Naomi Campbell Interview – The Face, Tyra, the ’90s & Tough Love

Naomi Campbell makes her reality TV debut tonight on The Face, a modelling competition show where contestants work with a mentor as they compete to become the newest face of ULTA Beauty. Photographer Nigel Barker, formerly of America’s Next Top Model, hosts the show, and Naomi, along with supermodels Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha, coach the aspiring models. The Face premieres tonight at 9:00 pm on MuchMusic. We spoke with Naomi about about what makes The Face different from Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, what lessons from her own life and career she shared with her team of girls and everything we can expect from the exciting new show.

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Question: How will The Face be different from America’s Next Top Model? And how will you differentiate yourself from Tyra?
Naomi Campbell: Well, first of all I am different. I’m before Tyra, and I have a lot of respect for Tyra and what she’s done with America’s Next Top Model and taking it all over the world and what she’s done for young women out there who want to be in the fashion industry. I don’t like to compare anything that I do. This show is a completely different type of format. I’ve not really watched it… but from what I know, it’s a different type of format.

Q: How would you describe your own mentoring style?
Naomi Campbell: I’m very honest and I’m quite tough with my girls. Because I don’t believe – I won’t be with them to hold their hands going through castings and going out there in the real world. I praise them when they do things great and coach them. And when they do something that I think is not right in the world as I know it in our business, I tell them that. And each girl is different… so I talk to each girl individually.

I’m tough love, but I care very much about my girls. And I want them to get as much out of me as possible. And asking me questions and anything that they need to know that will help them. So I’m available to them really about 24/7 the whole time that I was with them, and I’m available for my girls in my team now who I still talk to up until this day.

Q: After all these years, why did you finally decide to do reality TV?
Naomi Campbell: What attracted me to it was the mentoring side of it is that it’s never been put to me before. I’ve been asked for many years to do television, but I didn’t feel comfortable in telling someone, “You’re not right. You’re not this.” Of course, on our show we have eliminations because there is only one winner. But what’s nice is that I think all the girls, the 12 girls in the show, can say that they learned something that they didn’t know before, and it was meaningful to them and that they can incorporate in their life in some way.

Q: Did you get along with the other supermodel coaches?
Naomi Campbell: Yeah. I mean, it’s a competition, and I want my team to win obviously. I think I have the best girls. And, for me, it’s a competition even between the coaches and our mentoring styles. We each are very different and in different places in our careers. Even though I’ve been doing it longer than both Karolina and Coco together, we all have our different approaches. So you’ll see that we mentor our girls in a very different way.

But in terms of [friendship], I did get along with both the girls. But at the end of the day this is a competition and I do realize that we do have someone’s career in our hands who is going to win this competition — who is looking at us and hoping that they can get into the world of modelling in the right way. And get the right exposure — be the face of ULTA Beauty, which is the winning prize, which is a great prize. When I started modelling  you did’t get a contract like that in the beginning of your career. Usually that’s something you would aim for towards the end of your career. So you take it seriously. And we are very aware that we have someone’s life — changing someone’s life — in our hands, in terms of putting them on the right road and launching them into this world of fashion.

Q: Can you talk about the qualities that you bring as a mentor? And also, did you have a mentor and if so what did they teach you when you were starting your career?
Naomi Campbell: My mentor, if I had to say I had anyone, would be my mother. She finally agreed to let me model, because it wasn’t something that she wanted me to do in the very beginning. And I think I worked with amazing women when I started. There was Iman, there was Tutusha, there was all these amazing women.

There was a difference though, because, when I started, there was one group of models that did the fashion shows, and there was one group of models that just did the magazines. And I think my generation and my group of women — Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer and Tatiana Sorokko — that’s when it kind of changed with Gianni Versace in making us do both – magazine editorials and shows.

