HIP HOP'S FUTURE // JAY ELECTRONICA
What makes me different from everybody else just boils down to dissatisfaction,” exclaims rapper-producer Jay Electronica. “The bar is so low in rap—mediocrity is king! Who’s really trying to push the boundaries and move forward? Who’s really trying to come up with a new approach and make me feel wild?” The answer, of course, is Jay Electronica. Born Timothy Tredford in New Orleans, the now Brooklyn-based, 34-year-old Electronica embodies a series of compelling contradictions. On the one hand, he runs with a bold-faced crowd, collaborating with the likes of Nas and Diddy and fathering a daughter with neo-soul star Erykah Badu. On the other, he might very well be one of the most consistently striving—and innovative—artists in hip-hop today. Releasing most of his music free via the Internet, Electronica creates grittily addictive bangers, like his hit “Exhibit C,” though he’s just as apt to drop a track like “Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)”—a 15-minute musique concrete surreal symphony. “He looks like he’s an alien,” Badu intones on “Act 1 . . . ,” offering an assessment of Electronica that pretty much sums up the general feel of his music: diverse, complex, and mythically not of this world. After appearing this month as part of this year’s Q-Tip- and The Roots–curated edition of the Hennessy Artistry tour, Electronica will finish prepping his highly anticipated, first commercially released album, Act II: Patients Of Nobility (the turn), which is due in stores before the end of the year. The record was crafted during a globetrotting odyssey that saw him venture all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “People are afraid to go into an environment they are completely unfamiliar with,” he explains. “For me, my life is a journey. Nothing against Drake, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Kanye West, but they’re in a certain kind of machine that doesn’t afford them the freedom to do that.” He adds: “The greats have always been the people who gave you of themselves, as opposed to just giving you a product.”
A look into the future at what’s to come for Spring/Summer 2011, as designers embraced conceptual minimalism in presenting a new take on modern glamour with the simplicity of stark whites, rich creams, and sleek beiges.
August 20, 2010—Supermodel Naomi Campbell is vacationing on a yacht off the Italian coast with her boyfriend, Russian entrepreneur Vladislav Doronin, and a revolving group of friends that included Quincy Jones and Leonardo DiCaprio and Bar Rafaeli. This year has been a big one for Campbell, who celebrated her 40th birthday in May with a lavish party on the French Riviera. It marks another kind of milestone for her as well, the 25th anniversary of that fateful day in 1985 when she was photographed hanging out in her school uniform on the streets of London, thus launching a career in fashion that’s been both legendary and tumultuous: from her ascent as a teen to the highest echelons of the industry; to the indelible imagery she has been involved in creating; to the deep bonds that she has formed with some of the most important designers of the era; to the new ground she broke as a woman of color in a field that is still troublingly homogenous; to the well-documented personal issues and legal wrangles that have at times threatened to overshadow her remarkable body of work.
The laidback, jovial vibe aboard the boat is a stark contrast to the media furor that surrounded Campbell earlier in August, when she was forced to testify before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague at the highly publicized trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. But now, a few weeks removed, she seems more relaxed and to have stepped back into her iconic stride. She sat down with one of her shipmates, gallerist Tony Shafrazi, to reflect on the events that have shaped the past 25 years—including the most recent one—and her life both in fashion and beyond.
TONY SHAFRAZI: This year, it’s 25 years since you started working as a model. Today, it’s a miracle to reach the top of any business, let alone the fashion business, and to have stayed there as long as you have and still be so hot, so in it, and so active . . . What you’ve been able to do is amazing for so many reasons. What do you think accounts for it all? How do you think you’ve managed to do what you’ve done in your career?
NAOMI CAMPBELL: I don’t know. I was always told a long time ago by a mutual friend of ours, Bob [De Niro], to avoid being famous just for being famous. That’s something that has always stuck in my mind. I like to work. It helps if you like what you do. I understand when people complain about their work—they do what they do so they can make a living and take care of their families. So I am grateful to be doing something that I like. I also got to be around the group of beautiful women I came into this business with—Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Cindy [Crawford], Tatjana [Patitz], Stephanie [Seymour], Claudia [Schiffer], and Helena [Christensen].
