Iman Is a ‘Supreme Model’—But She Knows She’s Not The Only One

Once you consider Iman—the model, the icon, the legend—you more than likely envision her standing alone, striking a pose at the top of a protracted runway, or perhaps resplendent and searching like a goddess in a Harris Reed creation of feathers and gold leaf on the Met Gala. The mononymic model, nevertheless, is keen to speak in regards to the moments by which she was an element of a partnership or a coalition. “I’ve at all times loved the concept of a tribe,” says Iman, and that concept is obvious throughout Supreme Models, a six-part YouTube docuseries on the lives and legacies of Black models. From Donyale Luna to Precious Lee, Supreme Models highlights the trials and triumphs of Black beauty and innovation on the runway, and maybe most significantly, the sisterhood that bonded and bolstered them through the tough times.

Iman, who was approached with the concept earlier within the pandemic, was drawn to the project after realizing that there was a shortage of documentaries on Black models. “It’s about owning our beauty, from those groundbreaking models who opened doors for all of us to those which might be benefiting from it now,” she says of the resulting series. “It is also in regards to the trials and tribulations of Black models, and the way at times, the industry wasn’t using Black models. There was a time that Black models were absolutely invisible…and that was only in 2013,” Iman adds, referencing the 12 months she, Naomi Campbell, and Bethann Hardison launched the Diversity Coalition campaign to advocate for more Black models and models of color on the runway.

“At the identical time,” she says of Supreme Models, “it’s about joy and celebration.”

Here, Iman, who served as an executive producer on the project, talks in regards to the show, her resilience, and her modeling profession, in addition to the several other jobs she’s juggled over time.

At one point in Supreme Models, a few of the commentators remark on the indisputable fact that the crew behind the camera crew are all women. Was something that was planned?

No, no. When working on something about women, you favor that quite a lot of people behind the camera crew be women—because who can tell that story higher than someone who’s one?—nevertheless it was never intentional. The intention was really to focus on how when a Black model opens doors, we normally leave the door behind us open so others can come through.

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Official Trailer | Supreme Models

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Once you were discovered by Peter Beard, you asked for a certain quantity of cash up front because that was how much it might cost on your next semester at college. How did you select to eventually walk away from school?

I had never seen fashion magazines, worn makeup, or worn heels, for that matter. I used to be not aware of this industry. For me, it was only a way of attempting to maintain myself. Let’s not forget: I used to be a refugee, so I needed to fend for myself. My parents couldn’t maintain me anymore. I used to be alone. After the images were taken and Peter paid for my tuition, I never ever thought that I might hear from him again.

Once I was asked to come back to america, the very first thing I asked for was a return ticket—because I didn’t need to be stuck in Recent York if things didn’t pan out. But I didn’t even know what panning out was. I had no idea what I used to be walking into. I lied about my age simply to get a passport. I mean, the audacity at 19 years old. I actually just had it in my head that I might test it out, after which play it by ear, so to talk. I wish I could say I planned it.

Was there a specific moment during those early days that made you’re feeling like this is able to be your latest profession?

Oh, no. I used to be terrified. I used to be clueless to the purpose that I didn’t know the best way to walk in heels. I learned on the job. I kept my mouth shut at the start so I could just watch and listen—and since quite a lot of people thought that I didn’t speak English. Discuss imposter syndrome. I believed, I will probably be caught. I will probably be sent back. And I wasn’t even getting cash,

Once I understood that there’s a strategy to generate income, I used to be attempting to work out how it really works. Then the very first thing that I used to be confronted with was that I discovered that there was a discrepancy between Black models and white models in pay.

How did you discover that out?

I discovered from one in every of the models who told me, “Oh, in order that they’re saying that you simply are the following big thing. Ensure that that they pay you as much as they’re paying the white models.”

I used to be with Wilhelmina Models and Wilhelmina was alive then, so I sat together with her and he or she said, “Yeah, that’s the way it’s at all times been.” And I said, “Well, let me put it to you this fashion; possibly you possibly can make the clients understand. I would like to be paid for services rendered. Don’t even say, ‘Oh, Iman desires to be paid as much as a white model.’ She just desires to be paid for the work she’s doing.” And no person took it.

So for 3 months I didn’t work and I didn’t care because I wasn’t working before that, so it didn’t mean anything to me. I used to be raised that way, that I should at all times know my value and at all times know what to walk away from if it’s not serving me. I used to be like, well, that was a brief run, it didn’t pan out. And the following thing I do know, I got this call that I got the pay I would like. They were those who broke the barrier.

iman lors du défilé thierry mugler, prêt à porter, collection printemps été 1985 à paris le 18 octobre 1984, france photo by daniel simongamma rapho via getty images

Walking for Thierry Mugler in 1984.

