Model Iman opens up about David Bowie, new fragrance and more
You will never enter his room. You probably won’t go through the front door. For years, people have tried to deduce where exactly model Iman and her husband David Bowie hid in the Catskill Mountains, the place where the singer’s ashes are said to be scattered.
They never managed to find out. Even now, few people in Woodstock know the precise location, even though it is not far from the legendary town that the townsman Mr. Bowie mocked on his first visit in 2002 as “too cute for words. “
Yet when, a few years later, while recording an album at a local studio, Mr. Bowie came across an ad for a mountainside property with little changed views since James Fenimore Cooper described them, he saw something more in the landscape: an escape route from stardom.
âDavid and I were both very protective of our privacy,â Iman said one afternoon in mid-October. “There were some things that no one else was going to see,” said a woman who, like her husband, has spent most of her life under a microscope. “Our house, our room, our daughter have always been banned.”
Once you do it for one, “you can’t say I won’t do it for another,” she said, referring to posts that have, in fact, splashed the interiors of various Bowie residences on their pages – but only after the singer-songwriter, a savvy businessman, had them put up for sale and taken off.
We were seated on a leather bench at the Polo Bar. Recently released from lockdown, Ralph Lauren’s downtown clubhouse for the Shiny Set is once again in full swing, but isn’t serving lunch just yet.
It does not matter. Learning that Iman would be in Manhattan for a few days to promote his first project since Mr. Bowie’s death – called Love Memoir, this is Iman’s first fragrance and was inspired by their relationship of nearly a quarter of century – Mr. Lauren not only opened the doors of the restaurant as a welcome welcome, but dressed her for the occasion in a floral-print meadow dress, a chunky silver belt and leather Wellington boots from calf.
âWhen David and I first met, we had both had successful careers and previous relationships,â said Iman, 66. Born Iman Abdulmajid, Iman was 45 years old and had long achieved both fame and mononymy status when she and Mr. Bowie, 53 at the time, married. âWe knew what we wanted from each other,â Iman said in the frank manner that is his signature.
People can imagine a lot about Iman, projecting onto the screen of her beauty an array of someone-engendered fantasies with her natural sophistication, aristocratic allure, and a neck so elegantly toned down that she considered her to be. a superpower in fashion casting calls.
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In reality, Iman is hilarious and bawdy. Like his 800,000 Instagram fans know, she flaunts her truth. Her social media posts alternate between glamorous snapshots and typographic renditions of family truths (“We all have chapters we’d rather keep unpublished”) which, emanating from her, are somehow less like magnet bromides. refrigerator.
She swears with abandon and easily falls into a conspiratorial laugh with a reporter – that is, until the din of a bartender throwing cubes into an ice cream bin threatens to drown the conversation. The first time this happens, Iman ignores it. Twice and everything around it stops dead.
âOh, no, no, no,â Iman said, sending an associate to a nearby table to knock down the velvet hammer.
Above all, what she and Mr Bowie wanted, Iman said, was a refuge from an ever-hungry audience for the emotional trash of celebrities. They also wished to move away from the psychic clutter of their own mythologies.
Unlike his elaborate, chameleon-like persona, superstar status, and oversized public presence, David Bowie in private was introspective, a dedicated self-taught and, as Iman said, an old-fashioned husband so spoiled by his domestic skills (“I make a nasty, nasty, nasty roast chicken”) that rarely after their marriage she had the opportunity to eat in restaurants.
By the time the two met, Iman had long since established a successful cosmetics company, Iman Cosmetics, specializing in skin products for people of color. And she had spent decades turning the putative glamor of a modeling career into personal fortune.
âIt was never a question of fabulous for me,â said Iman. âI came to this country as a refugee. My parents started out poor in Somalia, did well but lost everything. So when I came to America, it was a way for me to rebuild myself. It was a business plan.
Famous, Iman’s career began in the 1970s with a laughable fiction spelled out by the photographer and die-hard fabulist Peter Beard.
