<b>Photography:</b> Kevin Mazur/wireimage
I was in a car coming home from the airport in 2010 when Diane von Furstenberg called me and said, “Darling, the CFDA has nominated you.” I’m like, “For what? I’m not a designer.” She said, “The Fashion Icon Award. It was unanimous.” And I said, “Well, I’m honoured.” Then automatically I was like, “What the hell am I going to wear?”
I knew I wanted something that would transcend time, that nobody could ever put a date on. I didn’t want a colour, so if you look at a black-and-white picture it could have been 1950. It had to be couture and have a presence, but feel timeless and iconic.
Giambattista [Valli] had sent me a couple of dresses for other events, and beautiful as they were, they took up the entire room. I’ve always told him jokingly, “I’m not Sarah Jessica Parker.” I’m much taller than she is, but somehow she pulls off these huge gowns effortlessly. I don’t like big gowns. I have a Somali body; we’re very small-boned, so things can overwhelm me. And I don’t want to wear something that I’m worried about how to walk in all night.
When I was nominated, I contacted Giambattista. He sent some pictures, and I was like, “This is the dress!” When you know, you know. So he sent the dress to me in New York, and I had a lot of fittings; we were still tweaking it at the very last minute. I wanted this dress to be like it was cut for me. You see some celebrities on the red carpet, and the dress is way too long, and you think, “Why didn’t anyone hem it?” It’s one of those things someone in fashion knows. I could walk in this dress; it was easy. I wore it with a classic black satin Manolo Blahnik heel.
I also wanted my hair and makeup to transcend time. That’s why I chose a chic chignon. I didn’t want any lip, just a little bit of a smoky eye. And then the jewellery. We went to Fred Leighton, and they were like, “Oh, with your neck, you should wear a long earring.” And I’m thinking, “No, I shouldn’t. That will destroy this picture.” I ended up wearing simple diamond earrings and some diamond bracelets. I’ve always been anti-trends. I’m not interested in wearing the latest length or the designer who is hot. When I walk into a room, I want people to remember me rather than what I am wearing.
I asked Isabella Rossellini, who is a very close friend—and an icon in my mind—to present the award to me. I then wrote my speech and ran it by my husband [the late David Bowie]. He made sure that I rehearsed. He said, “I don’t want you looking at teleprompters. It’s your speech; you should know it.” I was like, “God, don’t make it so difficult.”
Only a performer like him would know something like this, because when the dress arrived, he told me to try it on with the heels and say my speech. And I forgot half of it. He said, “That’s why dress rehearsal is done. You put on the clothes, you stand there, and you will feel it.” Thank God I had him to walk me through that.
I felt amazing in the dress, and it was a wonderful night. I wasn’t modelling anymore, but I was in a room full of people I knew, both established designers I’d worked with and young, up-and-coming ones I admired. One of them was Alexander Wang, who made a dress for me, a short dress, for a party held in my honour a week later.
You don’t win the Fashion Icon Award; you’re awarded it, so my speech was about being thankful for what got me here, like my long neck, which I inherited from my parents. I also wanted it to be funny and to have a quotable moment. My husband didn’t know how my speech ended; he heard it for the first time when I got up there. I said, “Now I can finally say to my husband, ‘Move over, you’re not the only icon in the house.’ ” He told me that it was the perfect ending, and for me it was the perfect evening being with him and wearing the perfect dress, which I’ve archived.
My husband never kept any of his awards in our apartment—everything was in his office. But now I have two statues at home, my award and a tribute award that the CFDA gave to my husband after he passed away. They sit side by side.
Iman, photographed at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards ceremony in new york, 2010