WATCH: Video Biography Of Fashion Icon IMAN, Africa's First Supermodel
*IMAN BOWIE AND AFRICAN MODELS ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “African models” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google Iman Bowie's name each month.
*All figures for “Iman Bowie And African Models According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
Fashion Biography: From Somalia To New York - Iman's Journey As The First Famous African Supermodel
A FAIRYTALE BIOGRAPHY: Fashion icon, cosmetics entrepreneur and wife of musician David Bowie, Iman was the first famous African supermodel in history - but her Somali nationality was not initially received well by her African American counterparts in the US. Above; Iman photographed by Sølve Sundsbø.
IMAN BOWIE WAS THE FIRST African beauty to be promoted into the supermodel mainstream back in 1975. But alongside the rejoicing, not everybody was happy with her inclusion. By Ben Arogundade.
WHILE THE FIRST FAMOUS African American supermodels came from blue collar backgrounds, the first Africans were the well-to-do daughters of kings and diplomats, who were educated and well travelled. Yahne Sangare was a Liberian diplomat’s daughter, who combined modelling with a post as a news correspondent for the United Nations. She had studied at the Sorbonne in France, and attended finishing school in Switzerland.
MODELS FAKE BIOGRAPHY Somali-born Iman Abjulmajid was also a diplomat’s daughter. A university major, fluent in five languages, she was discovered on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, by fashion photographer Peter Beard in 1975. At the time she had never worn make-up or even seen a fashion magazine. The naïve 19-year-old became part of an elaborate publicity hoax devised by Beard in which he told the American press that she was an illiterate tribeswoman, discovered while tending to her family’s herd on the Kenyan plains. Derogatory as this exotic fiction was, it launched Iman into the epicenter of fashion in the USA, and she went on to become the most successful African model of her generation.
Iman hit a peak in 1979 when she became the first model of colour to sign an exclusive cosmetics contract — for Revlon’s Polished Ambers, a new make-up line for dark skins — in a deal worth a reported $150,000.
IMAN'S AFRICAN AMERICAN MODEL RIVALS Despite the successes of these early famous African beauties, their presence was not wholly accepted by their African American counterparts. The African beauties were seen as competition by their fellow models, who saw no reason for fashion to import African girls when there were plenty of homegrown black models. In Iman’s case, when she first arrived on the scene, there was also an intolerance of her Somali nationality, and its particular strain of beauty, with its fine bone structure and Nefertitian hauteur. For some, this look was considered more European than black, despite its staunch North African roots. This intolerance escalated in 1976 when Marcia Ann Gillespie, then Editor-In-Chief of Essence, famously stated that Iman looked like a “white woman dipped in chocolate.” It was a cutting statement that resonated throughout the industry, and exposed the ignorance of many to the broad aesthetic diversity of what is generally referred to as “African beauty”.
SIX CLASSIC IMAN BOWIE COVERS: 1. You magazine, Nov. 09, 2003. 2. Iman with Alicia Keys, Vanity Fair, July 2007. 3. Iman Bowie for Newsweek, April 1988. 4. Iman graces the front of German Vogue, April 1982. 5. Italian Harper's Bazaar, Sept. 1993. 6. A young Iman models the cover of the German edition of Cosmopolitan, March 1982.