When Naomi Campbell first ventured in front of a camera to earn her keep there really was no such thing as a supermodel.
That was almost 30 years ago, when Campbell was just 15. She went on to be the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue at 18 and the first black model to hit the cover of Time. Now, at 43, she thinks the word supermodel has lost its oomph.
“To be quite honest, today I don’t know if I want to be called that name because everyone and their mother is called a supermodel, and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m just a working model,’ ” Campbell told the Associated Press. “I never believed in that hype. It’s a name, and yes, I say it for promotion, but it’s not what I deeply think inside of myself. I feel that I’m just a model who loves what I do.”
The occasion for the interview? The second season of The Face, a modeling competition she executive produces and appears in as one of three mentor-coaches to a dozen aspiring young ones in search of their big break. The season premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Oxygen.
During the show’s inaugural season, Campbell was joined by supermodels Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova. They’ve been replaced by working — but not quite Campbell-level super — models Lydia Hearst, the publishing heiress, and Anne V, a Russian beauty who owes her start 12 years ago to a contest she won at 15.
Anne V, who has worked as a Victoria’s Secret angel and appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, said she wishes she would have had a mentor when she first landed in New York at 15 a week before 9/11. She was working downtown when the World Trade Center towers were hit.
“I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was,” she said. “I ran to a subway. I thought that would be the safest thing. I didn’t speak English so I couldn’t even ask anybody what was going on.”
Hearst is the daughter of kidnapping victim Patty Hearst and Patty’s former bodyguard, the late Bernard Shaw. She has known Campbell for years and has been modeling since she was 16.
Mentoring, she said, “was definitely challenging at times because I’ve never actually mentored people and had to act as a stylist and a tech coordinator and a photo editor and even a choreographer at times. But it really was remarkable to see these girls transform from rookies into real models.”
Today, prospective models around the world are in a much tougher game, Campbell said.
“You’ve got to have a thicker skin,” she said. “You have to definitely have that something special that catches the eye of the casting director, of the photographer, of the editor, of the hair person, of the makeup person, of the magazines. Where you had five girls up for a job, you might have 1,000 or 500 today.”
She is known for toughness, which is sometimes called something else when she — or any woman — is involved.
“I think when women get called a bitch is when they’re taking control, when they’re strong, when they’re being assertive,” she said. “And I’ve always said it, men can do that and it’s fine. So, I mean, you have to have that bitch aspect. You just do, because you’ll be trampled on if you don’t.”
“My life is my life. I don’t live in the past. I live in the present,” she said. “I’ve had a blessed life, a very colorful life. … I’m grateful for it.”