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Naomi Campbell in tears as tickets for her landmark V&A exhibition go on sale

The fashion industry’s inner circle — including former British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, designer Sarah Burton and filmmaker Sir Steve McQueen — were sitting, waiting for the late, great Naomi Campbell inside a grand ballroom at The Dorchester.

The supermodel, not dead but 90 minutes behind schedule (which is customary), is enjoying the treatment of someone who has passed, nonetheless. In June, a sprawling solo exhibition, Naomi: In Fashion, will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum documenting her 40-year career in over 100 looks and accessories. The benefit of being alive? You can do it yourself.

Campbell falls during the Vivienne Westwood show in 1993 (Rex Features)
Campbell falls during the Vivienne Westwood show in 1993 (Rex Features)

Campbell has discovered this is a double-edged sword. When she did arrive yesterday — following an apology from the V&A’s director Tristram Hunt — she took the mic to open the show’s ticket sales over plates of smoked salmon. Within a minute, she was in tears, explaining how “overwhelmed and stressed out” overseeing the show’s development has made her, while raising her two children. “Everyone expects such a great show from me, so I feel extra pressure,” she continued. “It’s full on — I realised I had to stop working my day job, so I can really work on making this right.”

Her time has been spent collating the more than 100 outfits and accessories which will be presented in the museum’s first career retrospective for a model. Examples on show included the towering, purple croc Vivienne Westwood shoes which caused her famous catwalk tumble in 1993, and the extraordinarily embroidered, silver Alexander McQueen gown by Burton she wore to receive the fashion icon award at the Fashion Awards in 2019.

 (Dave Benett/Getty Images for the)
(Dave Benett/Getty Images for the)

A chief concern is to pay proper tribute to the great designers (“some no longer with us,” she said, prompting a second wave of tears) for whom she has acted as a muse. “McQueen, Westwood, Mugler, Rifat Ozbek, John Galliano, Alaïa,” will all be featured. “There are a lot of personal items that I have never shown, gifts from designers — it is opening up my Pandora’s box.”

A focus of the exhibition as a whole will be her role as a pioneering woman of colour in the fashion industry. “Today, to see the models of the colour, the diversity, and what you did Edward,” she directed at Enninful. “I never thought I would see that.” Campbell made a point of marking her fears for the future, however: “Now we are at a place where [we are asking] will it remain? Looking again at the collections, I’m starting to get nervous that we are sliding back [in diversity]. So why do I stay doing what I do? Because my work is not done.”

As for the sentiment she wants visitors to leave her exhibition (“not a retrospective, Naomi is very much still working,” the V&A’s senior curator, fashion, Sonnet Stanfill, stressed) with, “hope, and the will and the drive to succeed.”

After 15 minutes of emotional chatter, Campbell retreated back behind a whopping, great pair of Alaïa sunglasses to greet her guests. Her display of vulnerability was over, as she told the Standard: “I’m not so good at public speaking anymore.” There is no doubt, however, that this exhibition will speak for itself.

NAOMI: In Fashion, V&A South Kensington, 22 June 2024 – 6 April 2025, sponsored by BOSS, £16 , vam.ac.uk