Wednesday is Naomi Campbell’s 49th birthday, though she’s actually ageless. The legendary supermodel is an industry hero, and she’ll probably never stop working. And a big part of the reason Naomi (no last name required) is an icon, however overused the term may be, is her walk.
Naomi’s walk is quite clearly the best in the business, a combination of swagger and grace that no other model has ever truly replicated (not even by those to whom she has given lessons, like Gigi Hadid). Her hips and shoulders sway while her back stays ramrod straight. Occasionally she’ll twirl, like models are supposed to in the movies. And she slowly smiles at the cameras, like she is very, very pleased with herself. She should be.
The Naomi Campbell walk is the subject of countless YouTube compilations and impassioned tweets and deservedly slobbering Instagrams (there is a reason that audience members cried when she ruled the runway at Valentino couture last season). Her moves inspired Beyoncé’s strut in the “Crazy in Love” video! And even her failures are triumphs: When she fell on ludicrously tall chopines at Vivienne Westwood's Fall 1993 show, she just kept smiling, and nobody ever forgot it.
In a video posted to her YouTube channel last December, Naomi explained how she learned to walk from her mother, Valerie Morris-Campbell, a dancer. "[My mother] taught me how to walk,” she explained. “It wasn't that I didn't know how to walk. She just taught me how to have a bit more swag and how to listen to the rhythm of the music and how to walk when there wouldn't be music at all, and also to remember the clothing that you're wearing. It's never been about showing myself, Naomi Campbell, it's been about finding a character within myself to each designer that I worked for in relation to the outfit that I was in."
Walks have changed over the years. A 2017 Jezebel piece outlined the “slow death” of the runway walk, highlighting how designers have come to prefer younger, less-trained girls who do not bring as forceful a personality to the runway. “I absolutely think [walks are] less distinctive for sure,” Alex Borges, the agency director for NEXT Model Management, told the writer Hazel Cillis. “Very few girls out there still have a strut.”
But some power is coming back to the runway. Influential casting directors Walter Pearce and Rachel Chandler of Midland Agency favor an aggressive stomp, so fast that it’s almost a run. Designers like Shayne Oliver at Hood by Air and Rio Uribe at Gypsy Sport hire voguers and performance artists to take to the catwalk, and Rick Owens has famously used steppers and staged totally unorthodox, movement-driven runway shows.
So there’s some hope. But there’s little of the kind of glamour Naomi Campbell provides. She cried after that Valentino show, overwhelmed after surviving decades in a racist and narrow-minded industry. “I’ve only cried once before on the catwalk, and I cried because I was so overwhelmed and happy,” she said in a video on her channel. “When I looked up and saw the girls above me, it just seemed like yes, these almost 33 years [in the industry] … [it] has been worth it to speak up, has been worth it to stand alongside Iman, has been worth it to see these beauties that were treated as the highest and the most elegant of women.”