African Queen

The brains and beauty of Iman.


Brains—and not a little toughness—have always belied the glamorous beauty of Seventies catwalk star Iman. “I’ve been a bitch more than once,” she told W in 1991. “I believe very much in revenge. I’m like a black Italian. I lose my temper very fast, and I can get very heated.”

Whether you call her bitchy or just outspoken, the Somalian-born model has never been afraid to speak her mind. After retiring from the runway in 1989, Iman moved to Hollywood to pursue acting and was less than impressed with the local sartorial sense. “[People in L.A.] are terrible dressers, the worst,” she told W in the 1991 interview. “Someone should tell them there’s a difference between gym wear and dinner wear.” By contrast, Iman, who married stylish rocker David Bowie in 1992, was fond of renting dramatic vintage frocks and sporting gravity-­defying hairdos (which garnered her a tongue-in-cheek “Pile It High” award from Women’s Wear Daily, W’s sister publication, in 1994).

Her wry wit—which she has freely turned on herself—has allowed her to get away with more irreverent observations than the average glamazon. At the 1998 book party for The Jungle ABC, illustrated by Michael Roberts (Iman wrote the foreword), she quipped that the tome was ideal for fashion folk. “For the fashion industry, an ABC is like War and Peace,” she told WWD. And at Oscar de la Renta’s pink-theme party in 1997, she opined, “I usually like a very trashy pink. Oscar doesn’t do that…. Usually, who has the best of those pinks are the drag queens.”

As a pioneering cosmetics guru, Iman knows her hues. In 1994 she launched her own line for women of color, drawing on expertise built early in her career, when makeup artists rarely had foundation that matched her skin tone and she had to mix her own. Honored at the 2005 Cosmetic Executive Women Achiever Awards, Iman left her sardonic streak at home. “I feel like the best is yet to come,” she said. “Women of color have been accepted not as exotic birds but as beauties.”

Photo: Eric Weiss/WWD Archive