SHAFRAZI: It was an incredible time in fashion when you were coming up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the idea of the supermodel was born. There was everything that was going on in terms of design, but I don’t think there has been an occasion before where there were so many big models who were so different from one another and yet also so successful.
CAMPBELL: You know, none of us ever cared about this word supermodel. It was just a kind of terminology that the press came up with for whatever reason. But what we did like was being together. We were very supportive of one another, my group of girls, and I don’t think that happens so much nowadays. We were all doing shows in each country, working nonstop, but it didn’t matter, because we enjoyed being together. We would all have our rooms next to one another—it was like a dorm on tour. Even if we were always in fittings until one or two o’clock in the morning, we didn’t care, because we felt like we were part of something. We used to shoot all night in Paris—couture with Patrick Demarchelier. There’s only one of each couture dress, and they have to go around to every magazine, so we’d be waiting—sometimes for hours—for a dress to arrive. But as long as we had good music, nobody said they were tired. Nobody cared. So I’m happy that I got to be around such a great group of ladies. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work. But it was also a lot of fun—and I didn’t feel alone. Those ladies still look amazing today. Time has gone by, but they still look amazing.
SHAFRAZI: You’re telling me, boy. [laughs] It’s interesting that you’ve stayed friends with so many of the girls you came up with, including Carla Bruni, who is now the first lady of France. I know that you had dinner a couple of weeks ago with her and her husband, President [Nicolas] Sarkozy. What was that like?
CAMPBELL: I don’t like to discuss private events or matters, because, naturally, I respect people’s privacy, but I’ve always loved Carla. She’s an amazing woman. She has always been a great friend to me—and a great confidante. She’s always had this elegance about her, as far back as I can remember. We travel a lot, so we don’t get a chance to see each other that often, but we do try to stay in touch whenever possible.
SHAFRAZI: What was your impression after seeing them together?
CAMPBELL: I love the way that President Sarkozy speaks about Carla. It’s wonderful to see someone speak about their wife with such love, admiration, and pride.
SHAFRAZI: Okay, let’s go back to the beginning. Where were you born?
CAMPBELL: Oh, god. I have to go back to that beginning?
CAMPBELL: I was born in London and raised in Rome until I was 4. Then we went back to London, where I went to school.
SHAFRAZI: In what part of London did you grow up?
CAMPBELL: I’m from Streatham in South London. I wasn’t born there, but I’m a South London girl and proud of it. I still go back there to see my family and friends. But I went to school in London. My first school was in Acton and my second was in Barbican.
SHAFRAZI: How were you discovered? Did someone recommend that you get into modeling?
CAMPBELL: Well, in brief, I was discovered by a lady called Beth Boldt. She had also been a model. She used to take pictures of the girls she found, and she took a picture of me one day in my school uniform, and it all kind of started from there.
SHAFRAZI: I’ve met your mother a number of times, but recently I’ve gotten to know her a little better. She was a very accomplished and very active professional dancer with the Contemporary Ballet Group in London when you were a kid, right?
SHAFRAZI: And not only that, but she danced with a group that traveled all over Europe and to different countries in Asia.
CAMPBELL: And to Iran.
SHAFRAZI: Yes, she told me she’d been to Tehran. Her troupe performed in the presence of the Shah of Iran.
CAMPBELL: She said it was one of the most beautiful cities she’d ever been to.
SHAFRAZI: It’s a great credit to your mother that she was able to raise you the way she did on her own. Maybe it’s a silly question, but do you think she passed on any of her aspirations or talents for performing to you?
CAMPBELL: I don’t know. My mother wasn’t pushy in any way. I would say to my mother, “I’d like to try this.” But before I would try it, she would go, “Education first.” I would ask my mother to show me how to walk—and she did show me. That’s why I think it’s funny when people say, “Did so-and-so teach you how to walk?” And I always say, “You must be talking about my mother, because it was my mother who taught me how to walk.”
