Seated in what is “her booth” at Indochine, a restaurant she first frequented 25 years ago, before the Bowery ran rampant with scenesters, Iman explains its appeal: “It’s one of these landmarks that has been a testament to time. It’s still in with the fashion crowd and, as you know, we are all very fickle.”
This story first appeared in the June 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The same might be said of the Somali model and entrepreneur who is this year’s CFDA Fashion Icon honoree. Despite all the magazine covers and runway turns, she said she was blindsided when Diane von Furstenberg phoned with the news. In 1975, she was equally green about the fashion world, when lensman Peter Beard spotted her at Nairobi University and coaxed her into a shoot at his Hog Ranch in Kenya. “I like to joke that I discovered him. I wasn’t lost to be found,” she says. “I thought he was trying to pick me up. I had never seen a fashion magazine.”
Like her father, a former Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Iman was set on a career in politics. Once Beard explained her time was worth money, she agreed, but only for $8,000 — the cost of her tuition. Soon, Iman was off to New York to meet model guru Wilhelmina Cooper and, within days, Halston cast her in a runway show and Arthur Elgort shot her for Vogue. Being the muse, runway model and face of an ad campaign for Yves Saint Laurent’s couture collection “The African Queen,” and working with “Les Enfants Terribles” — Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier and Claude Montana — in their early days were major highlights. “We would have fittings at three and four in the morning because they had no concept of time.”
Now 54, she has chased new pursuits since her final runway turn in 1989. She has her own cosmetics company; her signature line, Iman Global Chic, is sold on HSN; next year will bring a signature fragrance and, next month, she starts shooting “The Fashion Show” with Isaac Mizrahi. But one place you won’t see her is front row before a runway. “God help me — I don’t want to go,” she says. “One reason I have lasted this long is I’ve never been overexposed and overstayed my welcome. If I went to fashion shows, people would think, ‘Oh, poor thing.’ That air of mystery is my revenge.”