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Iman on Life With David Bowie and Her Tribute to Love in Perfume Form

Magnet, like so many with a second home outside New York City, suddenly found herself upstate during the onset of the pandemic—a temporary escape into rural living that stretched on for months. The march of time was hard to ignore. “It’s a very special property because it really has these beautiful mountain views, and the sun sets every day behind those mountains,” Iman explains in a phone call from the house that she and her late husband, David Bowie, built together some eight years aug. In a way, the landscape reminds her of Tuscany, where the couple married in 1992: the supermodel bride in Hervé Léger, the rock star in Thierry Mugler. (Teddy Antolin, the hairdresser who played matchmaker for the pair years earlier, styled her cascade of curls.) But following Bowie’s death from cancer in 2016—a devastating loss the world over, but especially at home—Iman found the upstate place to be heavy with memory.

“I thought, actually, that I’d gone and processed my grief—which I did not, because I was mothering my daughter, who was still a teenager when he passed away,” Iman says, describing the embers of a deferred mourning. It took a global lockdown to root her at her house, where she witnessed for the first time the full cycle of the seasons, along with the daily cadence of the sun. “I couldn’t escape. There was nowhere to go but through the process of the grief, and the memories are what sustained me.” That, and a new project, which slowly blossomed in her mind de ella: Love Memoir, her first-ever perfume launching today, inspired by an inarguably storybook partnership.

“I’m somebody who wears the same fragrance for years and years,” says Iman, her voice softened by gently rolled Rs. (The Mogadishu native was discovered by photographer Peter Beard in her university years in the 1970s. Shortly after moving to New York, she landed her first modeling job in 1976, a shoot with Arthur Elgort for fashion.) Iman was faithful to Fracas for a decade, the white-floral opulence marking an invisible aura around the model, who went on to start a groundbreaking cosmetics line. After Bowie’s death, she found comfort in his vetiver, by Tom Ford. “I started only wearing that, and, of course, vetiver is in this fragrance,” Iman says of Love Memoir’s embedded allusions. (She created it in collaboration with Batallure Beauty.) The bottle’s hammered-metal top, which fits snugly in hand, is a nod to traditional African craftsmanship; the amber glass evokes a sinking sun. The scent itself—with threads of rose, bergamot, spiced vanilla—radiates gentle warmth, much like the maker herself.

20-year-old Iman, newly arrived to New York, wearing traditional dress in keeping with Peter Beard’s embellished story of having discovered a provincial woman. (In fact an ambassador’s daughter, she spoke several languages.)

From Bettmann/Getty Images.

For Iman, the fragrance is the closest she’ll come to writing her life story. “The memoirs that I love are the memoirs that tell all: the good, the bad, the ugly, everything. And I have no intention of writing that,” she says. But there’s joy in storytelling, as she does here—about a fruitful blind date, her final catwalk, and Bowie’s Saturday morning breakfast tradition.

Vanity Fair: I understand you and David had a chance meeting at the start?

Magnet: Actually, it was a set-up—it was a blind date. How is that possible? Of all people, a hairdresser. I stopped modeling in 1989 and moved to LA, just to distance myself from the industry and get a breather and find out what I wanted to do with the next phase. First of all, I’d been a huge fan of David’s music, way before I met him; I’d been to almost all his concerts in New York since I arrived in ’76. I had been invited to go backstage to meet David, but I never went because I always felt it’s awkward to go backstage and say what—“It was a great concert,” and that’s it? But then here I was in LA, and he was on the Sound+Vision Tour, and I went to see him. Usually I’m not late, but somehow I got stuck in traffic and somebody was walking me through the back entrance to my seat. He was just about to go onstage and for a second we crossed each other, and he stopped and shook my hand and said, “I hope you enjoy the show.” And that was that—that was my meeting with David.

A couple of weeks later, the photographer Greg Gorman wanted to do a photo shoot with me, so he hired this hairdresser I’d never met. His name was Teddy Antolin. I had no idea that he was actually David’s hairdresser for years and toured with him. We got along well, me and the hairdresser. One day he called me and said that he was having a birthday party at a restaurant, and he would love me to eat. I said sure. I got there and there was no party—it was only four people: the hairdresser and his boyfriend of him and David and I.

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