SHAFRAZI: One of the most striking things about you that’s always impressed me is the way you walk the runway. I’ve been going to fashion shows since the early ’60s in London, but I’ve never seen anyone who walks the way you do. There’s always been this dynamic energy, this majestic quality to the way you walk. Whenever you take the runway, the place explodes. It’s interesting, because different models take different paths—doing editorial work, doing campaigns—but very few of them do those things and continue to walk in shows.
CAMPBELL: Well, when I started modeling in the mid-’80s, the girls who did shows did shows, and the girls who did magazines did magazines. That’s what was understood. But I think that our group kind of broke that with the support of designers like Gianni Versace, Azzedine Alaïa, Yves Saint Laurent, and Karl Lagerfeld, and their connections to both the magazines and the photographers. I always enjoyed doing shows back in the day. We were part of the creativity.
SHAFRAZI: So it was very much the incorporative spirit of the whole thing that you enjoyed. The creations of these designers like Alaïa truly are works of art. And you recognized how you are very much part of their creative process.
CAMPBELL: Yeah. I loved to see how it all came together. It was fun to watch Azzedine make a dress. You would watch for days on end to see what this dress was going to be like when it was finished, and you’d get caught up in how he was working . . . I loved watching Azzedine create. I loved watching so many of the great designers I’ve worked with do what they do. That’s why I’m still loyal to the designers that I’ve known since I was 16. It’s not that I’m forced to be—it’s that they’re creative geniuses and I love what they do. For my whole group of girls, it wasn’t always about how much we were getting paid. We were interested in how creative it looked—how it would come across. We wanted to do something different and get the shock value and attention of, “Oh, look at that!” We even did ads for designers back in the day who didn’t have any money. We were like, “We’re still going to do it because we like what you do.”
SHAFRAZI: What was it like the first time you came to New York?
CAMPBELL: I had been modeling in London and Paris at the time and American Vogue brought me over to do a shoot with Steven Meisel. I was 16 and didn’t know anybody. I met my agent on the other side. I was with the Ford agency at the time—I remember taking the Concorde. I was wearing Azzedine Alaïa clothes and my Azzedine shearling. It wasn’t reality. To be honest with you, I look back on it now and I’m like, Wow, I did that at 16?
SHAFRAZI: Did you know Steven before?
CAMPBELL: No, but Christy Turlington had told him about me—I’d worked with her and Stephanie in London, so we’d gotten to know each other. We did a job together—an English catalog job. But I remember coming over to shoot with Steven. It was Yasmin Le Bon and I. Yasmin Le Bon wore long black dresses with a ponytail, and I wore short black dresses with a ponytail. The fashion editor was Carlyne [Cerf de Dudzeele], the makeup was with François Nars, and hair was Oribe.
SHAFRAZI: Do you have the pictures?
CAMPBELL: No, I don’t have them. Vogue has them—or Steven has them. Steven is someone I carry a deep respect and gratitude for because he got me to New York. He taught me all about transformation—about not being you.
SHAFRAZI: You mean how to change yourself to become someone else?
SHAFRAZI: So then what happened? You just decided to stay in New York for a while?
CAMPBELL: Well, Christy had said to me, “You know, why don’t you come and be my roommate?” I went back home and moved to New York later that year to live with Christy. We lived downtown, in SoHo. Honestly, for me it was a blessing to have a friend like Christy. I was so indebted to her for so many things. You know, when I was younger there were certain designers who hadn’t used models of color in their shows, and Christy and Linda said to them, “If you don’t take Naomi, then you don’t get us.” My friends and comrades stuck up for me—and that doesn’t happen in fashion. I will never forget that. I don’t forget what people do. No matter how many years go by, I always remember.
SHAFRAZI: By the time you came along in the mid-’80s, women like Naomi Sims, Iman, and Beverly Johnson had opened things up for models of color, but did you still feel a resistance? Did you ever see being a woman of color, or singled out that way, as an obstacle?
