There is only one Naomi Campbell. The CFDA’s 2018 Fashion Icon Award recipient occupies a unique space in the collective imagination. As one of the original supermodels, Campbell helped to define the ’90s glamazon beauty ideal, participating in all of the era’s milestones—a George Michael video, Versace fashion shows, you name it—but unlike many of her peers, her relevance has never waned. Still going strong after more than 30 years in the game, she has redefined what it is to be a fashion star.
One of the first to take the kinds of risks that are now standard for model-moguls, she’s dropped an album, acted on television hits, created an eponymous fragrance line, spearheaded charity initiatives, and become synonymous with attitude on the runway. An idol to Insta-girls like Bella Hadid (with social media skills that rival those of her millennial counterparts), Campbell is name-checked in songs by Beyoncé and widely revered as one of modeling’s all-time greats. Her CFDA moment is another highlight in a career that is already legendary, but she wasn’t always Naomi. To understand how a dance student from London becomes iconic, you have to go back to the beginning.
“So many people, they don’t say, ‘I want to be a fashion model; I want to be a superstar’; they say, ‘I want to be Naomi Campbell . . .’” If anyone knows about Campbell’s early days, it’s scout Beth Boldt. As the woman responsible for pulling Campbell into fashion, she was the first to recognize her potential. While walking through Covent Garden with her daughter during the spring of 1986, she spotted a 15-year-old Campbell out shopping for ballet slippers with friends. “When I saw her, you could just tell—she radiated beauty. I had to go up to her and ask,” says Boldt on the phone from West Virginia, where she’s still seeking out fresh faces after more than three decades in the business. “I’m always shy going up to people and saying, ‘Would you be interested in modeling? You’re so beautiful.’ I had to contain myself, but she said yes right there. I don’t know how she wasn’t scouted before. She always says, ‘Thank you, Beth.’ And I’m like, ‘Me? I was just lucky enough to be there when you crossed my path.’ Because you kind of have to be blind not to see Naomi.”