When Naomi: in Trend opens on the V&A on Saturday, guests might be greeted by Naomi Campbell herself. The exhibition begins with a video montage of a lifesize Campbell catwalking in direction of the customer.

One minute she is in a Chanel tweed swimsuit, then Versace clubwear, now a Westwood corset. Her hair is sliced right into a bob, or whips the air in a ponytail; now she’s in a fedora, or a turban. Each rise up is totally different, however each body is simply ever actually about Naomi. The center-shaped face with its Bond villain stare as she fronts as much as the digital camera, the swing of her hips and matador snap of her heels as she turns and stalks away. The V&A has by no means seen such va-va-voom.

Naomi: In Trend is the primary main museum exhibition dedicated to a mannequin. Eyebrows have been raised in regards to the canonisation of a style mannequin within the ranks of museum-worthy artists. However it works, as a result of as an alternative of making an attempt to make too earnest a case, the exhibition is enjoyable and quirky and doesn’t take itself too severely.

There’s a recreation of Campbell’s dressing room, full with Claridges lodge slippers, her favorite Diptyque candle and a packet of antibacterial wipes. A model sprawls on the ground of a case in black velvet and 12-inch platform heels, recreating Campbell’s well-known 1993 fall on Vivienne Westwood’s catwalk. Her iconic Covid-era airplane outfit – a Burberry cape over a hazmat swimsuit – is proudly included in a case of her wardrobe treasures, together with high fashion items by John Galliano for Dior and by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy. The present ends with an interactive Runway College through which guests are given a pep speak by Campbell, haughty because the sternest ballet mistress, earlier than being invited to check out their very own catwalking expertise.

That is partly an exhibition about how Campbell and the supers turned fashions into energy gamers in our tradition. Earlier than, fashions had been dandelion-light, doe-eyed and docile. Naomi and co reinvented the job as a type of Olympian of glamour, magnificence as an elite sport, goddesses commanding the catwalk like athletes roaring in direction of aim.

On the ethereal higher ground of the exhibition, Edward Enninful has curated an exhibition of pictures: Naomi stopping Manhattan site visitors, by Mario Sorrenti; a leopard print-clad Naomi racing an precise leopard, by Jean-Paul Goude. The facility of the pictures spell out why it’s Campbell, of the supermodels, who is well known right here. Naomi is not only a mannequin, she is information. As she as soon as mentioned: “I do know my worth. If I stroll for you, you’ll get your press.”

Campbell lent a lot of the garments within the exhibition, and whereas the curation was within the arms of the museum, it’s unashamedly a celebration somewhat than a critique. (The Dolce & Gabbana night robe that she wore to finish 5 days of neighborhood service for throwing a cellphone at an worker is described within the accompanying textual content for example of her exhibiting regret, which feels one thing of a attain.) However her faults are all a part of the parable.

On one video display, Kate Moss tells a narrative of Naomi’s legendary lateness, saying “even at my very own marriage ceremony, Naomi arrived later than me – she almost walked down the aisle after me”. Campbell is ego as artwork type, and that may be a world anybody who has an Instagram account resides in. It makes for an entertaining present.

Blackness is a vital a part of the exhibition. Campbell rose to fame at a time when the view – expressed by one shiny editor within the 2000s as “any face darker than a cappuccino doesn’t promote magazines” – allowed for rampant racism.

Campbell has at all times been keenly conscious of what her profession owed to girls resembling Bethann Hardison who preceded her, and decided to blaze a path for the following era. Prejudice that held a black girl’s magnificence couldn’t be as industrial as a white girl’s – or as elegant, or as demure – crumbled to mud within the face of Campbell, chameleon and strategic picture maker.

The garments are jaw-dropping. A monumental Balenciaga inky-black ball robe gazes down from the highest of the steps like a queen on an enormous chessboard. A robe of intricate floral embroidery made for Campbell by her pal Sarah Burton is an beautiful piece of sculpture. There are lavender Valentino feathers and swaggering Hugo Boss tailoring. Designers discovered way back to place Naomi in whichever look they need to get on the entrance web page, and she or he has wound up with a powerful roster of best hits. However even probably the most iconic outfits are solely the assist act. There is just one star of the Naomi present.

By Jess Cartner-Morley