Daniel SIMON//Getty Imagesiman lors du défilé claude montana, prêt à porter, collection printemps été 1986 à paris, le 19 octobre 1985, france photo by daniel simongamma rapho via getty images

Walking for Claude Montana in 1985.

Daniel SIMON//Getty Images

It’s remarkable that despite coping with imposter syndrome, you continue to knew your value and were willing to refuse work until you were paid appropriately. Are those two things—self-doubt and self-worth—still at play for you?

They’re, yeah. Especially for Black models, they’re at play on a regular basis, right? For me, the explanation I had imposter syndrome was because, how do you get right into a business that you simply’ve never even heard of? Most models that you realize have been exposed to the industry or desired to be one. I had never seen anything, so to me it was like I used to be pretending to be a model.

But the price a part of it’s something that got here inherently. That’s what was instilled in me by my parents from day one. I come from a Muslim country. I’m a woman, and my father and my mother at all times told me, “You may be pretty much as good and even higher than your brothers.” They’ve given me the permission to have that self esteem—in careers, but in addition in relationships and with men, you realize? You don’t accept less. That was actually my saving grace, that was my superpower. Because I walked right into a room like I belonged in that space.

Have you usually considered yourself to be business-minded?

I feel it’s a really third-world country mentality to think at all times by way of business, because in all honesty, more often than not we come from nothing. And if you happen to are a woman, they make you’re feeling like you might be less anyway. It’s either you come from a wealthy family otherwise you’re very well-educated. In order that’s why we try to be educated, so we will have some type of control over our future.

The primary seed of the cosmetics idea got here once I saw that there was something mistaken on one in every of my first jobs literally every week after I arrived. The makeup artist, after he finished a white model’s makeup, got here to me and said, “Did you bring your individual foundation?” Now, that was a weird query to me, because I knew he didn’t ask her that query. I said no and he proceeded to placed on something that he mixed up. And once I checked out the mirror, I looked gray.

I went to each store, bought all the pieces I could find that has a pigment closer to my skin tone, and mixed and matched foundations. I might put it on my face and take a Polaroid, like a selfie, to see the way it translates to photographs. Even at that early stage in my life, I knew that in the style industry, my image is my currency. If I don’t have control over it, someone else will—like a foul makeup artist—and my profession will probably be cut short. I desired to have that control.

Was there a turning point at which you felt such as you had progressed far enough in your profession so that you simply were capable of raise your voice for others?

I knew I had some type of power once I could get advertisements. Let’s be very clear. Commercial is the holy grail in our industry. Between that and getting a cosmetics campaign contract, those are those that make you the cash. Every little bit of money I made, I used to be sending it home so my brothers and sisters could finish school. I needed them to complete school in order that I can guarantee some type of future for them.

But once I got those jobs, I made sure that I had a Black hairdresser and a Black makeup artist. I wanted to seek out those individuals who will probably be ok for me to really bring them in in order that the client can see individuals who can actually do an awesome job.

How have you ever managed being an incredibly in-demand model with running a cosmetics line, doing advocacy work, acting…?

By just believing which you could, and likewise investing in yourself by way of, I’m gonna discover all the pieces about this job that I would like to do. The hard thing for us is that we now have to be higher than everybody else. It’s a continuing hassle and it’s a continuing chipping at your self-esteem. There isn’t a room to make a mistake and survive it and move on and recover. We have now to be great right out of the gate. So I make double sure that I do know all the pieces about whatever, like for cosmetics, I researched it to death.

That’s what it takes. It’s just work and hustle, you realize? But I even have to let you know, it’s in all Black women. It’s so difficult to start out anything that you simply just say, “Well, you realize what? Even when I even have just a little little bit of success, at the very least the generation that comes after us, they will triple it and quadruple it.”

You’re talking about this concept that in business as a Black woman, you have got to be higher than everybody within the room, and I feel that applies to Black women regardless of what job they do. I feel that in my very own work.

Yeah, you get it. We have now to be so skilled. You make one mistake, and it’s like, oh, the entire race is down. And it’s like, “Wait, wait. I made the error, not one other Black person!”

Do you hope for a day where Black women are allowed to be mediocre in peace? What’s your vision of progress?

[Laughs] No, I don’t want mediocre. But I would like respiratory room and want people to give you the chance to make a mistake and survive it. I don’t want someone to feel like their whole race is on top of 1’s shoulders. We’re all human beings. We are going to make mistakes and I don’t want my whole race to be answerable for it. I don’t want every Black model that comes after me to be judged for a mistake I made. That’s what it’s. Give us the grace that you simply allow everybody else.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Roxanne Fequiere is a Recent York–based author and editor who might just make it in spite of everything.

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