Supermodel Iman Talks New Documentary, Tokenism, and First ‘Vogue’ Shoot with Gayle King

Supermodel Iman Talks New Documentary, Tokenism, and First ‘Vogue’ Shoot with Gayle King

Iman, the first Black supermodel to represent a global cosmetics brand, is now the executive producer of a new six-part documentary called Supreme Models: The Story of Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion.

The Somalian multi-hyphenate recently sat down with Gayle King on CBS Mornings to discuss the YouTube original and its relevance to the journey of Black models in the fashion industry.

When directors first approached Iman with the idea, she questioned how different it would be from any other documentary. “They said ‘there’s never been a documentary about Black models or Black beauty for the matter,’ so I definitely came on board so that we can tell our own stories,” she told King.

King acknowledged the earlier days when the availability of cosmetics for Black skin was scarce.

“It felt like something was amiss,” Iman recalled about that time. “Something was wrong.”

She recounted her first American Vogue photoshoot when a makeup artist asked if she had brought her own foundation. She had never worn makeup prior to migrating to the United States, but she quickly realized that products for white models were easier to get.

Noting that “image is her currency” in fashion, it is no surprise why Iman founded her own beauty line aimed at women of color. Since then, she has brought her own foundation on every assignment. It was a way, she said, for her to have control over her images.

Looking back, there was typically one spot available for a Black model, which further amplified the pre-existing Eurocentric standards of beauty.

“They were creating tokenism,” Iman said. “They created this idea that you have to dethrone the other Black model, so you can have some space.”

In 1988, Iman, Bethann Hardison, and Naomi Campbell formed the Black Girls Coalition, a support group for models of color, to break down the barrier that was tokenism.

“I was majoring in political science [at the time], so I come from that mentality: that as as group, as a tribe, we’re more powerful than singularly,” she said. “So I teamed up with Beverly Johnson and we became best friends, and so we took, we got rid of that tokenism immediately.”

The docuseries premieres September 26 on YouTube. Check out the trailer.