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The inspiring life of fashion’s “Queen of Africa”

Scouted by legendary photographer Peter Beard while studying at university in Nairobi in 1975, Iman Abdulmajid's first modelling assignment was for US Vogue. She was soon propelled to international supermodel status and today is counted among Time magazine’s 100 All-Time Fashion Icons. Along the way she became the muse of Yves Saint Laurent (who dedicated his 1985 Queen of Africa collection to her); worked with legendary photographers such as Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Annie Leibovitz; appeared in the classic film Out Of Africa, wrote two books, became a successful entrepreneur, married pop hero David Bowie and raised two children.

Having being forced to flee Somalia with her family at the age of 15 following a revolution, Iman wasn’t about to be intimidated by the racism and inequality she found in the fashion industry of 1970s New York: “When I came here, there was a certain price that they would pay the white models and not the black models," she told Into The Gloss. "And I said, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ I always thought, ‘What do I have to lose? Nothing! I can always go back, I have a return ticket’”. She never used it. Instead she graced the catwalks and campaigns of Thierry Mugler, Issey Miyake, Versace and Halston and enjoyed the Studio 54-era limelight alongside other black models of the moment such as Bethann Hardison, Grace Jones and Pat Cleveland.

In 1994 she founded IMAN Cosmetics, finally making available to women of colour beauty products to match their skin tones. The idea was sparked back on that very first Vogue shoot when she was asked: “Did you bring your own make-up?” These days, make-up artists are buying her brand. Beyond cosmetics, Iman’s empire has expanded to home décor and bags. "Accessories are the stars in our closet and the clothes take on the supporting roles,” she said to Refinery29. It’s a method that clearly works, as Iman is known for her elegant, graceful style. Yet she remains open to new influences and her African heritage continues to inspire her. "The Kooba print, you tell me what’s more modern than that?" she said on Ladybrille. "African prints and African sculptures have longevity beyond eternity."

With such openness, originality and sassiness, no wonder Saint Laurent called her his “dream woman”.

Images: Getty



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