I like working. What’s the other option sitting at home eating bonbons?’: Iman on being the first black supermodel, wife of David Bowie and her Somalian roots
- Iman Mohmaed Hussei, 58, was the first black model to front Revlon
- She has been married to David Bowie for 22 years
- Her own makeup range Iman Cosmetics is worth $25m (£15m)
Showbiz marriages aren’t generally known for their longevity, but Iman Mohamaed Hussei – or Iman as she is better known – and David Bowie, are the exception to the rule.
The supermodel, 58, and rock and roll icon David, 66, have been happily wed for 21 years, a lifetime in the celebrity world.
She’s always insisted, however, that it was David Jones she fell in love with, not Bowie – the stage name he later adopted.
Supermodel: Iman, now 58, at a premier in New York in 2013. The model and philanthropist says she will never stop working or forget her Somalian roots
So in love: David Bowie, left, and Iman, right at a charity dinner in New York, 2011
The two met in New York at the peak of Iman’s modelling career, which kicked off with a Vogue assignment in 1976, just one year after she was spotted on a street in Nairobi in Africa.
She was 20-years-old, studying political science and living as a Somali refugee in Kenya, when American photographer Peter Beard approached her.
According to The Observer magazine, he asked to photograph her and she said the privilege would cost him $8,000 – the entire amount of her university fees.
‘My mother said if you didn’t know exactly what you wanted you weren’t worth it, so ask for everything,’ Iman tells Carole Cadwalladr of the magazine.
True love: Iman and David Bowie, pictured here at t he MET Ball in 2005, have been married for 22 years, a lifetime in the showbiz world
Stunning: Iman in her modelling days. She was spotted at 20-years-old in Kenya and landed her first assignment, for Vogue, in 1976 just a year later
Iman soon moved to New York where her career took off. Over the next 14 years she modelled for
Halston, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, Issey Miyake, Donna Karan, Thierry Mulger and Yves Saint-Laurent, whom she became a muse for.
She also worked with notable photographers including Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz and was the first black woman to front U.S. cosmetic giant Revlon.
The race card, she says, was never an issue until people in America made it one. An editor famouslythought she was complimenting Iman when telling her she looked like a, ‘white woman dipped in chocolate.’
Says Iman: ‘I wasn’t a major in political science for nothing, so I understood the politics of beauty and race when it comes to the fashion industry.’
It was during her modelling high in New York where she met David, though at the time he was living in Switzerland. The couple moved there briefly before heading back to the States and marrying in 1992.
Calwalk: Iman walks for Thierry Mugler in 1990. The Somalia-born model was known as the first black supermodel and had a remarkable 14-year career before she focused her attentions on other projects
‘I did not want to get involved with a rock star, no way,’ she told the Express in 2011.
‘It is not a sane thing to do but David changed my mind. He wooed me.’
The couple have a daughter, Alexandria, or ‘Lexi,’ who is 13, though Iman had her first daughter, Zulekha, when she was 23, with her then-husband, American basketball player Spencer Haywood.
She may have retried from modelling 24 years ago, but Iman isn’t about to slow down just yet.
Her ethnic cosmetics company, Iman Cosmetics, is worth $25m (£15m) and her charitable endeavours are seemingly endless: she’s currently working with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Hawa Abdi on a foundation that supports and helps people in Somalia.
And she’s been a keen supporter for Save The Children, Children’s Defense Fund and Keep a Child Alive.
‘I like working,’ Iman tells the Observer. ‘What’s the other option, sitting at home eating bonbons?’