I was very fortunate to meet these amazing women who, when I would do the shows, when I was 16 and I didn’t know how to do something, I would just ask and they would show me how to take off a coat, how to take off a cape. But I think my basic mentor was my mother. And just guiding me once she had accepted that I wanted to try and she was going to allow me to try.

My style of coaching is very honest. The time is very short that we have with the girls but I want to make as much with the time that we have with my girls as possible. I do say to my girls, “Forget who I am as a person and just take what I’ve got to give. Because we don’t have so much time and I want you to get as much out of me as possible.” It’s very straight forward. It’s very elegant. It’s very poised, driven, passionate, hungry, and focused.

Q: How is it to act as an executive producer and also as a mentor on this show? To kind of be on both sides of the production process?

Naomi Campbell: It’s hard. I produced my charity Fashion for Relief, but I’ve never produced for “day-in and day-out” [projects] over weeks. And even though it’s a lot of hours, and even when the cameras were not rolling, I’d still be on the phone because, from the beginning, I wanted this show to be a certain level and I want it to be authentic, and believable, and a real world and people in our business.

I’m not someone who is able to ask for things for myself but when it comes to something else, I can ask, no problem. So I was on the phone calling Zac Posen, Patrick Demarchelier, wanting this to be a certain level and not below. And wanting the girls to experience such professionals as Zak Posen and Patrick Demarchelier, who is legendary in our business. Not only that, it was important for me to ask Patrick too because he’s someone that we’ve all worked with when we started out. He knows, very much, who has what, what he’s looking for. He knows how to get the girls to give him what he wants. We started during last fashion week, so we worked with a lot of time constraints. To get the best people we had to work around their schedules too. We had to get up at sometimes four in the morning, but it was worth it. I think when you want the best, you’ll do anything to have the best. So we did. And that’s where I think the level of our show is. I’m very proud of it because everyone that’s in it is all people that you’ll know who have been veterans, who have been in this business for many, many years.

Q: You said you guys scoured the world to find your teams of models. So how did each of the coaches choose their teams? What were you guys looking for specifically?
Naomi Campbell: Because I’m from London I felt it would be nice to — even though the show is in America, in New York it takes place — I thought it would be nice to also mix it up and bring some international girls in as well. And so that’s what we did. For me, that’s really what a model competition is about. It’s worldwide. And with a name like The Face, you want to make sure that’s what you’re going to get. A great face. It was time consuming, but the level of girls are amazing. We’ve got girls from all over the world coming to America to take part.

Q: As executive producer, did you get to come up with any of the challenges that the girls did?
Naomi Campbell: I did.

Q: So how did you, how did you decide, “Okay, I would like the girls to try to do this. And to try this challenge as well.”
Naomi Campbell: No, no. I came up with the ideas of the challenges. And once I came up with the idea challenges, then I would turn it over. Their challenges were presented to them by Nigel Barker. They’re all given the challenge at the same time. And we all had the same amount of time to work on the challenges. Then it’s up to the client to decide from that challenge. You would win the challenge by team. If this team does right for what we’re looking for: “Is this the right image? Were they personable? Were they able to speak right? Were they able to understand the product? Were they able to sell the product and represent the brand?” And that’s how the challenges — that’s how the clients would then judge who was right for them, which I think is totally fair.

Q: What is your ultimate hope for the winner of the competition?

Naomi Campbell: I hope she goes on to be a very successful model, and I do believe she will. She has every aspect to be. She’s fit the criteria, and I wish her very good working relationship with ULTA Beauty. I hope that they’re going to be very happy. She’s able to speak, she’s able to carry herself gracefully, she’s driven. I think people will be very happy with the result.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring models and why?
Naomi Campbell: I think, for me, you have to be very driven. It’s very hard to learn how to take rejection. And it’s something that we’re not taught. I can go back to myself — I was able to understand enough to know how to deal with it to a point because I had been working since I was a child. But, for me, it was always very – I almost want to say to the girls is, don’t take it [personally]. Trust me, it’s not that they don’t like you. You were just not right for what they were looking for. And it’s a business.

