Naomi Campbell Didn’t Land Her First Beauty Campaign Until Over 30 Years Into Her Career

There are only a handful of celebrities who only need to go by one name: Cher, Madonna, and Naomi, to name a few. Naomi Campbell has been breaking down barriers in the fashion industry and beyond for over three decades, and has cemented her status as a legendary supermodel.

Naomi Campbell on a runway, smiling
Naomi Campbell | Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell faced racism throughout her career

When Campbell began working in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the modeling industry was nowhere near as diverse as it is today. Many times, Campbell was the only Black model in a fashion show or in a campaign. For years, she was turned down for projects because of her skin color.

This came to a head when top model Tyra Banks entered the scene in the 1990s. Campbell and Banks buried the hatchet on Banks’ talk show in 2005, but they both acknowledged that the tension between them was not entirely their fault. As the only two Black supermodels at the time, the media often pitted them against each other and created drama that wasn’t even there.

It’s because of all the closed doors and lost opportunities that Campbell experienced that made her such a phenomenal trailblazer. As a result, Campbell has plenty of “firsts” under her belt, such as being the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Vogue and the first Black model on the cover of Time.

Naomi Campbell
Naomi Campbell at Princess Eugenie’s wedding | Gareth Fuller – WPA Pool/Getty Images

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Naomi Campbell is still experiencing firsts in her career

Now, over 30 years into her career, Campbell is still experiencing some personal firsts. She touched on her experiences with race in the modeling industry in a recent interview with Gabrielle Union-Wade on her web show No Filter with Naomi.

“When we’re still having those firsts in 2020, you just realize how much further we have to go,” Union-Wade said.

“I’ve had a few firsts in 2020,” Campbell admitted. “First Black female photographer, and in 2019 towards the end, first Black photographer.” This trend is common throughout the industry, where Black photographers are now increasingly being hired to shoot Black subjects.

Model Naomi Campbell
Naomi Campbell | David Crotty/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell got her first beauty campaign 34 years after her debut

Even though she is the Naomi Campbell, there was one kind of modeling job that Campbell was never able to land in over three decades in the industry: a beauty campaign. She finally achieved that goal in 2019 when she became the first-ever global face of Pat McGrath Labs cosmetics.

Campbell discussed the idea of Black models waiting their turn in the industry when they aren’t being given the same opportunities that their non-Black counterparts have. “Even as a model sometimes, I say, ‘I hope — I’ll wait — that I’m going to get that beauty contract,'” Campbell said.

“34 years later, Pat McGrath,” Campbell said, and Union-Wade’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “I used to sit and watch my counterparts and watch the other girls get beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty.” McGrath, herself a Black British woman, has taken the beauty world by storm in recent years with her high-quality line of makeup products.

Campbell points out that if you look back at all the photos of her work that Campbell has done throughout her career, none of them are up-close shots of her face. “Most of my shots were always runway shots,” she said. “They’re not really beauty shots, because I never did beauty.”

Union-Wade was shocked and chalked it up to the inherent anti-Blackness in the industry. “That’s just the way it was,” Campbell laments.