Naomi Campbell on Working Out, Staying In, and Her Surreal New Equinox Campaign

An exclusive interview with the one and only on her regimen.

Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio

Nick Knight can still remember every detail of the first time he met Naomi Campbell. “The first time was for the designer Yohji Yamamato and it was in 1986 in Paris. I remember it very well,” said the famed British photographer. “She arrived at the studio with a cassette from her friend Prince, and it was a tape of one of his albums that nobody had ever heard before. She put it on and danced to that in a beautiful scarlet Yohji Yamamato coat. She was then, as she is now, incredibly beautiful, and as a photographer, is a joy to work with.” Now, some 30 years later, the pair have reunited once again, this time coming together for a campaign to launch the Equinox Hotels brand.

Opening this summer—the first Equinox Hotel will be at Manhattan’s new Hudson Yards development, before expanding to L.A.—the fitness chain’s foray into complete hospitality will be under the mantra “For Those Who Want It All,” which is teased in the short film produced by Knight’s SHOWstudio. “I’m interested in how people represent health, because it tends to be one of those areas that doesn’t perhaps get as much creative treatment as it deserves,” Knight said of taking on the project. “When Equinox approached me, I looked at what they’ve done in the past and thought, Here’s a company who say they want to push boundaries, and it’s for people who are constantly on the edge, but let’s look back through their advertising. And their advertising was exciting. They take risks. That’s the sort of thing you need to look at when you take on a new client.”

The campaign comes in three parts, each based on a different theme that the hotels will revolve around: movement, nutrition, and regeneration. Each segment features Campbell in a mirrored room, built to be the size of an average hotel room. “I didn’t want to do anything where the imagery felt preachy,” Knight said of conceptualizing the video. “I’d much rather stimulate people with the image that I make, rather than lecture them.” Of course, the high-concept nature of the campaign was not without its challenges. “It was all shot in a mirrored cube, and that was a challenge in itself, because she’s surrounded by her own image, which is for her a slightly odd moment,” Knight said. “But because of the mirrored cube, she also couldn’t see me at all, so we had to put microphones inside the mirrored images so she could hear what I was saying. It was a bit like the voice of God.”

Campbell, of course, was up for the challenge, as always. Here, the globe-trotting supermodel talks about reuniting with Knight, the shoot’s physical challenges, and the keys to a good hotel.

What have been your past experiences with Equinox the brand?

I’ve always been a fan of Equinox, and I know Harvey [Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner] personally. I’ve never worked for the brand but of course I’ve always loved and worked out in the New York and L.A. gyms; they were really the first to set that lifestyle gym culture.

What was it like working with Nick on this project?

Working with Nick is delightful. I always trust his vision and know everything that we do together will turn out amazing. Every project I work on with Nick is meaningful because he and I have a special relationship; we trust each other—which was particularly helpful in this physically demanding shoot.

What were some of the challenges presented on this shoot?

The shoot was long—12 hours straight, with the vast majority of it in the mirrored box he created. Once inside you can’t even tell the exit—and you definitely can’t be claustrophobic! You just have Nick’s voice to guide you, and as we shot the two different scenes for Move and Dream, he changed the personality of the box to match the vibe he wanted. Move was of course very intense and full of pace, while for Dream he had me in an incredible Iris Van Herpen gown with materials that were specially designed to catch light and float a certain way. Then, Nick being Nick, he reconfigured the box walls to pulse in time with my heartbeat and lowered the roof. The other aspect, Nourish, he had me eat fruit for what felt like an hour, but the results are nothing short of amazing.

The campaign is broken into three segments—movement, nutrition, and regeneration. What do each of those things mean to you?

Movement, that’s key for me now. I’m very active with boxing, yoga, stretching, and circuit training as part of my daily routine—it’s critical to maintain my flexibility, and it grounds me with my travel. Nutrition, this is the same as I really watch my diet, as little sugar as possible and lots of fish and vegetables. Again, when I travel I still like to try local cuisines as it’s an inherent part of people’s culture. I have recently had to re-educate myself on the foods I now digest. Regeneration, this is a big one for me. I pray and really focus on active resting and mediation. Also I find helping others is the greatest form of regeneration. It’s why I try to spend as much of my time as possible giving back. Life has been good to me.

What makes a good hotel experience?

As someone who has spent as much time in hotels as I have, the best hotel experience is when you feel truly at home and taken care of. I want to be able to go downstairs and have a great meal with friends, but also I want to be able to go to my room and truly unplug and relax, without interruption. Working out is part of my life, and having a gym that makes me feel comfortable—and that has great lighting!—is very important to me.

What is most appealing to you about the newest Equinox hotel?

When Harvey and Chris [Norton, chief executive officer] explained it to me, they talked about a modern take on luxury. Sometimes modern can feel cold, but this will have all the touches you would want from a traditional luxury hotel experience, but with all the technical innovation you would expect from Equinox. Fitness is sometimes ignored by hotels; it becomes an afterthought in a small side room. I know with Equinox that’s not going to be the case.