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Judging the runway

Even in a black car with darkly tinted windows, you can see her sparkling.

Even in a black car with darkly tinted windows, you can see her sparkling.

As her vehicle pulls up, glimmers from her wrist and ears escape the glass barriers, capturing the beating sun outside. But while she may evade such obstructions, Somalian-born supermodel Iman said women of colour aren’t quite as opportunistic.

“I could go (on) ... on the lack of black models,” she said on the Ottawa-based catwalk set of Project Runway Canada’s second season, which she hosts.

Behind her mask of beauty — of her diamond-studded bracelets, earrings, shoes and her vast, glistening eyes — she knows how dark a fashion industry overrun with eastern European models really is. “Of course I am aware! It is unacceptable for people to still be behaving like we were in the 1950s.”

Aside from her 14-year-old cosmetics company designed specifically for women of colour, Iman’s zeal for the issue also lead her to partake in two round-table discussions called Blacks in Fashion in New York. She said the talks, organized by pioneering black model and agent Bethann Hardison, caused Prada to use Jourdan Dunn for their fall 2008 collection, its first black model since Naomi Campbell in fall 1997.

“As a model, I can say whatever I want because I’m a citizen. I don’t work for anybody. That's why I can talk about the lack of black models without anyone retaliating against me,” she said.

But Iman didn’t always have her eye on the runway. Before being discovered by American photographer Peter Beard at just 20 years old, Iman was set on a political career, following in her diplomat father’s footsteps. But she said a diplomat must be wary of what they say because they have to “play ball” within the system.

Iman has her own way of being diplomatic.

“How do I really say it in the right way that I want to say it without offending or insulting people? That’s the way diplomacy comes into it,” she said. “How do I make them see that they are going the wrong way — how arcane they are and how out of touch they are — without saying, ‘You’re stupid! You’re being an ass!’?” she questioned.

That’s why, when asked, Iman had no qualms with allowing her only daughter (once finished school) to enter the industry if she desired. “It gives you a platform where you can actually say something that the newspapers will write about. In that way, I think there is that responsibility you can take advantage of.”

Project Runway
Season two of Project Runway premieres on Global on Jan. 27 at 10 p.m.

 
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