With a name like hers, it’s only fitting that Chanel Iman is one of the modeling industry’s rising stars. Having won third place in Ford Models’ Supermodel of the Year contest in January 2006 (with a few years of modeling already under her size-23 belt), she made her runway debut in the Fall shows of Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Derek Lam just one month later. Fast-forward to October of that year and she’s walking the Spring Valentino ready-to-wear show in Paris, followed by ad campaigns for Bottega Veneta, Ralph Lauren and the Gap, countless editorials, and even more struts down the runway. Three Vogue covers later (American, Teen and Korean), we caught up with the stunning Iman on the eve of her fourth couture season to discuss swapping her high-school prom for the Met Ball, Chucks for couture, and Kanye concerts for, well, Kanye.
OCEAN DRIVE: You must be getting ready to head to Paris for the couture shows.
CHANEL IMAN: Yes, I leave tomorrow, actually.
But it’s not your first couture season, right?
No, actually, Mr. Valentino put me in his final show—which was during my first couture season in January 2008.
What an amazing experience to have at such a young age.
It brought tears to my eyes. When we all walked out in his signature red dresses for the finale, and he took his last walk down the runway, people were applauding, people were crying—it was a very emotional show. He kind of discovered me in Paris, along with John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier, whom I’m a huge fan of.
Have you picked up any French at all?
Yeah, I’ve been traveling there since I was 14 so I know the basics. I’m still learning, but I know French enough to order a cheeseburger or ask where something is.
Are you close with any of the models whom you work with?
The American girls tend to stick together a bit. I’m really close with Hilary Rhoda and Karlie Kloss. We’re like “the American girls” when we go to Paris and we all hang out and have so much fun.
Do you all hang out backstage together?
Well, usually there’s a lot of waiting time, so we all bring things to keep ourselves occupied. We can be there for two to three hours, sometimes four—it depends on the show. Like at Dior, they go all out, and we may have to be there up to five hours ahead of time. A lot of the models read, or listen to their iPods. I’m always on the cell phone talking to my family back home.
Are you very close with your family?
Yes, very. My mom is like my best friend. She usually comes to the shows with me. She’s the captain of all the model moms. They’re not supposed to watch the shows, but my mom always finds a way.
On a typical day, what would we find you wearing?
In New York I’m definitely a little bit more covered up—usually skinny jeans, a tank top, and if I’m feeling casual then like Chucks, or if I’m not then high heels or boots. I love boots. And I always have to have a leather jacket—and almost all black. Then when I’m in LA, I bust out my colors and I’ll usually wear little dresses and more skimpy stuff.
Are you a big shopper?
No, actually I’m not. I usually just wait until designers give me stuff. It always feels good when you get a treat from the designers for good behavior, you know?
What’s one of your favorite things you’ve been gifted?
Well, I just got this amazing purple Balenciaga bag because I did the looks for them, and worked really hard, so they rewarded me with the bag.
What are some of the other perks of the business?
We meet a lot of people backstage. I met Kanye [West] that way. He’s really into fashion, and at one of the shows Jourdan [Dunn] and I were the only black girls there, so, you know, he had to give a shout-out and we’ve just been friends ever since.
Do you ever get starstruck?
Yes, when I met Beyoncé at my first Met Ball. She and her bodyguard came up to me, and I didn’t know what to say. She’s into fashion, and she knows a little bit about modeling, and she was like, ‘We love you, girl.’ She is just so sweet and humble and amazing.
That must have been an incredible night for you.
Yeah, actually that night would have been my high-school prom, but instead I got to go to the Met Ball, so that was my fashion prom. It was so much fun.
Sure beats balloons and bleachers! Who was your date?
Now that you’ve appeared on the cover of Vogue, and in numerous other editorials, is there a photographer you most enjoy working with?
Yes, I love working with Patrick Demarchelier; he’s been shooting me since I was 15. There’s Peter Lindbergh, and Craig McDean is great—he has such good energy. There are so many people I enjoy working with, and it’s really a privilege for me. I also look forward to working with Tim Walker and Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. I haven’t had the chance to work with them all, but I’m still young. It’ll happen sooner or later.