It was Mr. Beard who introduced Iman to Diana Vreeland at Vogue, claiming that his Somali protege – the daughter of a diplomat educated at boarding schools in Cairo and at the University of Nairobi – was the daughter of a goatherd who ‘he had met in the African bush.
âI was not ‘lost’ to be discovered in a jungle,â Iman said with a howl of derision. âI have never been in a jungle in my life!
From their first meeting, Iman said, she and Mr Bowie recognized something rare and solid. The immediate emotional charge the musician spoke of when describing this early date was heightened by a shared belief that they had found each other soul mates, ready to build a partnership away from the celebrity circus.
âI know my identity and David knew his,â Iman said. “When we first met, we agreed on a life with purpose.”
Each had a strong mind and both were intensely focused, she said. “We were focusing on each other, on what was ours and on our daughter,” she said, referring to Alexandria Zahra Jones (Jones was Mr. Bowie’s first name), known as Lexi. âWe were very protective of each other. “
To a surprising extent, the couple managed to lead some sort of normal life. Much of their time has been spent hiding in plain sight in downtown Manhattan.
“We have found that the paparazzi are a bit lazy here,” she said, unlike in London where a brief foray in search of a house turned them into fugitives. âWe were there for a week and were followed every second from the airport until we got back on the plane. We thought we were never going to go through this, so let’s go home and let them chase someone else.
The house, while their daughter attended the progressive Little Red Schoolhouse (now called LREI) in Greenwich Village, was an apartment near the Puck Building in SoHo, which she recently sold. âIt was just me in that big place, and it was actually sadder to be alone there with the memories, just turning around,â she said.
Increasingly over the past decade, and during much of Mr Bowie’s well-hidden illness, the couple retreated to their upstate property. This is where Iman locked herself in again after Mr Bowie died of liver cancer in 2016. And it was only there, in solitude, that she discovered that she could handle her grief.
“I didn’t really see anyone,” Iman said, except for her daughter and model agent and activist Bethann Hardison, a neighbor and old friend. Iman cooked. She took daily walks through the woods on her land, with her pristine mountain views. And she unexpectedly started building cairns.
In many cultures throughout history, people have stacked stones to mark paths, to dedicate sacred places, or as meditative acts. For Iman, building a cairn has become a daily way of doing all of these things while sorting through his memories. (Mr. Bowie’s ashes are scattered on their property.)
âFor me, the lockdown was good because in Manhattan there was no room to collapse,â she said. Strangers on the street would stop to offer their condolences, but then insist on taking selfies.
âIn the woods, I could cry and release the sorrow,â she said. âBy stacking the stones, I started to make a cairn every day. I began to live the memories more happily. And it slowly became less painful for me to see those beautiful sunsets that my husband loved without thinking, “I have to show this to David.”
The notion of creating a scent evolved gradually and organically during isolation, she said. âI have been in the beauty business since 1994 and have never created a perfume. “
Each culture has its rituals of remembrance: burning candles, construction of altars, burning of incense and loss of property. The Victorians braided the hair of loved ones into rings and lockets, and Iman’s scent is, in a sense, a gesture of Victorian mourning. The scent weaves memories of the life she and Mr. Bowie shared.
The cardboard is a watercolor she drew of a sunset in the upstate. âThe words inside the bottle are words I wrote about love,â she said.
Love Memoir, which hits the market this week, is shaped like two stacked stones, one in amber glass and the other in hammered gold. The scent it contains is a heady and, it must be said, slightly anachronistic blend of bergamot, rose, and an essence that was Mr. Bowie’s favorite.
âFor 20 years, I only wore Fracas,â Iman said. After Mr Bowie died, she found herself wearing his scent – a dry earthy, slightly woody scent of a common herb native to South Asia known as vetiver.
It is therefore natural that by collaborating with the perfumers of Firmenich on the composition of Love Memoir, vetiver will be one of its most powerfully persistent notes.
âPeople have asked, ‘Do you plan to create another fragrance? “,” Iman said. âI have no idea and no intention. For me, it really came out of left field. It was a way for me to deal with my grief and come to terms with my memories.