Supermodel Iman opens up about David Bowie, a new perfume and more

You never get into her bedroom. You probably will not get past the front door. For years, people have been trying to deduce exactly how supermodel Iman and her husband David Bowie had kept themselves secret in the Catskill Mountains, the place where the singer’s ashes are said to have been scattered.

They never managed to find out. Even now, few locals in Woodstock know the exact location, even though it is not far from the famous town that the quoted Mr. Bowie mocked on his first visit in 2002 as “too sweet for words.”

But when Mr. Bowie a few years later, while recording an album in a local studio, came across a listing of a property on the hillside with the view slightly changed since James Fenimore Cooper described them, he saw something more in the landscape: an escape route from fame.

“David and I were both very protective of our privacy,” Iman said one afternoon in mid-October. “There were certain things no one else would see,” explained a woman who, like her husband, has spent most of her life under a microscope. “Our house, our bedroom, our daughter has always been off limits.”

When you first do it for one, “can you not say I do not want to do it for another,” she said, referring to publications that have actually spray-painted the interiors of various Bowie homes beyond their pages – but only after the singer-songwriter, a cunning businessman, had put them up for sale and moved out.

We sat at a leather banquet in the Polo Bar. Ralph Lauren’s clubhouse in the city center for the shiny set that was recently freed from lockdown is flourishing again, though it does not yet serve lunch.

Forget it. Da Mr. Lauren learned that Iman would be in Manhattan for a few days to promote his first project since Mr. Bowie’s death – called Love Memoir, it’s Iman’s first perfume and was inspired by their nearly quarter of a century relationship – opened Mr. Lauren not only welcomed the restaurant doors, but dressed her for the occasion in a prairie dress with floral print, chunky silver belt and calfskin Wellington boots.

“When David and I met, we had both had successful careers and previous relationships,” said Iman, 66. Born Iman Abdulmajid, Iman was 45 and had long ago achieved both fame and monoony status when she and Mr. Bowie, 53 at the time, was married. “We knew what we wanted from each other,” Iman said in the honest way that is her signature.

People might imagine many things about Iman projecting on the screen of her beauty a series of fantasies evoked by a person with her natural sophistication, aristocratic attitude and a neck so elegantly weakened that she considered it a superpower to modecasting.

In fact, Iman is funny and disgusting. As her 800,000 Instagram followers know, she advertises with her truth. Her social media posts alternate between glamorous images and typographic renditions of home truths (“We all have chapters that we’d rather keep unpublished”) that, broadcast from her, somehow seem less like fridge magnet bromides.

She swears with resignation and easily falls into conspiratorial laughter with a reporter – that is, until the noise of a bartender throwing dice in an ice bucket threatens to drown out the conversation. The first time it happens, Iman ignores it. Twice and everything around her stops dead.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Iman says, sending a colleague at a nearby table to bring the velvet hammer down.

Above all, what she and Mr. Bowie wished, Iman said, was a refuge from a public that was always greedy for the emotional damage of celebrities. They were also eager to get away from the psychic root in their own mythologies.

Unlike his elaborately constructed and chameleon-like persona, his superstar status, and large public presence, David Bowie was a private introspective, a dedicated self-taught, and, as Iman said, an old-fashioned spouse who was so spoiled by her domestic skills. , evil, evil rotisserie chicken “), which rarely, after they got married, did she get to eat at restaurants.

When the two met, Iman had long ago established a successful cosmetics company, Iman Cosmetics, specializing in skin products for colored people. And she had spent decades turning the supposed glamor from a modeling career into a personal fortune.

“It was never about the fabulousness for me,” Iman said. “I came to this country as a refugee. My parents started out as poor in Somalia, did well for themselves, but then lost everything. So when I came to America, it was a way for me to rebuild. It was a business plan. ”

It is famous that Iman’s career started in the 70’s with a terrific fiction created by the photographer and the incarnated fabulist Peter Beard.

