“My dream woman is Iman.” So said no less an arbiter than Yves Saint Laurent. And those words still ring true today: The CFDA will honor the Somalian-born beauty as its Fashion Icon later this spring.
The supermodel—one of the first, long before the reign of the Trinity, the rise of the waifs, or the Eastern European boom—has well earned her one-name status. She was Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid when the American photographer Peter Beard discovered her as a young student at the University of Nairobi. Her elegant, sculptural beauty—the impossibly long neck, the regal features, those cheekbones—was a revelation when she hit the international scene in the late seventies and eighties. At a time when the glossy pages were dominated by athletic, all-American girls, she was an instant favorite among editors and nearly a religion among designers, many of whom called her their muse.
But a mere clothes hanger she’s not. You can tick off the accomplishments and still come up short, though here goes: founding and steering one of the most successful cosmetics companies targeted to women of color; campaigning and fundraising for African causes; a multi-decade film career, including a definitive role alongside Robert Redford; writing a couple of books along the way; marrying David Bowie. Some would say she’s the model to end all models. Or, as the title of her autobiography put it: I Am Iman.