Iman was born on July 25, 1955, in Mogadishu, Somalia. A student at the University of Nairobi, she was discovered by photographer Peter Beard. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Iman was a favorite model in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent devoted the “African Queen” collection to her. Since retiring from modeling, Iman has done charity work in Somalia, started a cosmetics line and married rocker David Bowie.
One of the most sought-after fashion models of the 1970s and 1980s, Iman became a successful business executive in the 1990s with her own line of cosmetics. Married to rock star David Bowie since 1992, she became a mother for the second time at the age of 44 in the summer of 2000, but it was just one of many boundaries the enigmatic entrepreneur and social activist has broken in her lifetime. “She broadened the definition of beauty,” declared Washington Post writer Robin Givhan of Iman’s stunning, exotic looks. “She made earthiness sensual. She helped to transform fashion into entertainment and models into personalities.”
Iman’s mother, a gynecologist, gave her daughter the name Iman (which translates from Arabic as “faith’) when she arrived into the world with the hope that this would better prepare her for the challenges she would face as a female in Muslim East Africa. Her parents were decidedly progressive: Iman’s father was a diplomat stationed in Tanzania, and under the law he could have had multiple wives, but chose to keep just one. The parents agreed that their daughter should be sent to a private Catholic school for girls, which was considered more progressive than the standard Islamic education available to young females in the 1960s. There, Iman thrived. “I was a very nerdy child,” she told husband David Bowie when he interviewed her for Interview in 1994. “I never fit in, so I became laboriously studious.”
By 1973, Iman was 18 and a student of political science at the University of Nairobi. She also worked as a translator to help pay her tuition costs. Photographer Peter Beard, a well-known figure in the fashion world, saw her one day on a street in Nairobi and was captivated by her long neck, high forehead and gamine grace. He began following her, and finally approached her to ask if she had ever been photographed. “The first thing I thought was he wanted me for prostitution of naked pictures,” Iman recalled laughingly about that day in an interview with Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service writer Roy H. Campbell. “I had never seen Vogue. I didn’t read fashion magazines, I read Time and Newsweek. ” But when Beard offered to pay her, she reconsidered, and asked for the amount due to the college for her tuition, $8,000; Beard agreed.
Launched Cosmetics Line
In 1994, Iman launched her own line of cosmetics for women of color. She had long been frustrated by the paucity of products for black skin. “I would go to cosmetics counters and buy two or three foundations and powders, and then go home and mix them before I came up with something suitable for my undertones,” she said in an interview with Black Enterprise writer Lloyd Gite. Teaming with Byron Barnes, a onetime makeup artist who had helped create a previous line of cosmetics for women of color, Iman came up with an innovative product line, and packaged it with her own name and very recognizable visage. The Iman Collection was aimed at all women of color — Hispanic, Asian, Native American, as well as black — and was sold at J.C. Penney stores across the United States.
Expanding her business empire, Iman branched out in fashion accessories and home decor. She has one of the top-selling jewelry lines offered on HSN. In 2010, Iman received the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers.
In January 2016, Iman lost her husband after a long battle with cancer. The couple had been married for more than two decades at the time of Bowie’s passing. Around the time of Bowie’s death, Iman posted a quote: “The struggle is real, but so is God”
Change makes you find your calling, your legacy, and God’s divine plan for your life. Don’t run from it. Iman