It was Mr. Beard, who introduced Iman to Diana Vreeland on Vogue and claimed that his Somali protégé – a diplomat’s daughter educated at boarding schools in Cairo and at Nairobi University – was the daughter of a goatherd he had encountered in the African bush.

“I was not ‘lost’ to being discovered in a jungle,” Iman said with a mockery. “I’ve never been to a jungle in my life!”

From their first meeting, Iman said, she and Mr. recognized. Bowie something rare and solid in each other. The immediate emotional charge that the musician was talking about when he described the early date was reinforced by a common belief that they had found in each other related spirits, ready to build a partnership far from the celebrity circus.

“I know my identity, and David knew his,” Iman said. “When we met, we agreed to live life with a purpose.”

Each was strong-minded, and both were intensely focused, she said. “Our focus was on each other, what belonged to us and our daughter,” she said, referring to Alexandria Zahra Jones (Jones was Mr. Bowie’s first name), known as Lexi. “We were very protective of each other.”

Surprisingly, the couple managed to achieve a kind of normal life. Much of their time was spent in plain sight in downtown Manhattan.

“We found out that the paparazzi are a little lazy here,” she said, unlike in London, where a short house chase turned them into refugees. “We went 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 live this down here, so let’s go home and let them chase someone else.”

Home, while their daughter was attending the progressive Little Red Schoolhouse (now called LREI) in Greenwich Village, was an apartment near the Puck Building in SoHo that she recently sold. “It was just me in the big place, and it was actually more sad to be there alone with the memories, just to turn around,” she said.

Increasingly over the last decade, and in a large part of Mr. Bowie’s hidden illness, the couple retired to their upstate property. It was there that Iman again found himself in the hole after Mr. Bowie died of liver cancer in 2016. And it was only there in loneliness that she found out she could process her grief.

“I really saw no one,” Iman said, except for her daughter and modeling agent and activist Bethann Hardison, a neighbor and old friend. Iman was cooking. She went for daily walks through the woods on her land with its unspoilt mountain views. And she unexpectedly began to build cairns.

In many cultures throughout history, people have stacked stones to mark paths, to consecrate sacred sites, or as meditative acts. For Iman, fortification became a daily means of doing all these things, while at the same time her memories were sorted out. (Mr. Bowie’s ashes are scattered on their property.)

“For me, the lockdown was good because in Manhattan there was no room to fall apart,” she said. Strangers on the street would stop to condole, but then insist on taking selfies.

“In the woods, I could cry and release the grief,” she said. “As I piled the stones, I began to make a cairn every day. I began to experience the memories more joyfully. And it slowly became less painful for me to see these beautiful sunsets, which my husband loved without thinking, ‘I have to to show this to David. ‘

The notion of creating a perfume developed gradually and organically during isolation, she said. “I’ve been in the beauty business since 1994 and I’ve never made a perfume.”

Every culture has its rituals of remembrance: lit candles, altar building, burning of incense and excretion of possessions. The Victorians braided their girlfriend’s hair into rings and medallions, and Iman’s perfume is in a way a Victorian mourning gesture. The perfume weaves memories from the life she and Mr. Bowie shared.

The cardboard is a watercolor she drew of a sunset in the state. “The words inside the bottle are words I have written about love,” she said.

Love Memoir, which hits the market this week, is shaped like two stacked stones, one amber glass and the other 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.

“For 20 years, I only wore Fracas,” Iman said. After Mr. Bowie’s death, she experienced that she instead carried his scent – a dry, earthy and faintly woody smell of a common grass native to South Asia, known as vetiver.

So it only seemed natural that when working with the perfumers at Firmenich on the composition of Love Memoir, vetiver would be one of its most powerful lingering tones.

“People have already asked, ‘Are you going to create another fragrance?'” Iman said. “I have no idea and no intentions. For me, this really came out of the left field. It was a way for me to process my grief and come to terms with my memories.”

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