Reflecting on Her Return to Valentino, Naomi Campbell Gets Credit for Diversifying the Catwalk

Naomi/YouTube

After over three decades on the catwalk, Naomi Campbell still gets nervous.

“This is the most nerve-wrecked I’ve ever been at a show,” she admitted just prior to her return to Valentino’s runway after a 14-year absence.

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Campbell was so emotional during her Paris Couture Week finale walk, she was teary-eyed in her billowing black gauze gown (as were several guests, including Celine Dion). And after posing in a tableau of predominantly black models, Campbell wept openly, as captured by her YouTube docuseries, Being Naomi.

“It was so emotional,” she said. “[I]t’s just, for me, almost 33 years, made me feel so proud. ... just such beauty, the colors, it was just like, overwhelming,” the 48-year-old added, as she teared up again.

She had good reason. The increasing diversity of beauty booked during Couture Week is in large part due to Campbell’s influence, not only as a model but as an activist for diversity in the fashion world alongside fellow industry icons Bethann Hardison and supermodel Iman.

Even Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli pointed out Campbell’s immense impact on his vision, pulling her aside during her fitting to show her vision boards filled with rare imagery of black women featured in classical art, alongside some of Campbell’s own iconic images.

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“Because I started the collection with you,” he said.

Looking at the wall of images, Campbell was overwhelmed. “Oh, wow...,” she exclaimed. “You never saw black women living—”

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“—in couture,” Piccioli interjected.

“—and not only couture, living a middle-class life,” Campbell continued. “You only saw them like, in the discrimination ...”

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“... but you never saw a black woman, in master paintings, in the middle [of the image],” Piccioli added.

Black beauty was undoubtedly the centerpiece of Piccioli’s couture collection for Valentino, as a predominantly black cast of models wore his otherworldly designs down the runway.

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“What a casting, incredible,” Campbell said, surveying snapshots of the cast.

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“If not because of you and Iman, this would never be happening,” Piccioli admitted.

And despite rumors of Campbell being competitive with other black models in the past, her pride in the generation she helped pave a way for was evident as she warmly greeted new stars like Adut Akech and introduced model Naomi Chin Wing to the cameras as “Baby Naomi.”

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“The generations following you, because of you, I must say, I was touched,” said fellow veteran supermodel Natalia Vodianova, who also walked in the show. “I went to every single show [this season] ... every single show is like this. With you, and Edward [Enninful, editor-in-chief of British Vogue] now, as well ... the whole landscape is changing completely.”

Video-chatting with Enninful after her full-circle moment, Campbell “bowed down” to Piccioli for his casting choices, saying, “that was more than a fashion show to me.”

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“I’ve only cried once before on the catwalk, and I cried because I was so overwhelmed and happy,” she continued. “When I looked up and saw the girls above me, it just seemed like yes, these almost 33 years [in the industry] … [it] has been worth it to speak up, has been worth it to stand alongside Iman, has been worth it to see these beauties that were treated as the highest and the most elegant of women.”

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.