CAMPBELL: No. There are always obstacles in life, and even if I did see obstacles, I never looked at it like, “Okay, we can’t achieve what we wanted. We can’t achieve what needs to be achieved.” I’d look at whatever obstacles were in front of me and find the people who could help me overcome them. Patrick Demarchelier was the one who got me my first Vogue cover. It was French Vogue—I think in ’87 or ’88. I think I was the first black model to be on the cover of French Vogue, which was shocking to me because when I asked them about it, they were like, “Oh, no. We’ve never had that before.” And I was like, “Oh, really?” I remember one time I went to Australia. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the editor in chief of a magazine there told me that she got fired for putting me on the cover.
CAMPBELL: I do remember going there and saying, “Where’s the Aboriginal model? There should be one. They’re beautiful women!” You know, [former model and agent] Bethann Hardison is a very important lady in my life. She came to visit me in England when I was 15 years old and she’s been in my life ever since. I trust Bethann, but I also love and respect her and what she fights for, which is to keep women of color on equal ground in the fashion industry. And so I do feel a responsibility, because I’ve been given so many opportunities, and I’d like to see other girls of color presented with those same opportunities.
SHAFRAZI: It’s interesting, though, because over the course of your career, fashion has become much more global. You’ve been all over the world. You’ve been to China a few times now. You’ve certainly been to Russia.
CAMPBELL: Well, I live in Russia.
SHAFRAZI: You do, because your boyfriend is Russian.
CAMPBELL: I don’t discuss my private life.
SHAFRAZI: Okay, I won’t ask you about your private life. But I am curious, because you couldn’t always travel to those places. And now because of how the political landscape has changed over the past two decades, these countries have opened up. How have you found going from culture to culture as a woman of color? How has the opening up of things affected you?
CAMPBELL: Well, I have traveled to all of those places, and when I travel I feel like it’s not just me, Naomi, traveling—that I have to promote the woman of color so that what I represent is seen in a serious way, and not in a trendy way. In the beginning, when I started going to all of these countries, I felt a little bit like a kind of guinea pig—you know, it was like, “Let’s go and we’ll see what happens.” It was exciting to me.
SHAFRAZI: It was exciting? It wasn’t threatening to you?
CAMPBELL: I was not afraid. I was excited to explore and see the world. I’d been traveling since I was 6 months old, so I was never fearful of getting on a plane and going somewhere—even America. I’d seen parts of America, but what I saw, I saw on television, and I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. I think my mother would agree that I’ve never had a fear of traveling and going to a new place. I adapt. People look at me now and say, “You live in Russia?” And I’m like, “Yeah. It’s like New York in the ’80s!” [both laugh] It wasn’t like, “Oh, my god. I’m black. I need to get out of here.” That wasn’t on my mind.
SHAFRAZI: It’s sort of troubling—and I admittedly don’t know much about it—but when it comes to those things like the very big contracts and endorsements, it seems like there is still some discrimination. Do you feel any limitations there at all?
CAMPBELL: For me? Or in general?
SHAFRAZI: No, for you. Do you feel that you’d like to do more but that the opportunities aren’t there as much, or that you have to fight for them?
CAMPBELL: I mean, look, I’m controversial. It’s not that people don’t know who I am . . . If people want to work with me, then they want to work with me. If they don’t, they don’t. You also have to create your own things. I’ve had my own perfume now for how many years? I’m doing my twelfth perfume and I’m with Procter & Gamble. If something doesn’t come your way, then you find another way. I was brought up with a very broad mind. I am a woman of color and I will always be proud of that. I also know that I will always have to go that extra 10 miles. And that’s fine. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with doing the extra 10 miles. I didn’t expect to go on this journey, Tony—or to still be on this journey, in the same business. It’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to anyone else. My whole career is a challenge. I’m a challenge.
SHAFRAZI: I don’t really use a computer, but when someone searches for your name on the Internet, around how many hits do they get?
