De Beers announces a partnership with Iman, acclaimed supermodel and businesswoman at the 55th Cannes Film Festival. Iman's woven Aubergine leather choker is studded with 15 Princess Cut Diamonds set in white gold total weight is 7.5 carats. The matching leather cuff bracelet is studded with 9 Princess Cut Diamonds. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage)
There are few mononymous women in the world. Yet one statuesque fashion muse, legendary model, cosmetics entrepreneur and humanitarian stands heads above.
By Christine Morrison
Born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, Iman—whose name translates from Arabic as “Faith”—was anointed this traditionally masculine moniker by her mother and grandfather, who wanted her to know she could do anything—and be anything—she envisioned for herself. In a 2014 interview with the Guardian, Iman said, “She always said to me that there is nothing that the boys can do – because I had two brothers – that you can’t do, if not better.”
A proud Somalian, Iman had a privileged childhood with a diplomat father and gynecologist mother, both of whom (like many in the country) valued education. Yet, her formative years were not without crisis. While in boarding school in Egypt, apart from her family residing in Saudi Arabia where her father was ambassador, the 1969 coup in Somalia arose. She reunited with her family, but they were forced to flee to Kenya with just the clothes on their backs.
“Overnight my life changed from a diplomatic daughter to a refugee, and my father could not fend for us,” Iman told the Guardian. “The only time I’ve ever seen my father cry is when he couldn’t pay for us to finish our education . . . The NGOs [non-government organizations] looked after us. They found me a hostel, a job, a university.”
It was there, while strutting toward a political science degree at the University of Nairobi, that she was discovered by famed photographer and Africophile Peter Beard. Iman had a part-time job with the Ministry of Tourism, thanks to her ability to speak five languages, but she lacked funds for future semesters. When Beard offered to pay her for photographs, she requested $8,000, which was the exact price of tuition the following year. Her mother’s mantra—“always know your worth”—echoed in her head. The offer was accepted…