not know who she was talking to, never met him, but trusted him. And so, two days later, I moved into Rue de Parc Royale."
From there, Campbell quickly became Alaïa's muse.
"He introduced me to so much in the world. I met so many amazing people, I learned about art, architecture, design, most importantly I got to watch him work," she says. "I got to be part of his work, and he really treated me like a daughter. I mean, like, made me breakfast, made me dinner. We used to fight, don't get me wrong. I would sneak out the window, go clubbing. They'd call and tell him I was in the nightclub, he'd come down to the nightclub, and before he would take me home, he'd say, 'You wore the outfit wrong,' and he'd be fixing it. Because you have to imagine, the boutique was my closet. What girl of 16 years old has an Alaïa shop as her closet?!"
And it wasn't just an incredible designer wardrobe that Alaïa provided his young muse with, but also his protection in a very predatory industry.
"Once, an art director felt the need to tell me that he thought my breasts were perfect, but he felt the need to have to touch them," Campbell reveals. "I called papa immediately. I called papa right away, and papa called him up and read him. He never came near me again. It served that I opened my mouth and would speak my truth because I believe that protected me, as well as who I was surrounded by."
Walking through the Azzedine Alaïa Foundation building in 2023, Campbell points out some of the many designs she's worn over the years.
"My papa was a genius," she says, before adding, "I thought my papa was going to live forever. I never imagined...I never even thought about him leaving."
In an interview, Campbell tears up while confiding that, "When he passed away, it was a shock to the system. My life would've definitely been different without him. He protected me in this business. He guided me."
The Super Models four-part documentary series, spotlighting the extraordinary careers of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, is streaming now on Apple TV+.
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