It’s trying to get them to kind of step out of their body in a certain way and not take it inside themselves. I don’t want them to then feel pessimistic. Nothing comes easy in life, no matter what you want to do. I do believe that a great career is built in stepping stones, and you don’t want everything to come to you overnight. I do believe you should always build to what you want, and you grow, and you learn. The difference between being driven, and having confidence, and really listening to someone who has your best interest at heart is very important. And you do need someone to lean on. It usually helps if that’s family.

Q: And what would you say is the biggest misconception about you or the world of modelling? And how would you set the record straight?
Naomi Campbell: I think the show speaks for itself, so I’m not going to really comment on that so much. There are things people do not know about me that I felt comfortable enough to share on this show. People think modeling is just a really easy job and we sit there. It’s not, it’s a hard job. We’re travelling constantly. I’m at a point in my life where I can choose what I do and, but when I was running around, I didn’t really have time to… if you have an amazing cover come out, like, I had a French Vogue cover, I didn’t really have time to digest anything. Because I was onto the next thing. It was just go, go, go.

It’s a hard working business and it is a business. It’s not just the model business, it’s not a fickle business, it’s a money-making business. Like any business. And it’s gotten a lot more corporate now than it ever was before.

Q: The industry can be so tough at a high level, why do you think tough love is a more effective approach with models? Based on your experience?
Naomi Campbell: I don’t think it’s a more effective approach. It’s just how I am. When I say tough love, I’m very straightforward with my girls. Some people might see it as blunt, some people might not see it as tough love. Compared to the other two mentors. Karolina and Coco, I am very… I wanted them to get everything. So they know everything. I will be with my girls trying to tell them everything I could trying to be helpful to them, right up until they have to go and do their challenge. I come from quite a very different Jamaican heritage and the way that I was raised. So that’s the way I am.

Q: Through The Face, you’re providing women the chance to be this face of a national campaign, but do you think that it’s tougher now? Is it tougher now for women who are coming up in the industry to have that breakthrough and to land campaigns without a vehicle like The Face, when they’re competing against the likes of Queen Latifah and Rihanna who are fronting all of these major campaigns?
Naomi Campbell: I think The Face is a great vehicle to absolutely have the opportunity to land something like a great contract like ULTA Beauty. We at The Face have given them this opportunity, but they still have to persevere and go on through the door that we’re opening for them. If I’m sending my team, one of my team members to an agency, which is what I’ve been doing, I can open that door. But they have to — once that door is open — they have to then take everything that they’ve learned and use it. And that’s the time to use it. There are a lot of models out there and everyone wants to be a star. And that’s why you have to have that extra something.

Q: You’ve spoken a lot in the past about wanting to see more diversity reflected in fashion and I wanted to know what your thoughts were with respect to if you are seeing advancements? Not just with more women of colour but also women of different body sizes, more mature models as well. Both on the runways and in print campaigns.
Naomi Campbell: I think my team of girls that I have cover all of what you’ve just said. They are different body types. They are some more womanly than others. That was the fun of why I loved my team so much, because they were all so different, they were all so incredibly different from each other.

In terms of diversity, I mean, it’s an ongoing subject that we could sit here and talk about forever. I like to always stay optimistic and hopeful. I pray each fashion week that I do see loads of young models of colour out there. And when they do come and say to me, they didn’t want me because of this, it just hurts. I feel that I worked so long in this business. And I hoped that it would make it easier, so I get very disappointed when I hear someone saying, “Oh, they really don’t want me because, you know.” We’re in 2013. It shouldn’t be happening. We have President Obama and Michelle Obama as the First Lady. Now fashion week is upon us here in New York. I hope that we’re going to see a lot of women of different colours, and cultures up on the runways. The world has changed. There are countries now that are emerging markets. You have to be able to cover all of that.

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