You’re never getting into her bedroom. You probably won’t get past the front door. For years, people have tried to deduce where exactly the supermodel Iman and her husband David Bowie had secreted themselves in the Catskill Mountains, the place where the singer’s ashes are said to be scattered.
They never found out. Even now, few Woodstock locals know the precise location, though it is not far from the storied town that the citified Mr. Bowie derided on his first visit in 2002 as “too cute for words.”
But he found a listing for a mountainside home with views that were unchanged from James Fenimore Cooper’s descriptions a few years later while recording an album at a local music studio. He saw something more in the landscape: an escape route to fame.
“David and I were both very protective of our privacy,” Iman said one afternoon in mid-October. “There were certain things nobody else was going to see,” explained a woman who, like her husband, has spent the better part of her life under a microscope. “Our house, our bedroom, our daughter have always been off limits.”
Once you do it for one, “you can’t say I’m not going to do it for another” she said, referring to publications that have, in fact, splashed the interiors of various Bowie residences across their pages — though only after the singer-songwriter, a canny businessman, had put them up for sale and decamped.
The Polo Bar had a leather banquette for us to sit on. Recently liberated from lockdown, Ralph Lauren’s midtown clubhouse for the shiny set is once more booming, though not yet serving lunch.
That’s irrelevant. Learning that Iman would be in Manhattan for a few days to promote her first project since Mr. Bowie’s death — called Love Memoir, it is Iman’s first perfume and was inspired by their nearly quarter-century relationship — Mr. Lauren not only threw open the restaurant’s doors in welcome but dressed her for the occasion in a stock-tied floral print prairie dress, chunky silver belt and calfskin Wellington boots.
“When David and I met, we had both had successful careers and previous relationships,” Iman, 66, said. Born Iman Abdulmajid at 45, Iman had already achieved fame and mononym status long before she married Mr. Bowie, now 53. “We knew what we wanted from each other,” Iman said in the frank way that is her signature.
People can imagine many things of Iman. They project onto the screen a multitude of fantasies about her beauty, which is a result of her natural refinement, aristocratic bearing, as well as a neck so elegantly shaped that she considered it a superpower when casting fashion casting calls.
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Iman is hilarious and funny in reality. She is a billboard for her truth, as her 800,000 Instagram followers will know. Her social media posts alternate between glamour shots and typographical renderings of home truths (“We all have chapters that we would rather keep unpublished”) that, issuing from her, somehow seem less like refrigerator magnet bromides.
She swears with abandon and falls easily into conspiratorial laughter with a reporter — that is until the din of a bartender dumping cubes in an ice bin threatens to drown out conversation. Iman ignores it the first time it happens. Twice, everything around her stops working.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Iman says, dispatching an associate at a nearby table to bring the velvet hammer down.
Above all, what she and Mr. Bowie wanted, Iman said, was a refuge from a public always greedy for celebrities’ emotional detritus. They wanted to escape from the psychic clutter in their own mythologies.
In contrast to his elaborately constructed and chameleon-like persona, his superstar status and supersize public presence, David Bowie in private was introspective, a dedicated autodidact and, as Iman said, an old-fashioned hubby so spoiled by her domestic skills (“I make a mean, mean, mean rotisserie chicken”) that seldom after they married did she get to eat in restaurants.
Iman Cosmetics, which specializes in skin products suitable for people of color, was established long before the couple met. She had spent decades turning the glamour of modeling into a personal wealth.
“It was never for me about the fabulousness,” Iman said. “I came to this country as a refugee. My parents were born in Somalia to poor parents. They made it through life but lost everything. It was a way for me rebuild my life after I arrived in America. It was a business plan.”
Famously, Iman’s career got its start in the ’70s with a risible fiction ginned up by the photographer and inveterate fabulist Peter Beard.
It was Mr. Beard who introduced Iman to Diana Vreeland at Vogue, claiming 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 stumbled across in the African bush.
“I was not ‘lost’ to be discovered in a jungle,” Iman said with a hoot of derision. “I’ve never been in a jungle in my life!”
Iman stated that from their first meeting, she and Mr. Bowie had recognized something special and solid in each other. When talking about that first date, Iman said that the immediate emotional charge was enhanced by a shared conviction that they were both kindred spirits and ready to create a partnership far beyond the celebrity circus.
“I know my identity, and David knew his,” Iman said. “When we met, we agreed on a living life with a purpose.”
She said that both were strong-minded and intensely focused. “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 given name), known as Lexi. “We were very protective of each other.”
Surprisingly, the couple managed to live a normal life. Their time was spent hiding in plain sight in Manhattan.
“We found that the paparazzi are a little bit lazy here,” she said, unlike in London where a brief house hunting foray turned them into fugitives. “We went for one week and were followed every second from the airport until we got back on the plane. We thought we are never going to live this down, so let’s go home and let them chase someone else.”
While their daughter was in Little Red Schoolhouse (now LREI) in Greenwich Village, their home was an apartment close to the Puck Building, which she sold recently. “It was just me in that big place, and it was actually sadder to be alone there with the memories, just flip-flopping around,” she said.
Increasingly over the last decade, and for much of Mr. Bowie’s well-concealed illness, the couple retreated to their upstate property. Iman found herself back there in 2016 when Mr. Bowie died from liver cancer. It was only in solitude that she was able to process her grief.
“I really didn’t see anyone,” Iman said, with the exception of her daughter and the modeling agent and activist Bethann Hardison, a neighbor and old friend. Iman cooked. She enjoyed daily walks in the woods of her land with its beautiful mountain views. Unexpectedly, she began to build cairns.
People have used stones to mark routes, consecrate sacred sites, or to meditate in many cultures throughout history. Cairn-building was a way for Iman to organize her memories and do all these things every day. (Mr. Bowie’s ashes are scattered on their property.)
“For me, lockdown was good because, in Manhattan, there was no room to fall apart,” she said. Strangers would stop by to offer condolences, but then insist on taking selfies.
“In the woods I could cry and release the grief,” she said. “Stacking the stones, I began to do one cairn every day. I began to feel more joyous about the memories. And it slowly became less painful for me to see these beautiful sunsets my husband loved without thinking, ‘I have to show this to David.’”
She explained that the idea of creating perfumes evolved organically over time and in isolation. “I’ve been in the beauty business since 1994, and I never created a perfume.”
Every culture has its rituals: lighting candles, altar building and incense burning, as well as the shedding possessions. Victorians braided their loved ones’ hair into rings and lockets, and Iman’s perfume is, in a sense, a Victorian mourning gesture. The perfume weaves memories of the life she shared with Mr. Bowie.
She created the carton from watercolors of a sunset in upstate New York. “The words inside the bottle are words I’ve been writing about love,” she said.
Love Memoir, which is on the market this week, looks like two stacked stones: one made of amber glass, and the other from hammered golden. The fragrance it contains is a heady and, it should be said, faintly anachronistic blend of bergamot, rose and an essence that was Mr. Bowie’s favorite.
“For 20 years I only wore Fracas,” Iman said. Following Mr. Bowie’s death, she found herself instead wearing his scent — a dry earthy, and faintly woody smell of a common grass native to South Asia known as vetiver.
It was only natural that vetiver would be one the most powerfully lingering notes when working with the Firmenich perfumers on the composition of Love Memoir.
“People have already asked, ‘Do you intend to create another fragrance?’” Iman said. “I have no idea and no intentions. This really happened by chance for me. It was a way for me to process my grief and come to terms with my memories.”
Source: NY Times