“I’m African, and we’ve never been scared of aging,” says Iman in February’s Harper’s Bazaar UK, adding, “It’s a privilege, you know.”
At 65, the Somali-born supermodel certainly makes it look aspirational, appearing on two of the magazine’s “Visionaries” covers cocooned in couture as voluminous as her naturally textured hair. The looks, styled by an all-Black glam squad (and using Iman Cosmetics, of course), evoke a perfect balance of softness and strength; the perfect energy for an eternal muse, entrepreneur, and advocate whose career has spanned decades, spawned an eponymous and still thriving beauty brand, fashion line, and global philanthropy.
Given Iman’s enduring impact (and beauty), it’s almost inconceivable that anyone might be unfamiliar with her, as she is an icon in her own right. Yet, nearly five years to the day of the death of her husband, soulmate and life partner, musician and actor David Bowie, the supermodel has become even more widely known as his widow, a painful reality she reflects upon in Bazaar.
“That’s the saddest time,” she says of the pending anniversary on January 10, just two days after what would’ve been Bowie’s 74th birthday. “David gave me the most exciting, touching, and deliriously loving 24 years,” she further explains. “Still, it was not enough—shockingly brief. And although I’ll never get used to losing him, David is nonetheless hiding in plain sight...His fans are still around, his music is still relevant.”
As if proving her point, Bowie was trending in recent days, as bestselling author Morgan Jerkins revived a nearly 40-year-old clip of Bowie being interviewed by former MTV VJ Mark Goodman—and flipping it on the VJ to grill him about the lack of Black representation on the then-burgeoning music video network.
Goodman attempted to explain away the marginalization by justifying it as “narrowcasting” (as if it were a good thing), even going so far as to suggest that the average Midwesterner in MTV’s target demo would be scared off by the likes of Prince (a Minnesotan), and would likewise find artists like the Isley Brothers irrelevant.
“I’ll tell you what maybe the Isley Brothers or Marvin Gaye means to a Black 17-year-old,” Bowie coolly retorted. “And surely, he’s part of America as well, isn’t he?”
Frankly, we’d expect nothing less from the man who presciently recognized Luther Vandross’ immense talent and gave the singer-songwriter-arranger one of his first big breaks on 1975's Young Americans album. As Bazaar notes, Bowie was equally sure upon meeting Iman.
“My attraction to her was immediate and all-encompassing,” he reportedly said. “That she would be my wife, in my head, was a done deal. I’d never gone after anything in my life with such passion...I just knew she was the one.”
The couple married in 1992 and welcomed daughter Alexandria in 2000, enjoying what Iman calls “a really everyday marriage...a beautiful, ordinary life and that was what was great about it.
“You know, this was my true love,” she later adds. “My daughter once asked me if I would ever marry again and I said, ‘never.’”
Iman is also mother to 42-year-old daughter Zulekha, from her first marriage to former NBA star Spencer Haywood. Reflecting on lessons learned from her own mother, she recalls:
I was raised by my mother telling me, ‘Always know your worth. And if something is not serving you right, walk away from it. Don’t settle for less, because that is what you will be getting from then on.’ I was aware of that. And so that was my superpower, because I was taught that way at a young age.
At 65, Iman is even more aware of her power, coming full circle from her childhood ambitions to follow in her father’s ambassador footsteps to becoming the first-ever global advocate for the charity Care, her own experience and instincts serving her well both abroad and at home in what we’ve come to know as Trump’s America.
“I know what it’s like to be a refugee. I know what it’s like to be an immigrant,” she tells Bazaar. “I know what it’s like to not be white. I know what it’s like to not be male. I know what it’s like to adapt to a culture that’s not your own and long for the one you know. I know firsthand the extra burdens that each of these realities can bring.”
With a new American administration on the horizon, the self-described “nomad” is both pragmatic and hopeful that some of our burdens will soon lift. “What I miss is the idea of belonging,” she says, later adding,” “I definitely think that this is the change we need.”
The February 2021 issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK, starring Iman, is on newsstands now.