Iman Inc.: From Supermodel to Supermogul

March 2014 | by | in Profiles

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All photographs by Douglas Friedman

The feeling is joy. That’s the sole—and soul—reaction to witnessing Iman Abdulmajid model up close. With more than a quarter century of photo shoots behind her, the 58-year-old moves with the grace and confidence of an authority in her field. She glides through poses and looks, and it’s clear Iman needs no direction—instead, she offers it. “Through the years, I’ve learned what works for me,” she explains. “Most importantly, I can see in my head the final shot, so the objective is to create something original and modern, to serve the photographer’s vision.” Iman is poised and precise in action, and it’s not long before the entire room recognizes as fact what the unacquainted may assume is fiction: Iman is a living masterpiece.

Iman says it took years of studying how a fashion shoot works to become a pro at modeling. “I learned on the job,” she explains. “I paid attention to details. I looked at old photographs. And I made sure that I had control over my image. I’ve always believed that images are a model’s currency. So I always wanted to have some control and have a say about my images. What I know is that photography and the business of images is a mirror in which we see ourselves—who we are and who we can be. Beauty is a powerful commodity, and its currency is identity.”

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By this point, the origins of what makes Iman so exceptional are well honed and oft told. There’s the childhood as the daughter of an African diplomat. There’s the discovery by photographer Peter Beard while a young Iman was studying at the University of Nairobi. There’s the rapid rise in the fashion industry, launched by her first shoot at Vogue. There are the friendships, on and off the runway, with Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Richard Avedon and more. And of course, there are the marriages: the first at 18 to her childhood sweetheart, the second to basketball great Spencer Haywood and the last to David Bowie.

While such details would mark the sum total of another woman’s life story, for Iman, they are just footnotes. What makes her remarkable is neither that famed beauty or her equally famed love life, but a maverick mind that figured out the impossible: leveraging her exotic style and unique life story into product categories mainstream America could buy for $14.99 and up. Along the way, her business strategies have transformed a young African ingénue into a bona fide American millionaire.

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In 1994, Iman launched her eponymous and groundbreaking makeup line. Pioneering beauty brand IMAN Cosmetics was the first of its kind to cater exclusively to African-American, Asian, Latina and multicultural skin tones. “I’m the customer who was looking for cosmetic products that were suitable for my skin but weren’t available in the marketplace,” she says. The line, founded on a core offering of cosmetics and skin care, has since expanded to fragrance and hybrid products, like its noted BB Crème, which offers coverage and care for skin. Thanks to a groundbreaking deal with Procter & Gamble in 2004, the prestige brand is now available locally, and globally, at mass market outlets in the United States, Canada, the U.K., France, Africa and the Caribbean.

In 2010, this desire to cater to the “every woman” was captured once more in a second venture: a clothing line with HSN called IMAN Global Chic. From luxe bags to bold jewelry, the line immediately connected with audiences, making it one of HSN’s two top sellers out of more than 200 collections sold by the shopping network. That same year, she launched IMAN Home Fabrics, an eclectic fabric collection for bedding and beyond, which enjoyed a glitzy New York Fashion Week debut via a custom-designed lounge by Iman and interior design expert Carlos Mota. “I’m also the customer who wants global treasures but doesn’t necessarily have the time to travel all over the world,” she mentions.

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In 2012, Iman’s world went digital with the launch of destinationiman.com, an online portal that presents her multifaceted empire through a glossy, curated eye. The editorial-driven site features advice, fashion tips and a glimpse into her glamorous globe-trotting lifestyle. On Twitter, her posts as @The_Real_IMAN reveal her daily routine (#imandaily), style savvy, home décor and archival images, boasting more than 80,000 followers.

Today, the supermodel turned super mogul is expanding her empire with the IMAN Home Bed & Bath Collection. The new collection translates Iman’s global aesthetic into bold, printed bedding, pillows and towels and takes inspiration from many chic locales like Hollywood, Morocco and Ibiza. “You can really see the journey from my background in fashion as I approached this collection as if it were a wardrobe for rooms,” she says. “I believe that layering doesn’t only apply to fashion and jewelry; I played with patterns by layering ikat with medallions, stripes with animal prints to create rooms with an interesting mix of textures, patterns and visuals.” Home is truly where the heart is for Iman. “Home is where I seduce my husband, nurture my children, entertain my friends and nourish my soul,” she announces on her website.

Iman’s path to lifestyle guru has forged the way for many other famous faces like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum to create a career post modeling. She has been showered with numerous accolades for both her personal style and business acumen. In just the last few years alone, she has been honored with the coveted CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2010 and the Hall of Fame Award by the Accessories Council in 2013, selected by the Business of Fashion as one of the 500 Most Influential People and honored by BRAG (Black Retail Action Group) in 2013.

It’s a heady legacy, which, while based on beauty, clearly wasn’t built on incredible bone structure. The depth and breadth of Iman’s success suggests a shrewd business mind and a persona that suffers no fools. And despite being often called a living legend, Iman is not ready to rest on her laurels. “Absolutely not,” she says. “I’m constantly evolving. Honey, you are never too old to learn a new trick.”

 

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