Guiding light: Azzedine Alaïa gave Naomi Campbell her first big break.
Guiding light: Azzedine Alaïa gave Naomi Campbell her first big break.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell
Supermodel Naomi Campbell
I 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 brought me to dinner and I ate very well. I immediately thought that he was very sweet, normal and a 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 mom 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 and still has 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 older, Azzedine also comes to my house. But the most important thing is that we laugh. We fight and we laugh.

He’s a big practical joker. Over the years I’ve known him, he has played so many jokes 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. 

When I fell down the stairs and there was no ice in the freezer, he put a leg of lamb on my head because it was the only thing he had that was frozen.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell

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 how I became known.

He taught me everything about the business and, even more important, things about life - to be yourself, to do things with integrity, from the heart. I think he manages that. He only designs when he wants to design. He’s always making something new, but works 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 - people will buy his clothes whenever he wants to make them.

He understands a woman’s body better than any other designer. The other designers respect him for that.

Fame has not changed him. He still works the same way he did when he started. He has to look at every pattern. He doesn’t let anything go without having looked at it, 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 do have a father-daughter relationship.

When he’s angry with me or mad about something, he picks up the phone and calls my mother. He’s truthful and that’s another important thing in a friend. When he doesn’t like things I do, he tells me. I was very fortunate to have met him. Knowing Azzedine kept me on the right road.

His friendship means a lot 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.

This article was first published in April 1998 by The Independent.