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Naomi Campbell on YSL: "I Owe Him Everything"

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Just hours after hearing the sad news of Yves Saint Laurent‘s death, Naomi Campbell made a tearful tribute to the fashion designer, crediting him for her success as a supermodel. “I owe him everything,” she told PEOPLE. “He was the one who campaigned to put me on the cover on French Vogue and I was the first woman of color to be on the cover — that was because of him.” In 1987 Campbell became the first black model to grace the cover of British Vogue, and thanks to Saint Laurent, she made the French Vogue cover a year later. “He was so supportive of me,” she said adding: “Not just for me, for women of color everywhere.” In honor of her mentor and friend, Campbell, who is slated to replace Kate Moss as the face of the brand this fall, wore a YSL autumn/winter 2008-9 creation to last night’s CFDA Awards in New York.

And Campbell wasn’t alone in her loss. In an exclusive statement to PEOPLE, supermodel Claudia Schiffer added, “I am deeply saddened by the news. Yves Saint Laurent was one of the greatest designers to have ever lived. He changed the face of fashion and was an inspiration to all. He will be missed by so many but will live on through his unmistakable designs.” Veronica Webbs remembers him as “one of those artists with a really piercing vision and you felt almost like a butterfly pinned
to wax. As strong as his vision was he felt very fragile. He had a deep sense of fragility.” And no less a peer than Hubert de Givenchy told PEOPLE exclusively, “Yves Saint Laurent’s end is also the end of a time when the true luxury still existed not only the beauty, the elegance but also the refinement. We have had the privilege to know this time. Yves Saint Laurent’s departure makes us feel really sad but we will continue to admire his work, his very big creativity and his extreme kindness ” Click here to see more about YSL’s life and ground-breaking designs.

— reporting by Monique Jessen and Charlotte Triggs