CAMPBELL: I don’t know. I don’t look.
SHAFRAZI: Is it more than 10 million or something?
CAMPBELL: [pauses] I don’t know . . .
SHAFRAZI: Well, whatever the number is, it’s very big. There’s this huge curiosity about you and your life, and the trials and tribulations you’ve encountered. Obviously a lot of people seize on the more scandalous-seeming stories because they generate traffic and sell. But there’s something going on there that I don’t see happening to many of the other models. Would you agree?
CAMPBELL: I can’t answer that. I don’t look myself up on the Internet, so I don’t know.
SHAFRAZI: But you yourself seem very connected. You’re always on the phone, on your BlackBerry, on the computer. You’re communicating all day long.
CAMPBELL: Because if you commit yourself to being involved with something and you’re responsible . . . I’m not someone who starts things and doesn’t finish them. That’s not how I am—I’m not going to drop the ball. So I have to deal with things. Since we’re on vacation right now, I’m trying to do less. But, as you know, there’s been a lot going on in the aftermath of the Hague . . .
SHAFRAZI: Yes, you had to go to testify at the Hague in front of the war crimes tribunal of the former Liberian president Charles Taylor. [Taylor is accused of selling diamonds for arms in his backing of a Sierra Leone rebel group who were fighting in that country’s long-running and very bloody civil war—hence the term blood diamond. Campbell was questioned about an alleged incident involving Taylor sending her rough diamonds following their meeting at a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997. Campbell has denied knowing who sent her the unidentified stones, which she referred to as “dirty looking pebbles.”]
CAMPBELL: Well, I think most people—most intelligent people—understand that it’s a case that has been going on for a few years. But for some people it seemed like all of the sudden it was brought to their attention. Why? Because I had to go testify? I mean, I did the best I could there with my knowledge and what I could remember. They were asking me about things that happened 13 years ago . . . Okay, I said one word—that it was inconvenient—and that was wrong, and I take that. But I wasn’t saying . . . Someone asked me, “Are you nervous to be here?” I think anyone in the world would be nervous to be there! And then someone called me an idiot for not knowing where Liberia was . . . Many of my friends in 1997 had never even heard of Liberia. You know, I felt like I was on trial myself—and this was not my trial. I don’t condone what this man has done. I don’t condone what anyone does in being responsible for the deaths of kids and families and their own people—allegedly, that’s what I’ve read. That’s what we’ve all read. But I just saw the whole thing become a complete media circus. I felt very disappointed that people couldn’t really see what was going on. This wasn’t about me. This was not my trial. This was his trial. But anyone looking at it would think it was about me.
SHAFRAZI: They used you to make it into an event.
CAMPBELL: I don’t want to say what they did or what they didn’t do, but, as I say, it was another experience in my life. I did it to the best of my ability. I do take that I said a word that was taken out of context, something about inconvenience. I accept that that was not the right word to say. But when asked if someone’s nervous sitting there, when you’ve got the whole world—people from Australia, people from Brazil, New Zealand—of course I was nervous! This is not what I’m used to. Being on a runway, doing a fashion show is what I know. Not being on this other platform.
SHAFRAZI: But your own role in the fashion world and in what you represent to most people has, to some extent over the years, changed—both consciously and for other reasons—as you’ve become a more global figure.
CAMPBELL: Listen, I make many mistakes. Many mistakes. I’m not a perfect human being. I have to learn from my mistakes. And a lot of the ones I’ve made have been public. So I always get nervous when people speak about something that sounds like a role model, because I don’t know if I’ve been a great role model myself. I don’t think I have in certain aspects of my life . . . But I’m trying to do better. I admit to my mistakes. I admit to the things that I’ve done wrong. I admit it. But I’m trying to do right by myself and my life now.
SHAFRAZI: Does it ever get you down?
CAMPBELL: I don’t get depressed. When I feel an attack, I withdraw. I disappear, I replenish, and then I come back. I’m not going to wallow in self-pity and not live my life. There are always going to be some falls in life for everybody, no matter what career you have. You have to roll with the punches and keep going.
