Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid is a Somali-American actress and fashion model, born July 25th, 1955 in Mogadishu. Known professionally as “Iman”, she was discovered as a student in Nairobi by photographer Peter Beard, and was one of the most sought after models in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, a favorite of Vogue magazine. She married famed rocker David Bowie in 1992.
Early Career While attending the University of Nairobi as a student of political science, and working as a translator to help pay the bills, Iman was discovered on the street by photographer Peter Beard who began following her, and watching her from afar. She initially turned down his offer to photograph her, thinking his intentions were pornographic. “I had never seen Vogue. I didn't read fashion magazines, I read Time and Newsweek“. She reconsidered when Beard offered to pay her tuition for a semester.
After four months of convincing, Iman agreed to fly to New York. Beard had been teasing the press with his “discovery” and she was greeted at the airport by photographers and reporters. “I was very surprised and offended that they could be so gullible to believe that all Africans come out of the jungle… I was even more insulted when they started asking the questions and talking only to Peter because they thought I did not speak English and I could speak English and five [other] languages.”
David Bowie Iman was married to Spencer Haywood from 1978 to 1987, and quit modelling all together in 1989. She moved to Los Angeles and was careful to sever all ties with New York City to make it easier to resist the temptation to return. “I sold my apartment; I severed contacts there, except with my friends, so that I would never have the excuse that, when something went wrong, I could go back to that as a cushion.”
It was in Los Angeles that friends introduced her to David Bowie in 1990. “For him [it was overwhelming],” said Iman. “I was not ready for a relationship. Definitely, I didn't want to get into a relationship with somebody like him…but as I always said: I fell in love with David Jones. I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona. He's a singer, an entertainer. David Jones is a man I met.” The pair were wed in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 24, 1992. At the time many considered the marriage a stunt, but their relationship has instead proven to be one of the most successful rock/fashion pairings in recent memory.
Cosmetics Line Frustrated by the lack of cosmetic products for women of color, in 1994 Iman launched her own brand. “I would go to cosmetics counters and buy two or three foundations and powders, and then go home and mix them before I came up with something suitable for my undertones”. The Iman Collection was meant for all women of color, including Asian and Native American women, and was sold at major department stores like JC Penney.
Poor planning meant the product sold out quickly and took weeks to restock. The following year, the new entrepreneur faced increased pressure from other major cosmetics manufacturers attempting to capture this segment of the market. Still, the young company managed to gross millions of dollars.
Charity Work In 1992 she and a BBC film crew traveled to Somalia to film the devastation of a country ravaged by war, famine, and disease in an effort to raise awareness and secure more international aid. When she arrived, she barely recognized places from her youth. “It reminded me of the movie Mad Max, ” she told People.
After her experiences with Somali relief efforts, Iman continued her charitable efforts in multiple ways. She created a lipstick with rapper Missy Elliot, and donated proceeds to Break the Cycle, an anti-domestic violence charity, and became a noteworthy fundraiser for the children’s charity Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund.