Iman Abdulmajid—better known, simply, as the supermodel Iman—just turned 60. And boy, she’s had quite the life. A fixture in the Valentino firmament since she launched her modeling career in the 1970s, Iman was raised far from the fashion klieg lights: A native of Somalia, her family fled to Kenya when she was a teenager, and not long after that, while she was studying at the university of Nairobi, she was discovered by the legendary photographer Peter Beard. He offered to pay her college tuition if she’d let him take her picture. Soon, Iman was on a plane to New York—flying with a forged passport, as she was underage, and couldn’t get permission to travel out of the country from her parents. She figured she’d return home quickly, her parents none the wiser.
Instead, she became an icon. The first model from Africa, she became a muse to major designers, including Mr. Valentino, and an inspiration to women such as Naomi Campbell, who followed in her footsteps. Her swan neck, endless limbs, and most important of all, her regal poise, made Iman the ideal model for haute couture—she could wear anything, virtually, and make it seem fit for a queen. Maison Valentino took advantage of that talent repeatedly, casting Iman in numerous campaigns through the 1980s.
Iman’s relationship with Valentino continued even after she retired from modeling in the early 1990s. Married, by that point, to fellow icon David Bowie, Iman reinvented herself as a business executive—her line of cosmetics made for women of color was a groundbreaking success—as well as a philanthropist. Her do-gooding interests have often coincided with those of Mr. Valentino and Mr. Giammetti: In 2006, for instance, Iman and Mr. Valentino co-hosted a benefit for the charity Keep a Child Alive at the Valentino flagship in New York; in 2013, when Mr. Valentino received the amfAR Award of Inspiration, Iman accepted the Award at the Plaza in New York on his behalf wearing gown of classic Valentino red—and looked as striking as she must have the day that Peter Beard followed her home from class and made the school fees-for-photos deal that opened the door to her destiny. The lesson? Never be afraid to forge a passport. At least not when it counts.