Interview: Chanel Iman for Evening Standard magazine


American model Chanel Iman (IMG) was photographed by David Roemer for Evening Standard magazine, the Deluxe supplement, November 2012 issue. 

Diamonds, lingerie and a touch of fox are all a girl needs on a chilly autumn afternoon.


A week after Superstorm Sandy ravaged downtown New York, rendering Greenwich Village a hipster quagmire, Manhattan’s other ‘super’ Chanel Iman is still holed up in the apartment she shares with her best friend, fellow model Heidy De La Rosa. Normally she’s the one doing the storming, at fashion hotspots La Esquina, Nobu and Miss Lily’s. ‘We lit candles and just camped out in our apartment, and prayed that we were going to be OK,’ Chanel says. ‘We couldn’t go outside for two days, and we’ve had no electricity or water for almost a week now, but it just makes me appreciate what we do have.’

It’s a fighting spirit Chanel developed while campaigning to secure Obama’s second term in office. ‘I have a friend who works in the White House for Michelle, and the First Lady asked her if I would be interested in spreading the word to younger people, encouraging them to vote,’ she explains. ‘And, of course, who wouldn’t be into something like that?’ The day after we meet is the 21-year-old model’s first time voting in a presidential election, and she admits she is nervous about the result. Her perfect cheekbones, long legs and fondness for designer leathers must certainly have lent a hefty dose of glamour to the campaign as she toured cities in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina for the Democrats. ‘I wanted to be able to tell my kids that I was actually out there, campaigning for our first black president.’

She also donated generously to the cause, buying a $40,000 seat at the Obama fundraising dinner held by Sarah Jessica Parker at her Manhattan home this summer. ‘I got to meet the President and the First Lady,’ Chanel announces proudly, whipping out her iPhone to show me a snap of herself, sandwiched between a black-tied Barack and Michelle. ‘I was just so excited to have this picture, so I could show my mum.’

Obama’s thoughts on the photo op have not been published, but he can only have been delighted to be sitting next to the graceful Californian, who has walked the catwalk for everyone from Dolce & Gabbana and Balenciaga to Versace and Marc Jacobs, graced glossy magazine covers around the globe, and is also a Victoria’s Secret Angel, one of the select band of faces — and bodies — of the lingerie label. ‘I always wanted to be an Angel,’ she admits in her soft, girlish voice. She was just 18 when she selected to join the likes of Miranda Kerr, Karlie Kloss, Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum.

‘I was very shy at first. I was so in awe of these girls,’ Chanel confesses. She was, perhaps, an unusual appointment for the rather mainstream American brand; her long, lean body does not have the voluptuous va-va-voom of other Angels such as Doutzen Kroes or Erin Heatherton. In fact, while other models famously undertake brutal starvation regimes in the run-up to the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, last year Chanel did the opposite, attempting to pile on the pounds. ‘I have been naturally very skinny all my life, and I wanted to be super-curvy and sexy for the show,’ she says. ‘Everyone has their insecurities, and that was mine. But now that I’m getting older, I’m gaining weight naturally. Even in just a year, my body has changed. I feel more like a woman, more like a grown-up.’

Chanel Iman Robinson’s three parts African American and one part Korean parentage has produced a mesmerisingly beautiful face, simultaneously classy and cute. She grew up in a tight-knit, middle-class family in Los Angeles, the youngest, by some stretch, of four: her older sister is 37, her brothers 36 and 27. Her father is a basketball coach, while her mother China worked as a designer for Levi’s, and yes, she did name her younger daughter after Coco Chanel. Iman, however, is not in homage to the 1980s supermodel. ‘My cousin is called Iman and he’s a boy,’ she giggles. ‘But my mum liked the name so much, she gave it to me as my middle name anyway.’

Her aunt was the one who encouraged her to model, taking her niece to castings until she signed with Ford Models aged just 12, moved to New York at 15 and landed her first Vogue cover at 16. Impressive, no doubt, but was it ever overwhelming? Chanel mulls it over for a moment. ‘Actually, I do think that I was a bit too young, I definitely feel like I missed out on my high school years. When I started out, I was very bad at speaking, and at connecting with people. Turning 21 [which she celebrated with a huge party in Jamaica for her family and friends]has been a really big chapter in my life; I have really matured. I’m much more independent. I have learned how to stand up for myself.’

The supermodel is currently single. ‘That is hard sometimes, and I get very lonely. I get asked out, but it is difficult to date a guy because my schedule is so busy. But it’s all about me right now, I just want to focus on my work.’ She pauses and flashes me a toothy grin. ‘Of course, if it was someone really great, if we had a real connection, then I might make an exception.’


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Images: bellazon


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