UN Report

2007 DV
Former supermodel Iman takes a multicultural approach

Houston Chronicle

Iman is a believer in miracles.

Looking radiant recently in jeans and stilettos, the former supermodel said that by all accounts, she should never have become pregnant five years ago. Doctors told the striking beauty she was too old.

Mayra Beltran / Chronicle
With the release of her new book, The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color, Iman was in Houston last month to talk about her life and her beauty secrets, and to help empower young girls of color.

She'd been married six years to British rocker David Bowie and had had many miscarriages and failed attempts at in vitro. "I foolishly waited a long time to have another child because I don't feel my age, but my biological clock was totally different. When I was ready, I couldn't get pregnant," says Iman, 50, who has a 26-year-old daughter (Zulheka) by a previous marriage to former basketball star Spencer Haywood.

An African wives' tale held her last hope. Iman, a native of Somalia, says there's belief that if a woman who can't have children holds a baby all day, she'll become pregnant.

Her chance came at a Vogue magazine photo shoot with model Christie Brinkley, who was there with her baby, and other veteran supermodels.

"I literally held Christie's baby all day. I joke that it took two blonds to get me pregnant — Christie Brinkley and David Bowie."

Iman was soon pregnant with her now 5-year-old daughter Alexandria. "Now I know what they mean by miracles," she says.

With the release of her new book, The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color, Iman was in Houston last month to talk about her life and her beauty secrets, and to help empower young girls of color. Her first book in 2001, I Am Iman, was an autobiography.

"No disrespect to Paris Hilton. I don't want a black girl looking up to Paris Hilton. This is about women with skin of color — whether they are African-American, Latina, Asian or multicultural. I wanted to celebrate skin tones, not ethnicity."

Iman says the makeup lessons offered in the book have been evolving since she began working as a model in the late 1970s. Because there were few makeup options for darker skin tones, she learned how to mix and match colors and blend makeup to fit her complexion.

"I was frustrated from the day I arrived in America for a fashion shoot, when makeup artists would ask me if I brought my own foundation, and they weren't asking the Caucasian models. When I started there was nothing available for women with dark skin," she says. "Then, when I found out that I was being paid less than white models for the same jobs, I realized there was a major discrepancy."

Iman was born Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid in Mogadishu, Somalia. She was discovered by a photographer while she was studying political science at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. The daughter of a diplomat, she speaks five languages — Italian, French, Arabic, Somali and English.

"I never wanted to be a model. I didn't even know what modeling was. I had never seen fashion magazines or even worn heels. I wanted to be in politics, but in a way I ended up doing it because I'm in the politics of beauty."

She moved to the United States in the 1970s and immediately appeared in Vogue. Revlon signed her to represent the company in 1976, for one of the first ad campaigns featuring a black model. The makeup line, Polished Ambers, was designed for black women. She says it was less than flattering, even "hideous."

"It was the worst makeup I have ever tried. I don't know how it survived a couple of years. It had colors that weren't even good on Caucasians, and they made it a little darker."

After years of mixing and matching makeup, Iman launched her successful Iman Cosmetics in 1994. The line is now sold at Walgreen's, Wal-Mart and Target. She says makeup foundations account for 60 percent of her business, and her line was the first to offer bronzers and moisturizers with SPF for women of color. She says the line is the No. 3 seller among Asian women on the West Coast, behind Prescriptives and Shisheido.

"People asked me, 'Why do they need another black line?' I told them it's a multicultural line, because the world is multicultural, and it's called options. How many lines for white girls are there? Do they need all those? Yeah, well, so do we."

Iman says the fashion industry has made little progress including women of color on the runways or in magazines. She says there are less than a handful of black models and even fewer Latinas, and the celebrated ones are typically light-skinned Brazilians.

"It used to be the tanner you were, the more you worked on the spring collections. Now, they know how to self tan; they don't even need us. When I was modeling, there were only two or three (women of color), and it's still two or three 30 years later."

Iman, who retired from modeling in the mid-'80s, has fond memories of her supermodel career. She says the days of the supermodel are over.

"When I was a model, everybody had a different walk. Now, they learn the same walk. It doesn't look real. It looks like a circus under tents, and they prance around like horses. Their individuality is lost."

While Iman continues her quest to help women of color find their own beauty, she claims jokingly to be a "whore" for fashion, favoring designers Roland Mouret and Donna Karan. She also says she lives a normal life in New York's swanky SoHo neighborhood with her family.

"I cook every night, and I take my daughter to school every morning. I pick her up and work in between," she says of her life with Bowie, whom she met on a blind date in 1990.

"Getting together so late (was) great, because both of us had achieved what we wanted. We know what's private and public. It's very normal."

•For more information about Iman Cosmetics, visit www.imancosmetics.com.

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Source: Houston Chronicle, Nov. 10, 2005


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