groundbreaking V&A show highlights the profession of a pioneering model and activist

In 1987, fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier photographed supermodel Naomi Campbell within the desert wearing a gold Chanel jacket. It is a shocking photo and a historic one. This image appeared within the December issue of British Vogue that 12 months – it was only the third time There was a black woman on the duvet of the style magazine.

The image is so iconic that it was acquired by The National Portrait Gallery for everlasting exhibition in 2016. It is currently on display on the V&A in an exhibition celebrating the life and profession of Naomi Campbell.

I used to be born within the Nineteen Eighties myself and my teenage years were within the Nineteen Nineties, when Campbell rose to fame. Back then, it was unusual to see a girl of comparable skin color to me in mainstream media. This cover was groundbreaking, coming at a time when fashion editors believed that black models didn't sell issues. It was also in the primary 12 months of Campbell's profession – a profession that might break so many more barriers.

As a fashion expert and creator Michaela Angela Davies sums it up: “Black and non-white models are still generally seen as a trend – seasonal and largely expendable, as Dior did in the mid-20th century. Naomi Campbell broke through this disregard. It was constant, inevitable and undeniable. Naomi was the catalyst.”

Naomi on the V&A is the primary exhibition ever to give attention to the person wearing the garments reasonably than the designer who created them, correcting a historical oversight of the numerous influence models have on fashion culture.

This exhibition is a testament to how essential the black British model has been to culture at large and its representation in the style world and beyond.

Co-produced with Campbell, the exhibition features pieces from her own wardrobe, in addition to loans from designer archives and objects from the V&A's collections, representing key moments in her 40-year profession. Spread over two floors, these pieces weave within the story of how she succeeded despite the immense challenges of being a young black woman during this time, which inspired her activism.

Clothes in a gallery.
Some of Campbell's iconic outfits are on display within the exhibition.
Victoria & Albert Museum

It begins with a bit on the early years of her life. You can hear Campbell's own voice speaking of “the freedom to express yourself through dance.” Campbell was discovered in 1985 on the age of 15 while pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer. The exhibition shows how this background prepared her for her unexpected profession as a model.

Campbell's first catwalk was for French designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1987. In this section, a photograph of her ticket to that show is shown next to a pair of worn ballet shoes. As Davies said, “Nobody walks like Naomi Campbell. She walks like a warrior, moving through the territory of haute couture with a supernatural flair.”

A video montage of such impressive catwalks greets visitors before they even enter the exhibition. In it, you may see Campbell on the catwalks of Anna Sui, Chanel, Vivienne Westwood and Prada. Each image is sort of a murals and a testament to her impressive presence.

“God bless Yves,” she says in a caption that appears on the label of the feather dress she wore in her first couture cut, citing Laurent because the designer who helped change the course of her profession.

Naomi In Fashion stands tall
The entrance to Naomi In Fashion.
Victoria & Albert Museum

Yves Saint Laurent reportedly threatened to drag his ad in French Vogue if the magazine continued to refuse to forged black models on its cover. But as much because the exhibition is in regards to the clothes, accessories and collaborations, it’s closely linked to current discussions about diversity in the style industry. In Campbell's words:

When I take a look at Iman and Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims and Peggy Dillard and all of the others, I'm grateful that they opened the door for me. If they hadn't come first, I’d never have gotten to where I’m now. And I hope that I open the door for the people who find themselves behind me.

This exhibition portrays Campbell not only as a supermodel but additionally as a cultural innovator, highlighting her role in disrupting established norms, breaking racial barriers, and using her platform to empower latest creatives, advocate for equality, and drive social change.

As one in every of the primary black supermodels to attain global recognition, she defied convention and broke the mold of what was considered the accepted ideal of beauty on the time. Her skilled success has helped raise the standards for a way other ethnically diverse models needs to be represented in fashion.

As this metamorphosis continues, let's take a moment to enjoy all of the glitz and glamour this exhibition has to supply, celebrating the rise of a supermodel icon – and the transformative power of fashion.

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