Few women on earth embody the title of “icon” quite as naturally as Naomi Campbell. The iconic supermodel got her start in the industry over 30 years ago, and quickly rose through the ranks to international success. She’s used her platform for good ever since, through various philanthropic efforts, including highlighting the often-overlooked talent of designers hailing from Africa and the Middle East. (Her newest venture, EMERGE, which kicked off during this year’s Fashion Trust Arabia, supports talent from the MENA—Middle East/North Africa—region.) And still, even considering her icon status, she’s oddly relatable—she can front campaigns for Burberry and affordable footwear brands. Case in point: In a subtle, unexpected move, Campbell is the latest face of Sam Edelman’s fall/winter collection.
That’s not to downplay the designer’s impact at all—for his part, Sam Edelman is another fashion icon, creating practical shoes for women around the world. His accessible price point and classic styles have made him a household name for trustworthy, timeless staples that transcend seasons, ages, and trends. For fall/winter, Campbell was shot by the legendary Steven Klein, who lensed a series of portraits that also stand the test of time in their own right. As Edelman states, the campaign is “magic between Steven Klein, Naomi Campbell, and the Sam Edelman brand that screams a modern fashion story. [It’s] unlike anything else out there right now. It’s old-school, it’s glamour, it’s fresh—all things that personify this powerful woman and my beloved brand.”
In between her incredibly hectic schedule flying around the globe, Campbell hopped on a call with ELLE to discuss shooting the campaign, which pairs of shoes she always wears, and what it means to her to support the future of the fashion industry.
What do you love most about the Sam Edelman brand?
That it’s for everybody. Everyone can have Sam Edelman shoes in their closet.
What’s your go-to shoe from the fall/winter collection?
I think I’m going to go with the boots. They’re easy. They’re comfortable.
The campaign images are super powerful. Do you have any pre-photoshoot rituals that help you get into the right headspace for modeling?
[Laughs] I do, mentally. I want to erase who I am; what Sam Edelman wants from me, what the photographer [Steven Klein] wants from me, what everyone wanted from me. It’s their product, and Sam had a vision, and I wanted to be able to execute that vision of what they wanted and expected. So that’s the way I try to work, is just to erase who I am and become what they want. And it was a lot of fun! I really enjoyed it. It was a great set. Great vibe.
You worked with an all-star crew on this one: Patti Wilson styled it, Pat McGrath did the makeup.
Patti Wilson! I’m so grateful to God that she got her recognition [at the CFDAs], because it’s so overdue. She’s incredible at what she does, and she’s inspired so many. Finally! I love Patti. She knows what she wants. She’s very precise and decisive, and I love that. So was Sam Edelman. They knew what they wanted, and it was really lovely. I love people who know what they want. It’s best that way.
What music do you listen to when you’re on set?
I think that day I was probably listening to Afrobeats, then went into some old soul. My musical taste is all over. It’s so eclectic, and I love that it is. It’s whatever the mood or the vibes call for.
What do you wear when you want to feel confident?
I don’t know if it’s something you wear, and if it is, [it’s] something very simple. Innately, it comes from within you, but I feel like simplicity is powerful.
When you get dressed, do you build your look from the feet up, or top down?
I think I start from the top.
Now that you’re a mom, has it changed how you get dressed every day?
I get dressed much quicker [laughs]. There’s no time…I just grab what I grab and that’s it.
Are you partial to heels or flats?
I wear sneakers most of the time. People don’t see it. I wear sneakers, I wear flats. I like flat boots. That’s why I said my favorites were the Sam Edelman flat boots, because they’re comfy and you can throw them on with everything. I do like heels, but there comes a time that you have a young one, and you’re going to have to run around.
Practicality goes a long way.
Practical. And that’s what Sam Edelman is. That is the precise word for Sam Edelman, is that they are practical in their shoe-making. Practical, yet stylish and elegant.
You’re an icon in the industry. Not only are you a supermodel—you’re a mom, a philanthropist, a humanitarian, you have a doctorate…the list goes on. Out of all of these titles and everything you’ve done, which thing makes you the proudest?
Which title am I the most honored to be? A mom.
That’s sweet. On a related note, Sam Edelman is known for fostering young talent, and he’s spoken publicly about his desire to be a fashion innovator. How do you feel about mentoring emerging designers, and what are your hopes for the future of the fashion industry?
I’m all for it, and I hope that Sam Edelman and I can come together on this, since we both feel the same way about mentoring and guiding someone in these emerging markets who’ve been entrusted to design shoes. It would be perfect.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kevin LeBlanc is the Fashion Associate at ELLE Magazine. He covers fashion news, trends, and anything to do with Robyn Rihanna Fenty.