Photography by Alasdair McLellan, Styling by Katy England, All clothing and accessories by Alaïa.
There are few people in the world who have achieved such iconic status as Naomi Campbell, a woman whose name is synonymous with fashion in the collective consciousness. Similarly, there are few designers as revered as Azzedine Alaïa, a man whose inimitable understanding of how to dress women is, as Susannah Frankel writes in AnOther Magazine A/W16, "nothing short of genius". Their respective renown is certainly powerful – but even more so is their combined presence: it was Alaïa who housed a 16-year-old Naomi when she found herself alone in Paris at the start of her career; Naomi who refused to attend the 2009 Met Gala when her “papa” was not sufficiently represented in its annual exhibition – "I will never be part of anyone or anything that's disrespectful to my papa," she says.
Here, in celebration of the new issue of AnOther Magazine, which features a remarkably intimate insight into the life of the designer and those who surround him, Naomi reflects upon a relationship which spans over 30 years. Her answers are preceded by an exclusive film short directed by Jon Drever for NOWNESS, which sees the supermodel shed light on the importance of friendship, the key to contentment and the driving force behind her extraordinary career.
How did the two of you first meet?
I met him [Azzedine Alaïa] through another model called Amanda Cazalet; she had a dinner with Azzedine and she brought me along with her. Then, that was it: he called my mother and told her that I had to live with him. He said I shouldn't be in Paris aged 16 by myself. He said I needed protecting and he was going to take me in, take me under his wing, let me live under his roof.
How was that experience?
Ohhh, it was good, so good. I had the best closet in the world – my closet was the shop! I loved living with him, he's a very caring father figure and I still call him papa to this day. He's just amazing, he has the most amazing heart as well as being one of the most amazing designers in the world – if not the most amazing designer in the world. The way he creates, the way he cuts... it's the whole process, the way that he works is unique beyond belief. He's a perfectionist beyond perfectionist beyond perfectionist, and to be able to say that I got to be with him when he created some of these amazing designs just blows my mind. I still have to pinch myself. Actually, he used to pinch me with the pins to wake me up when I got tired at fittings around 3 or 4'o'clock in the morning. Azzedine didn't have just any fitting models, he had the girls from his shows do his fittings – we did both!
What do you think it was about you or him that made you get on so well?
He's honest, he's got so much integrity and he's true to his word. Everyone knows that Azzedine doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do, and he's very respectful to others, so others are as respectful to him. I will never be part of anyone or anything that's disrespectful towards my papa, so I don't wear certain designers who copy him. I don't work for them, and I never wear them.
Do you still go and stay with him in Paris?
Yes – and, although he lives in a different place now, my bedroom always ends up being above his. When I used to sneak out at night to go to the Bain Douche with Grace Jones and Iman, I'd hide my stuff outside by the door and get out through the window, but the dogs would start barking and so he'd wake up and know that I was trying to go out dancing – or someone at the club would call him when they saw me there! I mean, I was 17 years old and Grace Jones and Iman had invited me out – I couldn't say no! I didn't even drink back then; I'd just watch everything in awe, with my eyes wide open like a kid. Then, papa would arrive and I'd be in the middle of the dancefloor. The first thing he'd do was look at me and, if I had my outfit on wrong, he would fix it. Then he'd say, "now we're going home." I'd beg him to stay – one time, I'd heard that Prince was coming to play live and I was so desperate to see him – but he always said, "no, home".
I've heard he's an amazing cook...
The best. Once, when I fell down the steps, we had run out of ice in the house but we did have a frozen leg of lamb, so he put that on my head. Papa is the sort of man where if it was his last egg, his last piece of bread, he'd give it to you. I know this is a man who's in my life for the rest of my life, God willing. He's family to me, in every sense of the word. He's very honest with me; he'll tell me things like, "I like this picture, I don't like this picture," and "don't wear too much make-up." Now, finally, I'm not wearing too much make-up but for years he was telling me "don't wear too much, it's too much," but of course it was a security blanket for me. He picked out my dress recently for the amFar award and it was beautiful. Well, he sends two – he always gives me the choice – but he knows the one he wants. Luckily I chose the same one.
What have you learned from him?
He's taught me a lot: do what you want to do, wear what you want to wear; you set the trend. I love him, I've known papa for 30 years now, and our relationship is as strong today as it ever was. Of course, we have our rumblings, but it's unconditional love.
And why do you like wearing Alaïa?
He makes a woman's body just look amazing, elegant, classy, beautiful, sexy. It just shows the right amount and makes me feel good. It's a no-thinker to put on an Alaïa... You know, I've even got a pair of Alaïa sneakers now! Plus, the fabric just doesn't move. I can still wear my Alaïa from 1986 today; my shearling coats, my dresses. It stands the test of time.