The life stories of celebrities are often well known. It’s finding the untold, ‘essence’ of the person which makes the story interesting – and it’s no different when writing the life story of the every day, non-supermodel person in our midst.
“Five minutes and she’ll be there….” says one of Naomi Campbell’s three security guards over the mobile. “Five more minutes.,”
“Five minutes to go…”
The arrival time of Naomi Campbell passes through the crowd of twenty who have been granted special access, like Chinese whispers. We’ve been waiting for Ms Campbell to change outfits for her second scheduled media appointment during the Sydney leg of her Australian tour to launch her self-titled new fragrance.
And finally, in she saunters (as much as one can saunter in 10cm high Manolo Blahnik heels).
Fashion editors speak of the overwhelming presence of British supermodel Naomi Campbell on the catwalks at the international fashion shows. And to look at fashion photographs, you would imagine her to be awesomely tall with a powerful body. Not so. In fact, she’s a fine-boned, fine-featured female, 177cms tall, and reputedly 48kgs. The fine bones come from her Chinese father. The incredible muscle-tone (that she’s renown for having even though she’s allegedly never done exercise) and dark, creamy-textured skint come from her Jamaican mother. As she walks in, head hung coyly, she is nothing less than breathtaking to look at.
But I enter my ‘week in the life of Naomi launching her fragrance’ without my rose-coloured glasses. She’s rumoured to be a notorious crank to the point of physical violence. She has allegedly fought tooth and nail, literally, on the street with actress and model Troy Beyer. She has been known to simply leave a fashion show if she wasn’t first and last in the running order on the catwalk, and is rumoured to have been 13 hours late for fashion shoots. During her five days in Sydney and Melbourne for the launch, Campbell’s public relations people were sweating on the verdict from a charge of assault – ex-personal assistant Georgina Galanis was suing for $US2 million, saying Campbell grabbed her by the throat and thumped her over the head with her mobile phone. The organisers of her tour were under no false illusions that she could turn if a brave journalist asked about the case, or if the verdict didn’t please her. The verdict – Campbell pleaded guilty but was granted absolute discharge, meaning she’ll have no criminal record – was handed down during the first Sydney media conference at The Westin Hotel, just as Ms Campbell launched into a description the fragrance as a “soft floral, feminine, elegant, graceful smell,” and the bottle as “wild, probably ’cause people think I’m wild!”
This was a statement I was to hear over and over as Naomi rode out her contractual duties to Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, a subsidiary of Wella, who are the creators and backers of her new fragrance. And she did it with the all the grace and style a fragrance launch should have. She was not at all the feisty, naughty Naomi rumoured. In Australia, perhaps because the success of the fragrance is riding wholly and solely on her, we saw, Nice Naomi.
The story of Naomi Campbell the fragrance, all started when the German-owned, New York-based company, Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, approached Naomi with the idea of having her own scent. After six months of negotiation, she agreed; a smart business move for a supermodel who turns 30 this year, and who has outlasted most, with 14 years of modelling under her Versace belt. Now Naomi, like her friend and supermodel-turned-businesswoman, Elle MacPherson, is pursuing a new career direction. Already she has done numerous music videos with George Michael and Pink Floyd, featured in a few films, including Quest for Fire, released an album called Babywoman, and ghost written a book called Swan. She also mentioned the possibility of a clothing line in contract with an American designer sometime this year.
Naomi has a reputation for being extremely ambitious, which she attributes to being an ethnic model – “it’s a survival thing; the reason I’m still here after all these years is because I’m representing my minority and my race.” Her will to work hard is obvious as I move with her during the tour of Australia, the second country to launch the fragrance (the first was Germany). The morning after the arduous 22 hour flight from London to Sydney, Naomi kicks off with a media conference, then straight into a television interview, a one-on-one interview with a newspaper journalist, another television interview, and yet another, with a change of clothes and a touch up of hair and makeup between each one. Over and over again I hear, “it lingers and gets softer and softer as the day goes by”, “the special ingredient is a Jamaican flower called Queen of the Night which only opens once a year in July”, and “I’ve given some to my male friends and they wear it all the time”. A short lunch break, then on it goes: a radio interview, a fashion shoot, then a wrap up of the day with a cocktail party with magazine and newspaper beauty editors. Again, I hear her selling the fragrance over and over; “I want to be honest with the public, so it should be a fragrance that I like, and that I wear all the time”, and “I once read that after a war and times of oppression, the things women ask for most is lipstick and perfume.” It’s a positively hectic day of business, and she has to smile and be charming at every turn, lest a camera be pointed her way.
