Groundbreaking Somalian supermodel: Getting to know Iman
Beyond her elegant beauty and groundbreaking modeling career, there’s her philanthropy and an enduring marriage to a British rock legend. She was also one of the first to create cosmetic options for women of color. Quite simply, Iman is legendary for all the right reasons.
Faith. Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid was born in 1955 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father was a diplomat and her mother a gynecologist. They gave her the name Iman, which means “faith” in Arabic.
From college to the catwalk. While studying political science at the University of Nairobi, Iman was discovered by photographer Peter Beard. He wanted to capture her unique features on film. She needed tuition money. It was her first taste of fashion modeling.
The royal treatment. Peter Beard eventually convinced Iman to pursue a professional modeling career. To captivate the press, he spun stories that she descended from African royalty, that he found her in the jungle, and even that she was a goat herder in the desert. She arrived in New York and was immediately surrounded by curious photographers.
The African Queen. Iman was one of the first models to successfully work both in print and on the runway. You’d see her in Vogue. Then walking a Thierry Mugler fashion show with a leopard by her side. Yves Saint Laurent devoted an entire collection to her and called it The African Queen.
Life is rarely perfect. She married NBA star Spencer Haywood and had a daughter. But in 1983 she was in a taxi accident and stopped working for a while. Then came a divorce, a fierce custody battle, and her permanent departure from modeling in 1989.
Love in Los Angeles. Iman moved to L.A. in 1990 and some friends introduced her to David Bowie. They would go on to marry in Lausanne, Switzerland, two years later. Then, two months after their first wedding, they were remarried in an Italian church. (So romantic, right?) They have one child together, a daughter named Alexandria Zahra Jones.
Giving a voice to those in need. Years of drought, war, and famine had ravaged Somalia. Iman used her status to persuade the BBC to shoot a documentary there and that increased awareness and international aide.
The Iman Collection. When she had trouble finding cosmetics for her skin color, she launched a line of her own. Designed for all women of color, it was a massive success generating $12 million in sales in the first year. In year two that jumped to $30 million.
Not stopping. In addition to her Somali relief efforts, Iman has also raised money for Marion Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund, Keep a Child Alive, Break the Cycle, Save the Children, and the Enough Project.
Fashion Icon. In 2010, Iman received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America for her profound influence in the industry.
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