The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has announced that its next fashion exhibition will be dedicated to legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell, almost 40 years after she was first scouted in Covent Garden at the age of 15. The exhibition, called simply Naomi, will follow the museum’s current retrospective dedicated to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, and will showcase pieces from Campbell’s own extensive personal wardrobe, alongside archive looks from her runway career loaned by designers.
“For me as a fashion historian, what is so fascinating is the way that her 40-year career intersects with the best of high fashion,” curator Sonnet Stanfill explains to British Vogue. “We’re telling the story of a career through clothes – clothes that are extraordinary.” There will also be an installation of significant fashion photography, curated by British Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, which will capture the “special alchemy she has with photographers, resulting as magic on the page”.
This is the first time that a model will be the focus of an exhibition at the V&A, and Campbell’s personal involvement also makes it unique. “We are very much working with her to foreground her voice and her perspective,” Stanfill says. “I think what has come through those conversations is that this isn’t really a retrospective, as although it’s looking back across 40 years, she is still so active – she’s in ad campaigns, a coveted presence on the front row and is regularly walking on the runway.”
Naomi, which will open on 22 June 2024 and run until 6 April 2025, will be a “broad survey of past and present”, with an emphasis on designers who helped shape her early career, such as Azzedine Alaïa (or “Papa”, as Campbell called him), Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace, but also an exploration of her more recent runway looks. The exhibition will span 100 items in total, with pieces from Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Virgil Abloh and more set to be included. The only gown Stanfill confirmed will appear is the pink feathered and lace gown Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli designed for the supermodel to wear to the Met Gala in 2019.
The museum is working closely with Naomi herself to curate the exhibition. “She definitely has a point of view and we’re really fortunate that she wants to express that,” says Stanfill. “I think it would be presumptuous for any person to tell another person’s story, let alone one of the most prolific figures in contemporary culture, so we very much want to foreground her perspective and her voice.” The theme for Naomi won’t be simply the most beautiful clothes, but rather the pieces that tell a “layered story about a career and life that started in London”.
The challenge isn’t necessarily the volume of looks to comb through (although there are certainly thousands to choose from), but the inevitable deadline to finalise the exhibit – Stanfill and the V&A team could be adding right “up until the day before the exhibition”, given that the still highly sought-after model will likely walk in the autumn/winter 2024 and couture shows.
Stanfill has been asked whether the showcase is about Naomi’s life or her career. The answer is both, she says. “No one will be surprised to know that for her, her story of Azzedine Alaïa is more than a transactional, professional, career-based relationship, because he was like family to her,” she explains, touching on the more poignant and personal aspects of the exhibition. “So there will be moments like that which are more evocative and sensitive for her, and so it’s important to let her lead in some of those areas.” The late designer, with whom Campbell lived in Paris in the early days of her modelling career, became a beloved father figure.
As well as celebrating her personal relationships within the industry, the exhibition will also highlight her efforts to champion diversity and her work as a philanthropist. Specific moments that will be spotlighted include her joining the Black Girls Coalition in 1989, and campaigning for more diversity on the catwalk with the Diversity Coalition. “She has communicated the role that Nelson Mandela played in galvanising her, showing her a way to use her platform for fundraising and charity efforts, and that element will certainly be brought out,” Stanfill says.
This September has been all about the original supermodels: Cindy, Christy, Linda and Naomi were reunited on the cover of Vogue’s September issue, and the quartet closed Vogue World: London, walking hand-in-hand on stage as Annie Lennox sang the anthemic “Sweet Dreams”. The supers are also currently starring in the Apple TV+ documentary The Super Models, which charts their stratospheric rise in the ’90s, and their indelible impact on the fashion industry and the wider culture. Naomi also just wrapped on yet another significant fashion month, in which she closed Sarah Burton’s final Alexander McQueen show wearing a magnificent metallic corseted gown. With this exhibition on the horizon, 2024 look set to be just as memorable.
This article was originally published on Vogue UK.