Calling her a supermodel doesn’t sum it up. Not even close. As Iman strikes pose after effortless pose during our cover shoot, the room stands in awe of the Somalian stunner—and not just because of her timeless beauty. Iman is a philanthropist, beauty mogul, mother, wife and fashion influencer—royalty in our eyes. Lest we forget, she played an Egyptian queen in the groundbreaking music video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” which was just one more moment solidifying her place in pop culture history.
It’s been 30 years since Iman retired from a modeling career that saw her grace countless magazine covers and walk the biggest designer runways in the world. Yet the 64-year-old remains a fixture in both the fashion and beauty industries through her work championing diversity and calling out anyone who doesn’t.
The New York City–based icon will step back in front of the camera only on special occasions—this one being the cover of our Summer issue, which commemorates 25 years of the ESSENCE Festival. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as it also happens to be 25 years since she launched her eponymous beauty line, Iman Cosmetics.
A few decades before Fenty Beauty revolutionized the beauty business with its unabashed focus on inclusivity, Iman had already created a company built on a similar mission. She was clearly ahead of her time. “When I came on the scene, I was catering to women of all skin colors,” Iman explains. “Regardless of what hue you are, as long as you are a woman with skin of color, whether you are Asian, Latina or African, I opened that gate. And Fenty knocked the gate out.”
Iman admits that her still thriving brand would have been a dream deferred if not for her husband, the late legendary artist David Bowie, who pushed her to start the business. “He literally did not understand fear,” Iman remembers. “He was in my corner cheering me on every step of the way. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have done it.”
In this moment of candor, Iman also reveals what she misses most about Bowie: “His sense of humor—he made me laugh every day,” she says. “He was a very curious person, so he made all of us very curious about everything in life.”
It’s rare to hear Iman open up about her personal life, given how fiercely private she has always been about her marriage and family. But when asked whether, as a mother of three (two daughters and a stepson) and a grandmother three times over, she has ever contemplated writing a memoir, she quickly shuts down the notion.
“I have nothing to hide, but I’m not telling it,” Iman declares. “I’m still old-fashioned. I still find that I like to keep my privacy.” She is of the opinion that the best autobiographies are the ones that bare all, “and I’m not willing to tell everything.” But that doesn’t mean Iman isn’t interested in a legacy that speaks to her incredible journey.
She wants to be remembered as one who stood against all injustices. “Whether it’s in my business or in my charities, I stood up,” she says. “I did not stay on the side, and I did not waste what was given to me. I stumbled into my life. I was not looking to be a model. I was not looking to be in America. But with that came a lot of responsibility. And so that will be my legacy. I stood up.” All hail the queen.
Julee Wilson (@missjulee) is the ESSENCE global beauty director and host of the new podcast The Color Files.
Photography by Itaysha Jordan-@itayshaphoto
Styling by Marielle Bobo-@mariellebobo
Hair by Vernon Francois-@vernonfrancois
Makeup by Renee Garnes-@reneegarnes
Set Design by Marguerite Wade-@margueritewade