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People of Fashion – Iman

People of Fashion – Iman
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Before the school year wraps up, I wanted to do a recap of the standout talks and lectures I’ve gone to this past season at various cultural institutions in NYC. Most of these talks were by or about people in fashion who are over 50.

My fashion series kicks off with the legendary model and businesswoman Iman who spoke with Fern Mallis at 92nd Street Y. She discussed her childhood and how she went from a life of privilege in Somalia as an ambassador’s daughter, to being a political refugee running for her life. The real story of how she was discovered by Peter Beard was also revealed. Despite rumors and hype that he found her crouching behind a bush in the jungle, she was actually a university student on her way to a waitressing job when he scouted her on the street. She only agreed to pose for him if he would pay her school tuition which was due. After their first few shoots he took the photos back to NYC and showed them to many fashion luminaries. The Wilhelmina agency instantly agreed to sign her, but Iman would only come if they gave her a roundtrip ticket in case things didn’t work out. The press ate up the story that she was a primitive woman when in fact she was well educated and spoke five languages including English. Her modeling career took off like a rocket and before she knew it was travelling the world and being shot by the best photographers for all the top magazines. She said one of her career highs was when Yves Saint Laurent made her his muse and built an entire collection around her allure. Years passed by when she was in a horrible taxi accident. Her face was totally smashed and broken and had to be reconstructed. It is now held together by mesh and metal screws (yes she goes off at the airport) and one of her eyes is slightly smaller than the other. When she realized that white models were making more than her for the same jobs, she made waves in the fashion world by demanding and getting the same contracts. Bethann Hardison and she became friends early on and made it a point to support other models of color. They continue in this kind of work to this day.

She is the mother of two daughters. Her eldest is from her marriage to NBA player Spencer Haywood with whom she had a very acrimonious divorce and custody battle. Her second is from her marriage to the late David Bowie who she met on a double date with a gay couple who were their mutual friends. She feels she has them to thank for the happiest period of her life. She retired from modeling officially in 1989 but still comes back for a special project. She has branched out into acting as well including a memorable part in ‘Out of Africa’.

Often times when she would go to a shoot the makeup artists would tell her they had nothing for her skin tone. Despite being deeply offended by this, she quickly got into the habit of bringing her own cosmetics which she blended herself. She realized that there was actually very little make up for women of color so she created a beauty line which has been very successful. She’s also delved into the clothing market creating a collection based around all her favorite wardrobe staples. Though she doesn’t consider herself a designer, she sees herself as a creative director. At this stage in her life she is focused on her family, business ventures and the charities that are close to her heart.

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