Iconic supermodel and businesswoman Iman ruled the runways before switching gears to launch a boundary-breaking beauty line. This NYFW, she returns to the catwalks for the first time in nearly 20 years (!)—this time in the front row, at just three shows. Welcome back, darling!
How do you follow fashion these days?
Magazines and websites, but it’s not the same when you’re looking at websites. I’d advise anyone of this generation: Buy those magazines and archive them! They will be gems 20 to 40 years from now. The feel and touch of things up close like that; it’s irreplaceable.
We’re big print advocates, obviously, so we love hearing that!
Years ago, [David Bowie] bought me the first editions of Flair magazine from the 1950s. I still have them and they inspire me; I get new ideas. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but how do you look at things anew again? It’s hard. People don’t understand, especially young people now; they live online. But you cannot see India online. You have to go there and smell, feel the senses, be with people.… You can’t replace that!
Tell us more about Flair. Why do you adore it?
I wrote a book called I am Iman in 2000, and most of the design elements and fonts in that book were created for me—and inspired by Flair magazine. I keep on telling kids, “There is nothing better than researching stuff.” You have to research the hell out of stuff before you can even think that you know it. People say, “Oh, so-and-so discovered nude lipstick.” Hello, it’s been around forever! But they don’t research; everything is immediate.
You’re going to shows this year!
It’s shocking to me, because I haven’t been to a fashion show since 1989, when I stopped modeling.
Are you serious?
I was working on creating Iman Cosmetics, which launched in 1994. If I was going to reinvent myself from a model to a businesswoman, I had to divorce myself from one side of fashion and go to another side, to start another path. At the time, I worked with all the designers, so I either had to go to all the shows, or not go to any. I decided I wouldn’t go to any. It stuck. Then the nature of the business and fashion shows changed and became bigger. Before I knew it, I hadn’t been to a show.
So why return now?
Most of the designers have invited me since the minute I stopped modeling. I still get invitations to all the shows. I got a call from Ralph Lauren, for his 50th anniversary; this is a man who was my generation, I did his shows when I was working as a model, and I had a really wonderful relationship with him. I thought to myself, “Oh, my God, if I sit this one out…” He’s my age, maybe a little older, and I will regret it if I don’t go and celebrate him. I mean, we all think we have time, but life has taught me that we don’t have time. So I thought, “I’ll go and celebrate it.” Then I thought, “Oh, s**t. Now that I’ve said yes I’ve opened the door…” There were two other people I wanted to celebrate: Michael Kors, who’s a close friend of mine, and Brandon Maxwell. Because this is it. I’m not returning. I’m not doing this again.
What do you love about Michael?
I’m so close to him. I think he hired me on one of his first collections. I met him and fell in love with his spirit, his clothes, and what he stood for: luxe American sportswear. The beauty of Michael is, he hasn’t changed from that man I met. He’s excited about the same things. He really loves trunk shows, and loves meeting his customers. He’ll sell you a dress, right now, like his life depended on it, because he loves dressing women and hearing what they want. I love people whose spirits don’t change just because they’ve become successful.
What about Brandon Maxwell?
Inez [van Lamsweerde] told me about him. I wasn’t going to fashion shows, but I went to meet him. His atelier was literally one room. I saw his first collection and was in awe. I could not believe this guy who designed for Lady Gaga could come up with couture pieces. He’s a master of tailoring. I couldn’t believe his craftsmanship. Literally, I own half of his first collection. I love his stuff; they’re things women buy for themselves. It’s not something I call and say, “Can I borrow?” No, I buy it because I know I will be wearing it for years and years to come.
You are flooded with offers. What makes you say yes to something?
I rarely say yes to anything, because obviously I don’t need the money, and I don’t need the tear sheets. It’s things that make sense to me, people I like to support. Definitely for Michael and Brandon, I’ll do anything. But that’s basically how it is.
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Are you a nostalgic person?
Yes and no. Even at its worst, it keeps you moving forward. Because otherwise, you become stagnant. So many times people say to me, “Oh, the magazines, the models, they’re not what they used to be.” I don’t know what you guys are talking about. There are great models, great designers.… I don’t believe in the idea that old is better. I think it’s ever-evolving. There’s always talent.
How do you take care of your skin, and what’s your fitness routine like? Tell us your secrets!
I just turned 63, so movement, movement, movement. You cannot be still. It’s the old adage, if you don’t move it, you lose it. Basically, it’s true. At this age, I don’t worry about aging. I’m from Africa, and we don’t have that kind of worry or thoughts about aging, you know? It’s like, listen, if you have made it this far, you’re good to go.
What products do you like?
SKII 3D Redefining Mask. The only way to describe it is that if you have a 104-degree flu, and you like look your worst, you put this one and you look like you just came from a holiday in Ibiza. That’s how magical it is. Iman Cosmetics has been around since 1994, which is pretty impressive. We stay in our lane; it’s been the same thing since 1994. It was one of the first cosmetics brands created for women with skin of color, which doesn’t necessarily mean black women. The philosophy behind Iman Cosmetics was that I was never interested in the ethnic background of my customers. What was my interest was the skin tone, not where you’re from: So a woman from, say, the Philippines is as dark as my skin tone, and she’s Asian, and there’s a Latina who is blonde with blue eyes, to dark girls like me. From the beginning my best-selling products were always the foundations, and still, 75 percent of my business is foundation. Now, the world is catching up to what foundation means, from Fenty Beauty to what you’re seeing in Sephoras and Ultas, everybody is expanding their foundation shades. We were at the beginning of it, you know what I mean?
