The word iman in Spanish means "magnet" -- a fitting name, then, for Iman, the onetime university student who first caught the eye of photographer Peter Beard in Somalia in 1975. But it didn't take long for Iman to be before cameras in America, on her way to becoming one of the most recognizable faces in modeling -- recognizable to all except, at first, maybe herself.
"When I started in 1975," Iman says, "the makeup artists on fashion shoots always asked me, 'Did you bring your own foundation?' They wouldn't have the colors I needed, and even though I'd never worn makeup before coming to America, I could see that what they'd put on me wasn't right. But I was so innocent of what photography and makeup meant, I thought somehow the photograph would 'fix' it. What I saw were disastrous pictures of me.
"But it was my image, my photographs that 'spoke' for me. It was my 'currency.' So I took it upon myself to learn the business of makeup, and that meant the correct foundation. I started mixing products that would be the right texture and consistency for my skin, products that wouldn't alter my ethnicity and in colors that wouldn't make me gray or yellow or green -- just me."
Just ask Naomi and Kiara too. According to Iman, "Most models who are women of color will tell you that they never go to a shoot without their own foundation, whether they're Naomi Campbell or Kiara Kabukuru. They have it in their bags. They're ready for anything."
And you: Are you ready to learn you're wearing the wrong foundation? To find out (and to see where all this is leading), see The Beauty of Color (Putnam) by Iman and co-author Tia Williams, or see for yourself when Iman visits Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on Saturday, October 22nd. She'll be there to sign her book, answer your questions, and, with her team of makeup artists from IMAN cosmetics, give you the makeover you may not know you need. The book itself -- with how-to tips and techniques and glamour shots of such well-known models and celebrities as Rosario Dawson, Tyra Banks, Ling, Salma Hayek, Eve, and Jade Jagger -- may give you a good talking-to as well if it's a positive talking-to you need.
"The book is all about celebrating women of color, whether they're African, African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or multiethnic," Iman, CEO of her own global makeup line, says. "I wrote it because 10 years after founding IMAN cosmetics in 1994, I still didn't see a single beauty book that addressed all these women. Yes, there have been beauty books for African-American women or Hispanic women or Asian women. The books were segregated that way. I wanted to include the darkest beauties of Africa to blond, blue-eyed Brazilians and all the colors in between."
That's a lot of color to cover. But oh, how times have changed -- from the '60s, when Raquel Welch could not even admit in Hollywood to her Bolivian ancestry, to today, where standards of beauty run color-blind from Halle Berry to Jennifer Lopez to Lucy Liu. One thing, though, Iman has no intention of changing:
"I'm not into altering one's God-given features," she insists. "I'm not interested, for example, in making Asian eyes look bigger or an African-American nose look smaller. That kind of thinking is passé."
What's not passé is self-esteem and the self-empowerment that comes with it -- "owning," as Iman describes it, "your own beauty." But you can make it fun and make it affordable.
"Clothes are expensive," she admits. "Shoes and bags are even more expensive. Makeup you can always experiment with, and it doesn't have to break the bank. In that respect, my book is for all women -- how to be playful, experiment. But the things that women of color should not live without are foundation, powder, and bronzer all year round."
And so, on the subject of basics, here's the number-one question Iman hears from African-American women: What's the right foundation color for me? From Latinas: How do I make myself more bronzed, dewy? From women in Miami: How do I get more vibrant colors, not the natural tones, which East Coast women tend to prefer? And from women on the West Coast: How do I get a slicker look? At the end of the day, however, "it's not what a makeup artist can do for you," Iman maintains. "It's how you can be the best you are."
For now, what's best for Iman means no modeling ("absolutely none," except when it comes to advertising her own company). But it does mean acting as a world-traveling businesswoman and caring for her two daughters along with husband David Bowie. These days too it means a 10-city book tour for The Beauty of Color, which includes Memphis on the 22nd.
Has she been here before? "No, but I'm very excited," Iman says. "I've been hearing from my publisher for two years that I have to 'do' Memphis, because Memphians are the best bookbuyers."
Prove her right. As Iman proved right in the case of the "devastatingly elegant" Ethiopian Liya Kebede. One look at her and Iman said to herself, "Here is the next black model to usher us into the future." French Vogue then devoted an entire issue to Kebede. Estée Lauder advertising then signed her as its first black model. Proving: When it comes to the beauty of color, the future, in every shade, is now.