When it comes to supermodels, the big ones tend to be remembered for specific attributes. Cindy Crawford for her beauty mark, Linda Evangelista for her chameleon-like qualities, and Giselle Bundchen for that body. But with Iman, who came to the U.S. from her home country of Somalia in 1975 to model, it's hard to pinpoint just one thing. It's not only her otherworldly physical attributes, long neck and statuesque figure, but her enterprising foray into beauty, home and fashion (she's just launched the Platinum Collection -– a line of outerwear and accessories exclusive to HSN). And then there's her charity work with organizations including the Children's Defense Fund, Action Against Hunger, Raise Hope for Congo and Save the Children, for which she serves as an ambassador.
The 56-year-old stopped modeling in 1989 after 16 years in front of cameras, on runways and as a muse for designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. Post-modeling, she turned her beauty know-how into big business with her Iman Cosmetics line in 1994. She began blending her own foundation while on photo shoots because there were no shades that suited her skin, thus giving her the idea to create a line of cosmetics for women of color.
"Three days after I arrived in the U.S. in 1975 to model, my first job was for American Vogue," Iman said recently over breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in town to be honored with a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style award. "I had never worn makeup or high heels. I did not know what foundation was. The makeup artist asked me, ‘Did you bring your own foundation?’ He had nothing for me."
Iman recalled the makeup artist mixing several colors together for her. She began doing the same, taking various shades of foundation she found in stores to make something that matched her skin tone. "For the 16 years that I modeled, I always carried my own blend. I was never unprepared. I mixed my own until I stopped modeling."
Her cosmetics line boasts a full range of products, but she said her foundations are still the "hero" product because of the array of shades available. But she stressed that the line is not designed for a specific ethnic group so much as it is for individual women.
"When you go into a shoe store, there are no sections," she said. “Why should there be sections for different ethnicities when it comes to makeup?"
Her successful beauty business paved the way for a collection of clothing called Global Chic, a line of under-$100 women's separates and accessories, which is sold exclusively on HSN. This fall, she's added a higher-end line of clothing, outerwear and bags, the Platinum Collection.
"My clothes are chic; they're classics reinvented," Iman said. "I leave the trends to H&M and Zara because they do it so well."
The Platinum Collection is priced slightly higher than her Global Chic line -- for example, around $200 for wool coats and faux fur pieces and luggage items under $400. She has put an emphasis on practicality and versatility. For example, a wool coat that costs under $200 comes with several interchangeable faux fur collars that gives the wearer six ways to wear the piece. There are traditional silhouettes and wardrobe basics such as riding boots, trench coats, shearling vests and black leather skirts. Bags are done in punchier colors, such as green and red.
“When it comes to my clothes, I like color, but not in-your-face color,” she said. "I like to provide color as you need it. For instance, a red bag can lift everything up and is easier to wear than all red."
Though her fashion business has taken off, she said it's certainly not something she envisioned doing while modeling for some of the biggest names in the industry. She was adamant about not referring to herself as a "designer," but rather as someone who interprets trends and creates and curates a lifestyle line.
But her firsthand experience working directly with designers certainly has honed a keen, sophisticated sense of style.
"When I would walk in [to a fitting or photo shoot], the designer would ask me, 'How would you wear this, how would you put this together?'" she said about her modeling days. "You were a muse."
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Photos: Top, left and bottom: Iman modeling looks from her Platinum Collection of clothing and accessories. Top right: A ponyhair and leather carryall from the Platinum Collection. Credit: Iman Platinum Collection