Do you wear makeup every day?
Do I wear makeup? No! I have SKII, remember? I look good all the time.
Have you ever met an Iman drag queen?
Yes! Bitches look better than me! Drag queens have better legs than most models. The only place I beat them? I have a skinnier neck. But they have better legs.
What are your favorite #ImanDaily quotes on Instagram?
Oh, it really varies. People keep on asking, “How did you come up?” Basically, I wake up really early in the morning, like 5:30 or 6 a.m. So I usually meditate, and then I start reading books. Whatever I feel that day is what I write. So that’s how works: It can be, “Teach girls to be somebodies instead of somebody’s,” to “Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your shine.” It really depends. Everybody now knows my hate for Mondays. I can’t stand Mondays.
One of my favorite #ImanDaily quotes recently was “A million likes will never be enough if you don’t like yourself.” Would you have liked Instagram if it had been around when you were in the peak of your modeling career?
I still don’t like Instagram. You know why? It’s a bottomless well that needs to be fed all the time. It’s kind of difficult because I do get it—the more personal it is, the better my followers like it. But they want more of my private life, and I’m not willing to give all my private life. I’m going to impart stories with them that will tell them more about me, and maybe they can identify with. But if they expect a tour of my house, they’re not going to get that. I don’t do that. It’s never going to happen.
How did you meet Bethann Hardison, and what is your relationship like?
She was my maid of honor when I got married to my husband, David Bowie. I’m seeing her tomorrow, she’s coming for lunch—lunch and dinner, because she stays late. I met her when I arrived in New York in 1975. I went to a fitting for Stephen Burrows and she worked with him; she was an assistant, I believe. There were a couple of other models there, and everybody in the room assumed I didn’t speak English. I pretended I didn’t speak English so I could see what people said, freely, in front of me, to learn the business. I had never worn high heels before and for the life of me, I couldn’t put the heels on. Bethann got on her knees and put them on for me. All the girls in the room were like, “Oh, don’t do that, because everyone is claiming she’s an African princess, now she will expect all of us to get on our knees.” I could hear them, so Bethann looked up at me and said, in English, “You understand everything they are saying?” I said, “Yes.” That’s how we became friends. To me, she really represented the Statue of Liberty; the most welcoming person I met in America when I arrived. She’s been in my life since then.
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Send her our love. Do you cook?
Yes. We’re gonna start with roast chicken and God knows where we’ll end up. But she’s staying from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
You’ve both have been vocal advocates of diversity, not just on the runway but in the industry. Where do you think we are these days?
Oh, definitely. Bethann actually brought me into this. She called me years ago and told me, “Are you aware that they’re not using black models on the runway anymore?” and she sent me a link from [a story in] The New York Times [about the lack of diversity on the runway]. I was not aware because I wasn’t doing fashion shows and I wasn’t reading about fashion shows. I was flabbergasted. I said, “What do you mean they’re not using?” I said, “Maybe [designers are] just not using black models that season,” whatever their look or thing was. She said, “No, they haven’t been using black models.” She told me that the nature of it had changed because designers were doing more fashion shows per year, so instead of designers doing their own casting, they hired casting agents. The casting agent comes between the model and the designer, right? So then we found out that some casting agents were telling modeling agents, “Oh, we’re not seeing black models this season,” as if, you know, it was a trend. It just escalated. If Bethann didn’t direct that to me and Naomi, and the three of us hadn’t decided we’d do something about it, I don’t think it would have happened. I mean, we’ve definitely seen the change.
Have we made progress as an industry?
Before me, the biggest change was when I started seeing more black models used on the advertising side. As much as you get beautiful pictures in editorial, that’s not where the money is. The runways are where any model, regardless of what color she is, is actually discovered. Come on, everybody’s busy; fashion editors don’t call modeling agents and say, “Show me your new girls.” No, the designers get them for the first time. The casting agent became like the Wizard of Oz. It’s not good for the business. In all honesty, most designers, ones I knew, they’re not racist, right? For people to say, “Oh, I love Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but I don’t wanna hire a black model” doesn’t make sense. The world has changed. The fashion industry, especially magazines, we’re always late in the game in terms of the Zeitgeist. I’ve always said, photography is a powerful tool. The absence of diversity really messes with the self-esteem of young girls who are looking at magazines and adoring and worshipping fashion, and there’s an absence of their images reflected back at them. We have seen major changes from the minute we started addressing it, and the changes have been honest and ongoing.
Hopefully I won’t have to ask you that question again!
Yeah, but I have always said, diversity does not just mean race, it also means gender. It’s not a trend, this is a movement, and people are demanding to be acknowledged. People say, “A seat at the table, it’s great to have a seat at the table.” Who cares? Get your own table! You know, they will change, the new generation.
How’s life as a grandmother?
I’m called Nana! They’re all little now. I’m going to see all three of them together next summer; they’ll all be walking and speaking, which will be great. That’s when the fun begins.
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