Iman Biography

Iman is a Somalian ex supermodel. David Bowie, the late rocker from Britain, was her husband.

Born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on 25 July 1955, Iman was studying in Nairobi University when famous photographer Peter Beard discovered her. Throughout the decades of 70s and 80, Iman remained a favorite model of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Famous designer Yves Saint Laurent was so impressed that his collection named African Queen was entirely devoted to Iman. This aging beauty has been involved with charity work ever since she took retirement from modeling. Iman married David Bowie and introduced her own line of cosmetics besides charity work.

The early life
Iman, who is today a retired supermodel and a successful executive, was born on 25 July 1955 in the capital of Somalia. Her success is reflected from a joke that refers to her as the most valuable export of Somalia. During the 70’s and the 80’s, Iman was perhaps the most successful fashion model around the world. Iman retired in the 90’s and set up her own business, launching a new cosmetic line in her name. She married singer David Bowie in 1992 and became a mother for the 2nd time at the age of 44 in the year 2000. Experts believe that Iman is the first black supermodel who has also redefined the concept of beauty with her exotic and stunning looks.

Mother of Iman was a gynecologist who gave her this name which means faith in Arabic language. She chose this name for Iman to prepare her daughter for the challenging situations that women face in Muslim Africa. Iman was lucky in the sense that her parents were progressive and liberal. Her father was a diplomat working in Tanzania. Though he was allowed by law to marry more than once, he remained devoted to Iman’s mother. Her parents sent Iman to study in a private Christian school when it was common for Muslim girls to study in traditional Islamic schools. This proved to be a turning point in the life of little Iman as her personality blossomed in an environment that was liberal and encouraging. However, Iman chose to describe herself as a nerdy child during school years when she was interviewed by her husband David Bowie for a magazine called Interview. She said that she labored hard to be labeled studious at school.

A beauty discovered
Iman was studying political science during her graduation in University of Nairobi in the year 1973. She was 18 years old at this time and worked to earn money to pay her tuition fees. She was accidentally spotted by Peter Beard, a famous photographer, when she was moving on the streets of Nairobi. He was mightily impressed by her tall and slender figure and could not resist the temptation of asking if she had been photographed earlier. Much later, while giving an interview to Roy H. Campbell of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, Iman jokingly said that she thought that Peter wanted to take her nude photographs.

Iman had not even heard of magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but when Peter said that he would pay in return, Iman agreed. She had $8000, her tuition fees, in her mind, and she was delighted when Beard agreed to pay her this much of money. Beard shot many photographs of Iman and took all the rolls to New York. For the next 4 months, Beard kept trying to convince Iman to come over to NY to become a professional fashion model. To arouse curiosity about Iman among the media, he told them that she was exceptionally beautiful and actually had a royal descent. Peter actually made up many different stories to impress people in the western media about the beauty and elegance of Iman. These media personnel were so impressed that there were many photographers actually present at the airport when Iman landed at the airport in NY.

Iman had to face queries from reporters at a press conference the very first day she arrived in NY. This was how she was initiated into a world of stardom. Much later, Iman said that she was actually offended and surprised to learn that people in media actually believed all Africans hail from jungles. She said that she belonged to Somalia which is primarily a desert area. In fact, she herself had never seen a jungle before in her life. She felt even more offended when reporters kept throwing questions at Peter as they believed she could not speak English. Iman says she felt insulted as she could not only speak English but five more languages.

Iman’s career began with an agency called Whilhelmina as she began to do catwalk on high couture runways. Her face soon began to appear inside the pages of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Iman’s name was everywhere and every designer wanted to work with her. It was not just fashion designer but also photographers and editors that Iman became very popular with and without a doubt she became the first supermodel of her era to be equally in demand between editors and designers. Yves Saint Laurent, one of the top French designers of this time even dedicated one of his collections to Iman, calling her The African Queen.

In a career spanning decades, one image that stands apart is that of Iman sitting beside a leashed leopard, wearing a costume from designer Thierry Mugler. Iman admitted that she led a very fast life and spent most of her income that she earned at a young age. Talking to a reporter from Washington Post, Iman said that she could not imagine the kind of money she got as a young model and spent most of it chartering concord planes from NY to Paris to attend parties. Iman regrets not having someone who could guide her with investments. She laments that modeling is one profession that does not secure the future of young girl.

Not just a model
Iman married Spencer Haywood, a basketball player, at the age of 23. The couple had a daughter soon after their marriage but Iman continued to do modeling. But a taxi accident kept Iman away from modeling for a while. She divorced her husband in 1987 but had to endure a legal battle with Spencer for another six years to secure custody of her daughter Zulekha. Iman shocked everyone when she suddenly gave up modeling altogether in 1989. In her interview to Bowie down the years, Iman recalled the fact that she had made her mind to not return to modeling again. This is why she not only severed contacts in NY but also sold her apartment so that she did not have a cushion to lean back upon when she changed her mind in future. In hindsight, she told Bowie that quitting modeling at that time was the best decision that she made in her life.

Iman shifted to LA and she met David Bowie by chance in 1990. It did not take long for romance to spark between the two and they married in Lausanne, Switzerland two years later in 1992. They married again in a Italian church after two months. Many people believed their marriage to be a publicity stunt as they looked incompatible to them as a couple. But Iman and Bowie proved everyone wrong with their love and rock solid relationship that lasted till Bowie lived in this world.