Day two is the big event: an in-store bottle signing at Grace Bros, Sydney city. There are thousands present, leaning on barricades, screams of “Naaaooomiiii” coming from every direction, and a woman steadily walking toward her, obsessively click click clicking her camera. It makes you wonder about the danger element.
But it all flows smoothly and Naomi is completely charming to her fans — her face seems to light up particularly when little children bound onto the stage to have their bottle of fragrance signed and their photo taken. Later on in our interview Naomi admits, “I can’t wait to have a family and be a mum. I really prefer this side of the beauty business, where I have more contact with the people.”
Three days later, and with more television, radio, and print interviews behind her than she has Manolo Blahnik shoes (Ok, not quite so many as her collection of shoes), it’s finally my turn to chat with her.
She cuddles up on the single seat couch at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne, and, looking exhausted, pulls at her black beaded halter neck top, saying “this is an Australian designer, Scanlan and Theodore – they gave it to me….” This is the world Naomi lives in — gifts galore, a constant crowd of admirers, unspeakable amounts of money offered to her for her face on magazine covers, her body on the catwalk, her name on a fragrance… This is the world of the extraordinarily beautiful.
So how many pairs of Manolo’s do you have? I ask. She laughs and says, “oh too many…” And we chat on about her beauty regime, how she keeps her hair beautiful, whether she misses her mum, is she religious, and, of course, her star sign…
“I’m a Gemini.”
So am I, I say.
“Nooo… what date?” she asks, getting excited. I tell her. “No way!! The day after me – what year?” And on it goes – just like school yard buddies.
And underneath it all I realise that Ms Campbell, despite the pampering, schmoozing, and temper tantrums that go hand in hand with the fashion and beauty world, despite her mega-model, superstar status, is actually, simply a woman; a powerful, sometimes opulent, yet feminine and graceful woman, who’s luxuriant presence resonates when she leaves the room. A bit like her namesake fragrance.
Personal Stats: Born – London, 22 May, 1970
Lives — all over the world, but is now based in New York and London.
Loves — Flavio Briatore, Italian motor racing entrepreneur and millionaire (whether or not they are engaged remains a mystery, but she does sport a very large rock on the right finger).
Career: Discovered – Covent Garden, London at the age of 14.
The first ethnic model on the cover of Time magazine and British and French Vogue.
First novel, Swan, ghost written and released in 1994, followed by a photographic book.
Babywoman, the album, released on Epic Records in 1995.
Her acting career includes roles in Spike Lee’s Girl 6, Alan Smithee’s Miami Rhapsody, a television guest appearance on New York Undercover, as well as numerous music videos. She is currentrly working on Michaelangelo Antoinini’s new film Destination Verna.
Charities include fundraising for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund from 1997 to 2007 (she is also his honorary grand-daughter), and the Black Girls Coalition: “a handful of us put in a days pay from an advertising modelling job, then we split it between five charities in New York City for the homeless.”
Favourites: Music – Macy Gray, Beck, Lauren Hill
Place in the World – Africa, Kenya and Morocco, and India.
Way to Relax – read, swim, eat and meditate.
Food – “Italian and anything spicy”
Admirable Women – Madonna, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston.
Film – Raging Bull, and The Women.
Actor – Robert de Niro
Fashion Designers – Azzedine Alaia, Gianni Versace.
Australian Women’s Weekly, 2000.