Naomi Campbell at the V&A: ‘A Pandora’s box’ of memories

When the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) dedicates an entire show to one person, particularly one whose career is still very much ongoing, it's usually a sign that A-list stardust is incoming.

This time it's the turn of supermodel Naomi Campbell, a woman whose work and life has been in the headlines since she burst on to the fashion scene in the 80s at the tender age of 16.

The south Londoner now follows in the footsteps of the likes of David Bowie, Frida Kahlo and Kylie, who have also had solo exhibitions at the prestigious London museum.

When speaking to Campbell in 2022, she discussed with me the idea of collating all the big moments of her life and career in one space.

She said: "I have kept so many things that are now all in storage because I travel so much. It’s not just clothes, I have kept photos, backstage passes from fashion shows going back 20 years. I can’t wait to show it to my daughter one day."

There was a sense of Campbell wanting to pass on this legacy to her daughter and a reflective pride in the way she spoke about it: "I know I am where I’m supposed to be. I feel so lucky. My daughter has taught me to stop and appreciate things and to have patience and to let things flow."

Fast forward two years and here we are with Naomi: In Fashion, bringing together hundreds of items that will give people an insight into her world.

That includes more than 100 outfits and accessories and some of her earliest cover shoots.

By the time we met again earlier this year, Campbell was a mother of two, having welcomed her son in 2023: "They are my complete priority and I love how much joy they bring. Family is everything."

When discussing how she wanted the exhibition to look and feel, she said: "I’ve been working alongside a great team and it’s been amazing re-discovering a lot of these items. Some of them have never been seen.

"It’s really intimate putting them out there for everyone to see; my Pandora’s box if you like."

The show doesn't shy away from the more difficult periods in the model's life, including her 2007 court case. She pleaded guilty to assault for throwing a mobile phone at her maid and the exhibition will feature the Dolce & Gabbana gown she wore on her final day of community service.

Being involved in the curation of the exhibition has been emotional for Campbell; she became tearful when speaking about the memories evoked from losing close friends such as designers Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaïa, and mentors like South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela.

The show makes clever use of Campbell’s story so far, and the thread of Campbell as a trailblazer for black models in fashion is seamlessly interwoven throughout the exhibition.

She has always fought for diversity in the fashion industry and continues to do so: "Why do I stay doing what I do? Because my work is not done. I feel that I have to use my voice and platform to keep at them."

Close friend and former editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, has carefully curated a selection of her photographs as well as a video wall of Campbell by award-winning film director Steve McQueen.

Campbell has been very hands on with the process, working closely with the V&A's senior curator Sonnet Stanfill: "The visitors are in for a treat, they will literally get to walk through Naomi’s life journey and that 'supermodel moment' when her image was everywhere.

"It’s been wonderful to see Naomi’s reaction to all these things being brought together in one space, she’s been really candid about how emotional it is."

Stanfill's favourite exhibit from the show?

"The Vivienne Westwood platforms - the shoes and that catwalk fall went down in fashion history. We have them displayed alongside the original outfit for the first time since the event."

Other highlights include Campbell’s look from Sarah Burton’s last Alexander McQueen show, a pink Valentino ensemble worn at the 2019 Met Gala.

When asked who she did the exhibition for, Campbell told the BBC: "It's dedicated to the people who have been the driving force behind my determination, dedication, and drive mantra.

"My mother, whose love, sacrifices, and unshakable belief in me have always given me courage; my children, who encourage me to lead with my heart and be my best self every day; and my incredibly talented fashion family, whose endless creativity, passion, and unwavering support have shaped my path.

"You are the force behind my force, and this is my tribute to you."

The show runs at the V&A Museum in South Kensington from 22 June to April 2025.

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