SHAFRAZI: We all come from different places and backgrounds, but to make something of oneself, of course, is due to a mix of determination, chance, good fortune, and blessing. But it’s also due to the people one meets along the way—the people who help with their influence and their guidance. You’ve become close with so many enormously influential people in your life. I know that a number of years ago you referred to [former record-label executive and founder of Island Records] Chris Blackwell as your father. And when I speak to him and hear the way he refers to you, he seems to accept that responsibility. You seem to have a similar relationship with Quincy Jones. How would you describe the relationships you’ve forged with these men?
CAMPBELL: It’s the same as with Azzedine. I’ve never known my real father, and I’ve never looked for a father figure in a boyfriend, but I suppose I have looked for real father figures in my life—and I’ve acquired more than one. I certainly couldn’t ask for better ones. I love them enormously—and they know that.
SHAFRAZI: Nelson Mandela is another one of those father figures.
CAMPBELL: I call him granddad. He named me his honorary granddaughter.
SHAFRAZI: When did you meet him?
CAMPBELL: In ’92. I have to pinch myself sometimes because who in the world doesn’t want to know Nelson Mandela? But I’ve been extremely blessed to have been in his presence many times. I just saw him about five weeks ago. I spent time with him. I sat next to him and held his hand. He’s someone who I often think about when things get tough and life isn’t full of roses. Nothing can be as hard as what he went through. Now, I don’t have his constitution for forgiving. I hope one day to acquire that. But I don’t hold grudges either. When things happen, I just kind of want to move away from them for a while and hope that things will come back in a more positive light.
SHAFRAZI: Having been raised by a single parent, it’s interesting how not knowing your father led you, in a way, to seek other fathers and to look for what’s admirable in certain people.
CAMPBELL: Well, I’ve never made an excuse of not knowing my father, because I’ve had great people in my life. I have a great mother, and she has met each and every one of these men we’ve spoken about. But you do just meet these people in your life who you connect with and love in that way. I can’t explain it any other way. It’s just a special bond where you respect and admire and look up to them. It also has to do with loyalty. I am loyal to the people in my life and will always be. That’s the way I was raised. But I get to spend private time with these people. It’s not a kind of public adulation. That’s something else that our friend Bob always told me was important: quality time.
SHAFRAZI: Bob was a good inspiration for you.
CAMPBELL: Bob was a big inspiration. I may not have understood how big because I was so young, but whatever he gave me stayed with me until I finally got it. I think of these people as my family, and I surround myself with my strength and the people I look up to and respect. I’ll tell you, a vision I remember is being invited to this dinner four or five years ago. It was hosted by Sol Kerzner [the South African hotel magnate] and Robert De Niro at the Tribeca Grill, and I think it was one of the last dinners that Mr. Mandela was at in New York. It was amazing, though, because the first time I ever saw him in the flesh was at a dinner in that same building. So to be back in the same place with him all those years later was very special. Sean [Penn] and Leo [DiCaprio] were there. But what was really amazing was when Muhammad Ali walked into the room. To see him with Mr. Mandela—that’s something I’ll never forget.
SHAFRAZI: Seeing these two men together who are like giants or saintly figures . . .
CAMPBELL: Seeing two people who have suffered in their own countries, but still withstood all the obstacles, as you might say, and remain standing.
SHAFRAZI: When did you first become interested in Africa? How did the work you do there begin?
CAMPBELL: I think when I went to Tanzania at the end of ’92 is when my relationship with the African world really began. I went there for work and I was very much moved by what I saw. So I decided to donate the money from the job I’d gone there to do to the ANC [African National Congress], and I’ve been involved in various organizations and charities ever since. I just kept it on the down-low for a long time. That’s how I chose to go about it. Of course, now times have changed, and you need the media to create awareness, so . . . times change. Right now what I really care about is the women I represent and how I represent them in the African world. I want to help open that up. I have some ideas . . . I haven’t got a concrete plan, but that’s what my focus is on. Even with all of the stuff that’s happened in the past few weeks, I will not stop doing the work that I do. I won’t. You know, I’ve been offered jobs by companies that supported apartheid many times in the 25 years of my modeling career, but I have never taken one of them. I have to refuse that money, because I’m not going to work against my people. They’ve suffered enough.
