Iman on Fashioning an Empire and Why She Dismisses the Word Icon

In an era when wearing oversized sweats is standard, Iman has characteristically done things differently. The Somalia-born model, businesswoman, philanthropist, and veritable fashion legend (a true powerhouse) has spent her time in quarantine in a stream of chic outfits—with a full beat, no less—on her Instagram account. It’s not surprising, seeing as she was a muse of Thierry Mugler and Yves Saint Laurent; the face of her own beauty empire, Iman Cosmetics; and a recipient of the CFDA Fashion Icon Award. But what many may not expect from one of the most glamorous women in the world is that she wears Uggs. Beyond that, she is even starring in the footwear company’s latest campaign.

Speaking from her country house in upstate New York, Iman tells BAZAAR.com that she would gleefully sport the brand’s signature no-fuss, fleece-lined boots for “mommy-and-me” moments with her then young daughter, Lexi Jones. She also confesses that it has been quite some time since she slipped on a pair—at least since she stopped dropping off her daughter at school. Amid a global pandemic, however, the brand’s cozy shoes have been tempting her more and more.

“I think it has come full circle, and at a time when we are sheltering at home,” she says about indulging in comfy Uggs again. “You can walk around at home and be comfortable, and at the same time, you can walk outside. The reality of what we’re living in urges us to seek comfort.”

Iman is the latest star to join Ugg’s Feel campaign. The ongoing series, which started last September, enlists burgeoning talents like designer Telfar Clemens and fashion industry titans like journalist André Leon Talley to model the label’s styles according to their respective MOs. In Iman’s case, this means serving looks.

In one shot, she poses in a richly embroidered jacket layered over a black top and trousers, which she accessorizes with Ugg’s Coquette slipper. Another shows her sitting forward wearing a sleek rust-hued knit turtleneck and matching palazzo pants from her HSN collection, Iman Global Chic, along with Ugg’s Classic Mini II boot. Though more laid-back than what she wore pre-quarantine, both ensembles fully reflect Iman’s style ethos: “Glamour never takes a day off.”

“Everybody was feeling great about wearing pajamas all day, but that got too tiring, too fast,” she shares. “It’s really very important that you really get out of what you’re wearing to bed, do your hair, and add a little bit of makeup, even if you’re not doing a Zoom meeting. It’s good for your soul. It makes you feel like you have a little bit of control, because everything is out of our control. That’s a great lesson to be learned this year. We thought 2021 would have been like a switch on, switch off. No. We’re still in it.”

We thought 2021 would have been like a switch on, switch off. No. We’re still in it.

Adapting to less-than-stellar circumstances is a lesson she learned early on in her career. Using her first fashion shoot as an example, she explained how she was the only Black model on set and how the makeup artist, who was not accustomed to working with her complexion, made her look gray. “I knew I had to do something about that,” she says. “I went from high-end department stores to even Woolworth at that time, bought whatever makeup I could find that had some pigment, and started mixing and matching them, and putting it on my face. My image was currency, so I had to take control.”

Now, without her go-to makeup artists at her disposal and having to promote her businesses on-screen, she is able to paint her face and make it appear as if a whole team was behind it. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” she says. “I’ve been in the industry for a long time, so I learned how to do my makeup.” From one look with a bold red lip and smoky eye to another with dewy skin and coral-blushed cheeks, her Instagram posts and HSN segments are a testament to her status as a fashion and beauty icon. But like Talley before her, she shuns the honorific title.

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“I agree with him,” she says. “It’s a very phony word, because you don’t really know what it means. It doesn’t make any sense. If you can just change somebody’s plight, change their life, then I think you’re an icon to them. But only to them, not necessarily the world.”

By her definition alone, Iman is certainly an icon. Shun it she may, but the world respectfully disagrees. Along with changing standards of beauty and breaking countless glass ceilings for Black models, she has consistently used her platform to support humanitarian organizations, including the Children’s Defense Fund and Keep a Child Alive. Most recently, she was named the first global advocate for CARE, an agency that combats poverty and hunger on a global scale.

“Personally, there is no way I ever see my life without doing philanthropy, because that is what saved my life,” she says. “When I became a refugee from Somalia to Kenya, NGOs like CARE are what protected me. I don’t know what my trajectory would have been if these people weren’t there. To me, they are godsends.”

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Even with all the accolades Iman has received throughout her career, she is appreciative of the blessings she’s been given and she encourages her fans to think similarly, expressing her musings on social media with the hashtag #ImanDaily. According to her, these thoughts arise after some R&R, which comes in the form of reading (she counts novels by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, Shaun King’s Make Change, and, yes, Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo as recent faves), painting (a hobby she says was inspired by her late husband, David Bowie), and FaceTiming with her three-year-old granddaughter every Sunday.

Seemingly a master at quarantine life—with Uggs on her feet—she does admit that there is one thing she sorely misses. “Oh, my God, hugging,” she says. “That’s what Africans do. We don’t shake hands. We hug.”

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