Black Fashion History: Iman

Black Fashion History: Iman

Black Fashion History: Iman

Iman by Francesco Scavullo, 1977

Iman (born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, in 1955) is a Somali supermodel-turned -businesswoman and philanthropist. She is known as one of the first black supermodels. 

Iman was born in Mogadishu, to a diplomat father and a gynaecologist mother. She lived in Saudi Arabia and Egypt due to her father’s profession and speaks five languages. Her family relocated to Kenya as refugees, due to the political instability in Somalia.

Iman at 19, 1974

Iman was discovered by the renowned photographer, Peter Beard in 1974, whilst studying Political Science at the University of Nairobi. He offered to take a photo of her. She ignored him, but he was persistent. She finally accepted under the condition that he pay her $8,000, which would cover her tuition fees. He agreed and a year later he introduced her to Wilhelmina models – the agency that ended up signing the Somali model.

Soon after, Iman would be spotted posing for the likes of Irving Penn and walking for prominent designers such as Gianni Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent who dedicated his ‘African Queen’ collection to her as his muse. She also played Queen Nefertiti in Michael Jackson’s 2001 ‘Remember The Time’ video.

Iman stood out due to her regal and elegant looks. From the beginning, she knew that she wanted to make a difference in the industry. The model saw herself as a trailblazer and has done significant work to make the fashion industry more diverse. In 2010, she received the CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award for her crucial role in making the fashion industry more inclusive.

Whilst she was on set for photoshoots or backstage at fashion shows, Iman noticed the range of makeup products available never catered to deeper skin tones. Early in her career, she had to learn how to mix different products to make them match her complexion.

In 1994, she created one of the first makeup lines for women of colour called, Iman Cosmetics. The brand quickly became successful, generating $25 million on a year-over-year average and was acquired by Procter & Gamble in 2004. A trendsetter, once that opened the doors for the likes of Fenty Beauty today.


Bruce Webber, Vogue 1995

Iman was married to  musician David Bowie, with whom she remained until he passed away in 2016.

The model is heavily involved with charities doing work on the African continent. These include Save the Children, UNICEF Go-2-School Initiative (Somalia), Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and Hope for Congo

The multifaceted businesswoman and philanthropist has also written two books. I AM IMAN (2001) is an autobiography tackling the topic of identity in the fashion and beauty industries. The Beauty Of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide For Skin Of Color (2005), is a beauty and makeup book for women of colour across a range of skin tones. We stan a queen who’s unafraid to share her beauty hacks. 

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