Iman took her chance with movies but found that the silver screen could not fully justify her beauty and elegance. Iman was to do something far more worthy and fruitful than modeling when she was asked by the BBC to go to Somalia to make a documentary film. Somalia was ravaged by war and famine. Iman thought that her fame and popularity as an international figure would come handy to create awareness about the plight of the people in her country and bring in more international aid for Somalia. Iman told Ron Arias from People magazine that she planned to let Somalian people speak up for themselves. Iman felt that people around the world become used to pictures of poor and hungry people as they see them again and again in magazines and newspapers. This si why Iman decided to let people see what Somalia was all about, its people, its culture, its music, and of course the hopes and aspirations of the people living in this vast country of Africa.

Not many people know that Iman arrived in Somalia to begin work for this documentary called Somalia Diary soon after her honeymoon with David Bowie. Iman herself was surprised with what she saw in Somalia given the fact that she had been away from her country for no less than 20 years. She could not recognize Baidoa, a place where she went to as a child with her family for a vacation. She was astonished to see poor and hungry people draped in rags and young people roaming with automatic weapons in hands. This was certainly not an easy job for Iman but she hung on in a resolute manner. She later revealed that at that time she felt as if she was seeing Mad Max in real life. It was really very dangerous shooting for this documentary but Iman says she at least had the satisfaction of visiting her childhood home where she saw three refugee families living.

One of the toughest days in the shooting of this documentary for Iman was the day when BBC decided to do the counting of the dead. They went to the streets of Mogadishu collecting the dead bodies. Iman says that she could not take it in as it was really horrendous for her. She recalls that the dead count on that day was 70 and the worst part of the tragedy was the fact that the sacks containing bodies was that most of these dead ones were kids under the age of 10.

Launching own cosmetic line
Iman always believed that cosmetic products available in the markets were all meant for white skinned women and that there was a strong need for a cosmetic line for black women. She recalls how she had to buy foundations of various shades and mix them at home to come up with a foundation that suited her skin color. This led her to introduce her own cosmetic line that contained beauty products for women having dark skin. She teamed up with Byron Barnes for this project. Byron was a makeup artist who had previous experience of making cosmetic products for women having colored skin. Iman and Byron came up with a new range of beauty products that carried Iman’s name. All products in this cosmetic range were meant to be used by women having colored skin. These included not just black women but also Asian and Hispanic women. Iman made an agreement with J. C. Penney stores to sell the products in these stores all over the country.

Iman tasted huge success in this cosmetic business just like her career in modeling. But it soon dawned upon Iman that her company was small and lacked capability to expand. As there was very little sales staff and a miniscule budget for advertising, it took a lot of time for her company to replenish sold stocks at outlets. Improper planning also hurt the business as girls with Asian skin type in stores across West Coast had to face a shortage of stock of products suitable for their skin whereas there was an abundance of these products in the Midwest area. Iman disclosed how she experienced these difficulties that she faced in her business in very first year to Campbell, a writer at Knight-Ridder/ Tribune News Service. This article was published in 1996.

To make things more difficult for Iman and her fledgling company, Revlon and some other cosmetic companies decided to move aggressively to expand their market share. These cosmetic companies copied Iman’s idea and launched their own products aimed at women with colored skin. But products of Iman Collection sold for combined sales of more than $12 million in the very first year. Iman decided to enter into an agreement with a Miami based cosmetic and drug company called Ivax in 1995. She still had full control of her company but with sales staff and a solid distribution network in place, sales of Iman Collection jumped to $30 million in next year.

Triumphs at personal as well as professional levels
Working with BBC in Somalia was a great experience for Iman who decided to continue in the same vain. She used her popularity to good effect when she raised a huge amount of money for a fund created for children’s defense. Iman once again stood up when she teamed up with rapper Missy Elliott for a project called Misdemeanor. The money raised from this project was used for helping women and children facing domestic violence. All this while, Iman’s cosmetic line was doing very well in different parts of the world. She even introduced a new line of products called I-Iman that was better quality and more expensive than the other range of products. Products under this line were sold at Sephora Stores. Unlike Iman Collection, products of this cosmetic line were meant for use for women of all skin colors.

In 2000, Iman gave birth to daughter of David Bowie at the age of 44. The couple named their daughter Alexandria Zahra and Iman set about parenting her daughter as she and Bowie had planned and talked about during her interview in 1994.

Current projects
To increase the reach of her cosmetic products, Iman entered into an agreement with Proctor & Gamble. With this deal, Iman cosmetics could be sold at Wal-Mart as well as Target. Iman is also a writer besides being a model and a businesswoman. She has written two books namely I Am Iman (2001) and The Beauty of Color (2005).

Iman cleverly expanded her business by adding home décor items and fashion accessories to her line of products. She is also selling an exquisite line of jewelry products at HSN. The Council of Fashion Designers awarded her Fashion Icon Award in 2010.

Loss of husband
In 2016, Oman suffered the biggest loss of her life when her husband of 22 years, David Bowie lost his battle against cancer. Iman has been saddened with his death and she posted on her Twitter profile, ‘The struggle is real, but so is God’.