Naomi Campbell Is Not New to This

The legendary supermodel talks her latest collaboration with longtime friend Pat McGrath, reveals her go-to beauty product, and her secret for staying driven.

Naomi Campbell
Photo: Getty Images

My first interview with Naomi Campbell will forever be engraved in my mind.

I was freelance at the time, covering the launch of the 2018 Pirelli calendar, and to say I was nervous was an understatement.

Even though I was at a point in my career where I had spoken with dozens of celebrities and was well-versed when it came to handling interviews, this time was different. This time I was speaking in person with a woman who was not only an icon but also someone I'd admired for my entire life.

What I have always respected about Campbell is the fact that she has never been afraid to speak up in order to make space for those the fashion and beauty industries have worked to exclude — long before words like "diversity" and "inclusion" became buzzy.

Her tenacity has given me, and countless other Black women, the freedom to do the same.

The "angry Black woman" stereotype so many of us have cautiously tried to avoid has never phased her during the fight. In fact, she made it clear back in 2017 that neither she nor fellow supermodel Iman would "shut up" about racial diversity in fashion until they both felt like equality became the norm. Years prior, both runway stars teamed up with fashion industry veteran Bethann Hardison to create the Diversity Coalition to hold designers accountable.

That's why, as I sat in the Pirelli calendar press room, I wasn't surprised by her response when she was asked why she frequently uses the hashtag #BlackExcellence on social media.

"If I think it's excellent what people have done, I want to say '#BlackExcellence,'" she exclaimed to the group of (mostly white) journalists. "We have to think of the next generation saying to themselves, 'Oh, I could never be like that.' You have to give hope. If I don't use my voice to give hope, what am I going to do with it?"

Fast forward to 2020, and Campbell has done just that, yet again, after being named the first-ever face of the legendary Pat McGrath Labs.

Naomi Campbell

While the news of the collaboration between the two longtime friends is not exactly shocking, it's another showcase of Black excellence, another reason for us to be hopeful, and another example of the magic Black women can create when they work together.

The pair first met back in the '90s on the set of a nighttime shoot for ID magazine with well-known fashion photographer Steven Klein. There wasn't a big budget for the project, Campbell remembers, but having to take a more hands-on approach is perhaps why she and McGrath bonded so seamlessly.

"From beginning to end, her personality was just infectious," the supermodel shares with me. "[I was] drawn to her — her spirit. But her professionalism was incredible. She was like an encyclopedia — she studied our faces. She knew what she wanted to do. It was a lot of fun. And of course, I knew from that point on I'd probably never get to work with Pat again, because I could tell where she was going. It was very clear."

Turns out Campbell was both right and wrong.

McGrath, who has never had any formal training as a makeup artist and primarily learned about makeup through watching her mother, went on to create beauty looks for some of the biggest designer runway shows in the world, including Versace, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton, to name a few. But, of course, the pair would cross paths again, not only to build what would become a lifelong friendship, but also to create unforgettable art.

"It never feels like work — never," Campbell says of teaming up with McGrath for past projects. "Even if I'm flying all over the world and I come back home to New York and I'm exhausted. Normally, on weekends I don't like to work, and she'd call me up and say, 'Do you want to come and do a video?' I'd do it because it's fun."

That said, witnessing the two both rising to the top of their fields, and holding their place for over three decades is just as unsurprising as the fact that they're now doing it together. Because when you're of Jamaican heritage, as both Campbell and McGrath are, excellence is just what is expected of you.

"Jamaican people, we are hardworking people," Campbell admits, alluding to the fact that their similar upbringing set the tone for both her and McGrath's work ethic. "We don't rest on our laurels. I was always taught that as a child. You do good, but you can do better. I was not a child with a silver spoon in my mouth and neither was Pat. We had to earn our things."

VIDEO: Naomi Campbell on The Difference Between The Runway & The Red Carpet

The news of Campbell becoming the first face of McGrath's cosmetics line was coupled with the release of the Divine Rose Collection, which includes two major eyeshadow palettes, two lip glosses, two lip pencils, and two matte lipsticks. While the runway star is a fan of the entire collection and says it is the perfect "feel good" escape right now, the latter products are what she reaches for the most.

"Every morning before I work out, I put on a lipstick," she shares.

pat mcgrath mattetrance

To shop: $38;

The timing of the collaboration seems to be an act of the divine as well. Of course, it had been planned well in advance. But amid what has become the biggest civil rights movement of our time, following the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and countless others, seeing two powerful, self-made Black women like Campbell and McGrath coming together to create something so wildly beautiful is a reminder that no matter how far we are pushed down, still, we will always rise.

"Whether I was Pat's face or not, I would always support her. No matter what, I would support her," Campbell says passionately. "And we have to support each other now more than ever — all of us. The injustice that's happening is sickening and disgusting, and we need to come forward in a peaceful way and nonviolent way to make sure justice is done."

As usual, Campbell has made no qualms about using her power and her platform to help do just that.

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