Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid is a Somali fashion supermodel, actress, entrepreneur and social worker. Professionally known just by her first name, Iman, she has been a favorite model for top fashion magazines, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She was discovered during her student days at the University of Nairobi, and has worked with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry in her long and illustrious career. Her exotic looks ensured that she remained at the peak of the modeling industry for close to one and a half decades, a feat rarely achieved by any supermodel. Coming from an underdeveloped country in Africa, her philanthropic work has also been quite significant and very close to her heart. A proud mother of two children, Iman turned into a successful entrepreneur when she launched her brand of cosmetics and line of designer clothes. She has arried three times in her life, most famously to the English musician David Bowie, with whom she was married till the latter’s sad and rather untimely demise.
Childhood & Early Life
Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid was born on July 25, 1955, to Marian and Mohamed Abdulmajid, in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father, Mohamed Abdulmajid, is a former diplomat who served as the ambassador of Somalia to Saudi Arabia, while her mother was a gynecologist.
Iman is the third of the five children of her parents. She, along with her elder brothers, Elias and Feisal, and her younger sisters, Idil and Nadia, had a relatively better upbringing than the average Somalis, owing to the affluence of their family.
Somalia was going through a political unrest at the time, because of which Iman was sent to a boarding school in Egypt at the tender age of four years. After the unrest was subdued, she was brought back to the country.
Her parents were quite progressive in their social outlook and decided that she should receive education from the relatively liberal private Catholic girl’s schools rather than the more conservative Islamic institutions.
Her family later settled in Kenya for some years, where she attended the University of Nairobi as a student of Political Science.
Iman is a Muslim by birth and she follows the religion to this day.
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Iman’s break into modeling came quite unexpectedly. She was still a student at the university when she was spotted by the American fashion photographer, Peter Beard, who approached her with a modeling assignment in the United States. Although she was reluctant initially, Iman finally accepted the offer and moved to America in 1975.
Her first modeling assignment was with the prestigious Vogue magazine in the following year. She became an overnight sensation after that and there was no looking back. With the help of her modeling agency, Wilhelmina, she soon landed on the covers of other major fashion magazines of the time.
Her tall and slender stature, copper skin stone and sharp features made her a favorite among multiple fashion designers and photographers. During her prime in the 70s and the 80s, she worked with world-renowned designers like Calvin Klein, Gianni Versace, Issey Miyake and Halston among many others. The famous French designer Yves Saint Laurent described Iman as the ‘dream woman’ and dedicated one of his collections named ‘The African Queen’ to her.
After 14 years at the peak of success and popularity, Iman said good-bye to her modeling career in 1989. She later said in an interview that she found modeling quite unfulfilling.
In 1992, BBC produced a documentary which showcased Iman’s homecoming to Somalia after two decades. The country had been ravaged by war, famine, diseases and drought and Iman hoped that her international fame and status would help in raising international awareness and aid for her motherland.
Iman ventured into business after saying goodbye to her modeling career. Her company, Iman Cosmetics, focused majorly on cosmetics for the ethnic and dark skin. In those days, cosmetics suitable for those skin types were scant. She drew from her personal experience as a model, where she would have to mix two or more shades to get the shade suitable for her skin tone. Founded in 1994, Iman Cosmetics was an immediate success and is estimated to gross an annual 25 million dollars.
She has also ventured into television and films every now and then. Her first role came in 1979 in the British movie, ‘The Human Factor’. Since then she has appeared in a few movies such as, ‘Out of Africa’ (1985), ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Surrender’(1987), ‘Lies of the Twins’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’(1991), among others.
Iman has also appeared on the small screen, first as the host of ‘Project Runaway Canada’, where she worked for two years. Her second gig on television was in 2010 when she co-hosted ‘The Fashion Show’ with Isaac Mizrahi.
Social and charitable work has always been close to her heart and she has been associated with various programs such as ‘Keep a Child Alive’, ‘Save the Children’ and ‘Enough Project’. She was also quite vocal in the campaign against blood diamonds, and openly severed her bonds with diamond traders De Beers because of that.
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Iman has also authored two books and both the books have been well received by the readers.
During her modeling career Iman had worked with most famous photographers of the time including, but not limited to, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Annie Leibovitz. Perhaps the most famous photograph of her career was shot in Paris in a Thierry Mugler outfit with a leashed cheetah by her side.
Her autobiography, ‘I am Iman’, came out in 2001 and was very well received by the critics and readers alike. She has also authored another book, ‘The Beauty of Color’, which came out in 2005.
Awards & Achievements
Iman has received several awards and recognition in her long career as a model and a social worker. The most notable one was the ‘Fashion Icon Lifetime Achievement’ award which was conferred upon her by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2010.
Personal Life & Legacy
Iman has been married three times in her life. The first time was with a Somali man who was an executive with the Hilton group. They got married in 1973 but the marriage ended in a couple of years, when she moved to America.
In America, she dated the famous actor Warren Beatty for a while before getting engaged with and marrying Spencer Haywood, a basketball star, in 1977. This marriage ended in 1987. Iman has a daughter with Spencer, namely, Zulekha Haywood.
Her third and most famous marriage was with the legendary English rock musician, David Bowie. The two got married on 24 April, 1992, in Lausanne, Switzerland and had a daughter, whom they named Alexandria Zahra Jones, in 2000. Iman and David were married till the latter’s death in 2016.
She and her family currently live in Manhattan or London for the most part of the year.
Iman and David Bowie made a cameo in the famous video game, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, where she appears as one of the incarnations that the player can play as.
The Somali supermodel can speak five languages fluently- Somali, Arabic, Italian, French and English.
She took up her first photography assignment to cover her college fees, which was $8000.