More than 20 years after meeting Naomi Campbell at Azzedine Alaïa’s first fashion show, Gail Elliott joined her old friend “Omi” to co-host The Face.
We caught up with the Australian-based designer and former model to talk supermodels, coaching and walking for Versace.
How did you get involved with The Face?
“I received a call from Omi saying she was in town and that she’d love me to host with her. I was flattered she asked me—we hadn’t seen one another for eight to 10 years and I knew we’d have a fun time together.”
What was it like being on the show?
“I found working on The Face enjoyable and very interesting as I was able to bring my many years of experience as a model to the show. I didn’t find it hard to be critical because I knew the girls would benefit from what I had to say. It’s possible to be critical and caring at the same time.”
If the roles were reversed, how do you think you’d cope with being one of the models?
“I don’t know. They’re all so young and so inexperienced, not just in the modelling industry but in life. I was pretty impressed at how most of them handled themselves. When I was 17 years of age I thought I was so grown-up—as they think they are—but maybe to someone older I seemed just as naive as these girls seem to me.”
Now you’re on the other side, working as a designer. Do you think your experience helps when it comes to shooting models?
“It definitely affected the way I worked with the models on the show, and also when I shoot models for our Little Joe Woman by Gail Elliott lookbooks and campaigns. I’m probably more patient with them and I show concern for their wellbeing. I don’t have time for models who I feel are lazy or spend too much time on their iPhones, since I know how expensive a shoot is with a photographer, assistants, hair and make-up people and a studio. I was always very professional and feel they should be too as they’re very lucky to be in this profession.”
Do you have any advice for the girls?
“I wish I’d taken in more of the places I travelled to and who I met. Some of it seems like a bit of a blur now because I was on a plane literally every two or three days for 20 years, which seemed so normal at the time—but I wish I’d paid more attention. I’d also advise the girls to learn languages. I speak Japanese fairly well but if I’d worked harder at it, I could have learned to speak French, Italian, Spanish and German, since I spent so much time working in those countries.”
What’s your favourite modelling memory?
“When Omi, Turly [Christy Turlington], Linda [Evangelista], Cindy [Crawford] and Claudia Schiffer came striding out on the Versace runway in Milan singing to George Michael’s track ‘Freedom’. It was such an iconic moment and there was such power on that runway passage—the photographers went crazy. I was backstage watching on the monitor with the other models and we were screaming, singing and laughing. Gianni and Donatella Versace were crying with pride—it was a magical moment in fashion history.”
Where did you and Naomi meet?
“I think the first time we met was at Azzedine Alaïa’s first-ever fashion show at his Rue de Bellechasse studio in Paris. The studio was so tiny that we had to do five shows a day so he could show [the collection] to all the magazines and his customers. He couldn’t afford to pay any of us at the time so he paid us in clothes, which we all loved. I think it was 20-something years ago.”
What was it like working with her? Were you competitive?
“When Naomi and I worked together during the late ’80s and ’90s, there were probably 20 models who worked every day for many years all over the world so there was plenty of work and hardly any competition. Omi and I are both British so we’ve always had a special bond. Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs but there was always a very strong sense of camaraderie between us and all the other models. We’ve worked together on many great shoots. I can remember one in particular with [photographer] Patrick Demarchelier in the Hamptons, New York, where we wore red coats. We’d travel on the Concorde together, go on vacation to the south of France, hang out with U2 and watch them in concerts all over the world. We had so much fun!”
Is she as fierce as she’s made out to be?
“Naomi has strong opinions and she’s not too shy to share them. She’s a very hard worker and expects the same from people working around her. When I got to the set of The Face, she and I sat in her make-up room for three hours chatting, laughing and reminiscing about back in the day. She definitely still has a lovely, fun, playful, soft side to her.”
Who do you want to win The Face?
“I’d like to see someone win who’s beautiful, photogenic, willing to work hard, humble, loves to travel, loves people and who’s kind and professional. I have a few favourites but probably shouldn’t say who!”