HOW WE MET; NAOMI CAMPBELL AND AZZEDINE ALAIA
Sunday 05 April 1998
NAOMI CAMPBELL: I first met Azzedine when I was 16. It was my first day working in Paris and somebody had stolen all my money. I didn't know anyone in the city and didn't know how I was going to eat. A fellow model who was doing a show with Azzedine then brought me to dinner, and I ate very well. I immediately thought that he was very sweet, normal and humble person, because he was cooking the dinner in the kitchen himself. He also served the food himself. I didn't say one word, because I didn't speak French. But as I left, he gave me a present - a dress.
After that, whenever I came to Paris, I would stay with him. He gave me my own room and I still have it. My mum didn't want me to go to discos and he never used to let me go. One time, I climbed out of the window to a waiting taxi. When he found out, Azzedine put me in the room above him so that if I wanted to go out, I would have to go through his room.
Now, when I come over, we sit around and watch TV. He loves Tunisia very much and has still got very strong roots. You can see that in the videos he watches - old Tunisian movies. We cook eggs, fish or lamb chops in the kitchen and have dinner. Now that I've got a little bit older, Azzedine also comes to my house. But the most important thing is that we laugh. We fight and we laugh.
He's a really big practical joker. Over the 12 years I've know him, he has played so many on me. I've lost count of the number of times he's pricked me with pins during fittings. Sometimes, I've crept into bed at night and he's put things under the covers. I remember once I fell down the stairs. There was no ice left in the freezer. So Azzedine put a leg of lamb on my head because it was the only thing he had that was frozen.
Azzedine saw something in me and taught me to have confidence. I didn't know how to do runway when I started modelling, but he believed in me. That brought attention from other designers, and is kind of how I became known - because other designers heard of this little girl Azzedine was working with.
He really taught me everything about the business, and also taught me even more important things about life - to be yourself, to do things with integrity and to do things from the heart. I think you really can say that he manages to do all of those things. He only designs when he wants to design. He's always making something new, but doesn't work to a schedule. He works according to his own schedule. He likes to work late at night, until three or four in the morning. He doesn't have to do a fashion show because people will come and want to buy his clothes - whenever and whatever he wants to make. He really is unique. He understands a woman's body better than any other designer. All the other designers respect Azzedine for that and salute him for it.
Fame has not changed him at all. He still works the same way he did the day he started. He has to look at every pattern. He still goes over everything; every single thing. He doesn't let anything go without him having looked at it and restitched it and repinned it.
My relationship with Azzedine is different from those I have with other designers, because he is the only one I've lived with. I call him "Papa" and we really do have a father-daughter relationship. When he's pissed off with me or mad about something, he picks up the phone and calls my mother. He's very truthful and that's another important thing in a friend. When he doesn't like things I do, he tells me. I was very lucky and fortunate to meet him. Knowing Azzedine kept me on the right road.
His friendship means very much to me and I hope I have it forever. It's more than just about material things and clothes. He is someone in the world I know I can call up whenever I am down, in need of anything or just want to talk.
One of my best memories is of when I was so overworked at one point and I just called him up and he said, "Come home, ma fille! Come home!" He cooked dinner for me and put me into bed. Then, he called up my agency and said, "Stop overworking her. She doesn't need to do all these things." It's that genuine love of his that's very special to me.
AZZEDINE ALAIA: The first time I met Naomi, she arrived with a model called Amanda Caseley, who had come to do fittings for my show. While we were doing them, I saw Naomi sitting down and thought, "Wow." There was something about her which reminded me of Josephine Baker. So I asked her to try something on. She was only 16 at the time and not yet fully developed. But I saw her wonderful muscle structure and asked if she could stay on to do the show. I had to phone her mother, who said, "She can only stay if you put her up."
Naomi speaks French now - not very well, but I manage to understand her. At that time, however, she didn't speak French and I didn't speak English. During the day, things were fine because there were other people around who could translate. But in the evening we found ourselves alone. Her mother speaks French. So I would phone her up in London and and she would explain what each of us wanted to say.
In the beginning, Naomi just slept on a mattress. But she would escape through the window to go out clubbing with other girls. So I put her in the room above mine to keep an eye on her. Sometimes, I even gave her my bed and I would sleep on a mattress on the floor.
At night, I really had to keep an eye on her because she would not stop calling people. She would crawl out of her bed, pick up the telephone, get back into bed with it and pull the covers over her head. I used to scream, "Naomi! Stop phoning abroad." Her calls were always to New York or London and she'd stay on the phone for hours. When she went, I was left with huge telephone bills. Even now she'd be quite happy to spend her whole life on the phone. I don't know quite how many mobile phones she has in her bag.
Right from the start you could feel that Naomi had star quality. She has a real presence; whenever she enters a room, something magical happens. But at the beginning, nobody wanted her to model for shows. We went to New York together to see the model agencies. I remember that Elite did not want to take her. So I went to see the owner and said to him, "Listen. She is my daughter, so you have to take her on and look after her. I don't want her to be left all on her own in New York."
For me, Naomi really is my daughter. In the past, she used to call me up all the time to ask for my advice. Now, she doesn't really do so anymore because she knows what I'll say. She hides things from me. For example, she didn't ask me if she should record her album or write her novel. I think both were a very bad idea. But it's not easy for her because she spends her whole time with people who tell her that she is beautiful, and only her mother and I can warn her that she's being given bad advice. From time to time when I hear or read something, I ring her up and say, "Just what's going on?" I fall out with her regularly. I sulk and don't speak to her when she does something stupid. But it never lasts.
I think I'm so attached to Naomi because we are both so alike. We can both be quite unbearable! Seriously, on first meeting her, she can seem quite defensive. But, once you've gained her confidence, she lets herself go. She may have a reputation for being difficult, but she really isn't at all. She is a very fragile person, who needs affection. She needs to be loved. If she is capricious, it's because there is a good reason. When she was younger, I was always being called into photo studios to calm her down, because a stylist had upset her. But now she has changed.
She's a great practical joker. She plays jokes on everyone, especially my cook. She'd put things in his sauces and pour in lots of salt when his back was turned. But she is also very generous. When she was young and poor, she bought me a dog: I don't know how many jobs she had to do to save up the money. Now when she offers presents, they are never little ones. They are really quite sumptuous. Recently, for example, she bought me an antique Prouve bookcase.
Nowadays, we don't see each other as much as before. She doesn't have as much time: she is always in a plane going from one country to the other. But, she really is a very faithful friend. In modelling, it's very hard to keep in touch with the people you knew when you started. Even though we fall out from time to time, I do think that our friendship will last . Something really serious would have to happen for us to lose touch completely. !
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