SHAFRAZI: You’ve done a lot of philanthropic work with organizations that aid women and children and people in devastated areas outside of Africa, like India and Haiti. How do you decide where to focus your energies?
CAMPBELL: I just decide. When someone who I highly respect comes to me and says, “We need your help,” I listen to what they have to say, and if I feel a passionate connection to what they’re telling me right away, then I’m there—I’m in. I started this charity, Fashion for Relief, in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina happened. New Orleans was actually the first place I visited in the United States. It was one of my first big jobs, a shoot for British Elle. It was April 14, 1986. Martin Brading was the photographer and Lucinda Chambers was the editor. So when Katrina happened, I had this feeling of looking at the television and seeing my people on the streets, having nowhere to fucking go . . . I was just like, “What do we do?” It felt personal to me. We had seven days until Fashion Week started in New York, so I called up Teddy Forstmann at IMG and said, “Listen, I really need your help. Could you give me the tent at the last slot on the last night of Fashion Week?” And I explained to him what I was thinking, that we would do a fashion show using clothes that were donated by designers, and then auction them off and use the money to support the people of New Orleans. I wasn’t even with IMG at the time, so they didn’t really have to support it [Campbell is now represented by IMG]. But they were really gracious and said yes—and they’ve been very supportive of Fashion for Relief ever since. We’ve done shows now in India, Tanzania, London, New York again, and London again . . .
SHAFRAZI: You do shows everywhere.
CAMPBELL: Yeah. And designers from all over the world give items of clothing to be auctioned. They’ve also gotten into artists giving stuff. We just did an event in Russia called NEON, with Dasha [Zhukova]. We’ve gotten all kinds of people involved. People want to help, but sometimes they just don’t know how to do it.
SHAFRAZI: I understand that you’re very careful about how the funds you help raise are spent. People have to get your approval before they spend money on anything, and show you receipts and things . . .
CAMPBELL: We watch every penny—every penny. I’m not going to ask people I know to commit and give to something and have it be misleading. For example, most people don’t realize that a lot of the people who died in the attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi hotel in Bombay in 2008 didn’t survive because there were not enough ambulances. People died because of the attacks—we know that. But Bombay is a big city, and others died because they didn’t have the amenities. So we went there and did a show and raised money for ambulances.
SHAFRAZI: Did it work?
CAMPBELL: Well, you know, in charity, every little bit works. You can’t change the world. You can’t do everything. But you sure try to bring awareness and do as much as you can. One of the people who I respect so much is Sean Penn. I think most people feel the same way about him. I respect him on many levels, but just the way that he doesn’t talk about what he hears, but rather, what he sees.
SHAFRAZI: He’s been in Haiti basically nonstop since the earthquake in January.
CAMPBELL: He’s a doer. He’s not one of those who just says—he does. What’s that Nike phrase—“Just do it?”
SHAFRAZI: In your travels, you’ve also had an opportunity to meet the leaders of many South American countries, including Hugo Chávez [president of Venezuela and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner [president of Argentina].
CAMPBELL: Yes. British GQ sent me to interview them both, which was a great experience. I actually spent a lot of time with Chávez—he took me around and showed me some of the work that was being done in hospitals. I’ve also met with President Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] of Brazil, about an initiative I was working on to help children in the favelas.
SHAFRAZI: You just celebrated your 40th birthday in May. What are you looking forward to in your next 40 years? What do you think the future holds? I know it’s a big question . . .
CAMPBELL: Yeah . . . [laughs]
CAMPBELL: I just want to be quiet. I just want to live my life.
Tony Shafrazi is the owner of Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York.