Naomi Campbell and decorum—not words usually spoken together in the same sentence. After all, this is the supermodel known as much for her beauty as for mobile-phone assaults on her staff.
But late last week, the temperamental supermodel earned high praise for being demure and appearing according to etiquette. Campbell, a witness in the war-crimes trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, managed to give her testimony looking both fashionable and proper, sexy and poised.
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Wearing a crème-colored Azzedine Alaïa dress and matching sheer cardigan, she spoke of the now-famous incident in 1997 when she apparently received a pouch filled with what she described as "dirty-looking stones"—blood diamonds. Her hair was done in a beehive and her multimillion-dollar body clad in that simple yet perfectly form-fitting dress.
For Mia Farrow, scheduled to come on the stand today, it's a tough act to follow.
Although the verdict may not hinge on sartorial choices, what a person wears to court can have an effect on the jury and the press, lawyer say. For example, Martha Stewart was pilloried at the time of her 2004 perjury trial for carrying a Birkin Bag to court with her.
"I don't think for a second that the verdict in her case determined by what she wore or the bag she carried," Benjamin Brafman, former attorney to Michael Jackson and P Diddy says, but "it doesn't take much to get bad press."
And of course, Stewart was convicted in a case that was as much about the appearance of entitlement as it was about anything else. Similarly, Lindsay Lohan showed up to court recently, showing what some determined to be too much cleavage, which only augmented her image as being the party girl she was on trial for being. "It was inappropriate," says Brafman. (Lohan was recently sent to jail for a few weeks for parole violations.)
"Juries do check it out," attorney Gloria Allred says, referring to the clothing choices people make when going to court.
Campbell's outfit, Allred says, was "appropriate. It's not low-cut, it's not extremely form-fitting, it's shapely, but it's not crude."
And she notes, it's crème, or off white, which sends a message, too. "White looks innocent and pure, it's kind of a virginal look. It's got that innocence."
Top divorce lawyer Laura Wasser, whose penchant for Lanvin and Prada earned her a glowing profile in Vogue last month, says there's an art to dressing for court.
"Even though people know Naomi Campbell has a lot of money, you don't necessarily want her to flaunt it when she's a witness in your court," says Wasser. "You don't want her to wear bling."
And bling it wasn't. There was nothing over-the-top swanky about her appearance to distract or undermine her credibility, no bag to connote excessive privilege. Even the pendant she wore was simple. In other words: She stayed away from diamonds.
In the fashion world, Campbell's appearance can best be described as a "moment"—which is to say, that people are waxing poetic. "She looked like the brown Lana Turner," says Campbell's close friend Bethann Hardison, a former modeling agent and champion in the industry for African-American representation. "She has style, that's why she's a muse. Everybody doesn't have 'it' but she does. That's why Naomi is Naomi."
"Fucking electrifying," is how Jimmy Paul, a top hair stylist for French Vogue and designers including Vera Wang and Anna Sui, describes it.
Of course, it helps to have a designer like Alaïa to call on, and to those in the fashion industry, it was hardly a surprise that she turned to the French designer.
For Mia Farrow, scheduled to come on the stand today, it’s a tough act to follow.
Campbell first met Alaïa when she was just 16 and working in Paris as a model. As she later told the Independent, someone had stolen all of her money, and she "didn't know how she was going to eat." A friend from the catwalk took her to eat with Alaïa, and though she didn't speak any French, it was love at first sight. That night, when she left the restaurant, he gave her a dress, and later on, provided her with a room to stay every time she came to Paris. Since then, the reclusive designer has dressed Campbell for everything from Costume Institute galas to dinners with friends.
But not everyone was taken with Campbell's performance—frock or no frock.
Eddie Hayes, a Manhattan lawyer who has represented fashionable personalities such as Anna Wintour (and had his own fashion choices immortalized when Tom Wolfe based a character on him in Bonfire of the Vanities), was not swayed by her testimony that she didn't realize the stones in the pouch were diamonds or that they had come from Liberia's leader. "Her story is ridiculous," says Hayes. "The idea she didn't know what Liberia was or that she didn't know they were diamonds? Come on!"
"If she thought they were just dirt," agrees Allred, "why wouldn't she just throw them in the trash?"
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.