Iman - One of Africa’s First International SupermodelsNov 17, 2020 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid on July 25, 1955, in Mogadishu, Somalia, the future supermodel changed her to Iman at the request of her grandfather who believed she would prosper with a masculine name. She certainly did, becoming one of the world’s most famous black supermodels, a multimillionaire businesswoman and a rockstar’s wife.
One of five children, Iman spent her childhood and adolescence in Egypt at a boarding school when her father, a diplomat, became the ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Her family moved to Kenya not long after political unrest stirred in their home country, and she became a student at the University of Nairobi.
It is there that she was discovered by American photographer, Peter Beard, who offered to pay to photograph her. Beard sent his photographs to New York-based agency Wilhelmina Models, and in 1975, Iman moved to New York to begin her modelling career. She soon appeared in U.S Vogue.
Iman’s career sped off, as she also began appearing on haute-couture runways and landing pages in fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. She became an instant favorite with top designers such as French couturier Yves Saint Laurent. The designer brand devoted an entire collection to Iman called ‘The African Queen.’
After many years of success and at the height of her career, Iman was involved in a car accident in 1983 which saw her out of the modeling game for five months, where she said she reconsidered her priorities. In 1989, she retired from modeling and moved her focus on creating a cosmetic line. Iman Cosmetics launched in 1994 to become one of the few all-inclusive cosmetics ranges that featured difficult-to-find shades suited for brown and black skin tones.
Her fame and success had landed Iman several films and TV appearances such as Miami Vice and The Cosby Show but she saw a more worthwhile outlet for her talents. She created a documentary with BBC that raised awareness of the tragedies her home country had faced and brought in more international aid. Using her status as one of Africa’s most famous expatriates, she has done philanthropic work such as The Raise Hope for Congo Campaign, an initiative to empower and protect Congolese women. In 1999, she created a lipstick with rapper Missy Elliot where a portion of the proceeds was donated to an organization committed to ending domestic violence.
Her success as a supermodel and beauty mogul led her to move to Los Angeles in the 1990s where she met English rock musician David Bowie. The two married in Switzerland in 1992. Life changed for Iman when she became a mother in 2000 to a beautiful baby girl. She’s lived a fairly quiet life away from the spotlight and focused on her business and philanthropic work with her husband until sadly he passed away from a long battle with cancer in 2016.
Iman has continued building her empire and launched a fashion accessories line and home décor line. She continues to be a voice of diversity in the modeling and entertainment industry with her book The Beauty of Color. In 2010, Iman received the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers, further solidifying her impact in the fashion world.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachlor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.