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Iman's success story didn't begin when she was discovered as the fashion industry's next "it" girl in 1975 and the story didn't end when she walked off the runway in 1989.

In fact, Iman says modeling was just "a hiatus."

"Modeling didn't exist where I came from so I never aspired to be a model," explains the Somali-born beauty. "I always intended to approach modeling as a business move, as a stepping stone to something else."

That "something" is more like "somethings." Iman, 46, runs a two-line cosmetics company that bears her name, she is married to rock star David Bowie, whom she calls her soul mate, and she gave birth last year to their daughter, Alexandria-Zahra Jones.

Iman explains the evolution of events in "I Am Iman" (Universe Publishing), which she describes a hybrid of a biography, fashion book, and political and social commentary.

"It's a coffee table book that doesn't just sit on the coffee table."

As expected, there are dozens of pages of photographs, but Iman also has a lot to say. So do the people who know and love her, such as Isabella Rossellini and designer Isaac Mizrahi, who contribute passages.

"I was approached for years to do a conventional autobiography but I wasn't willing to reveal all. I lead a public life but I'm a very private person. ... I also didn't want to do a tell-all flashy book or a beauty book. I wanted to discuss the serious side of the fashion industry and its effect on identities, race and feminism."

Bowie writes a touching introduction. "It's a tearjerker," Iman says, "and it surprised me because I'm used to my husband's hip, edgy, dazzling writing. When I read this I cried. It's very romantic."

(Iman -- who, believe it or not, calls herself camera-shy -- also says her favorite photos are those taken by Bowie. "My husband takes the best pictures of me because he captures the real me.")

Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid became a one-name sensation after photographer Peter Beard took some pictures of her while she was studying political science at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He took the photos to the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York and Iman soon found herself landing at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

Her arrival was a media event thanks to an article in a New York tabloid that portrayed her as a tribal woman from the African jungle that Beard had stumbled upon.

That wasn't even close to the truth considering Iman, the daughter of a diplomat, attended boarding schools and spoke five languages.

She immediately set the record straight once in the United States but she was aware of the whole "My Fair Lady" story -- and chose not to stop it. "A lot of people have the notion that Peter (Beard) independently victimized me but that's not true. I was an accomplice."

She knew there would be a lot more interest in her -- and her burgeoning career -- with that story circulating than without it.

Dispelling another rumor, Iman says: "Models aren't dumb. They're young." They often are plucked from school, lead a sheltered life and are left with very little real-world experience when their typically short-lived career is over, she explains.

However, Iman says her education and worldly background left her prepared for the next phase of life. Walking away from her career at its height was a very conscious and difficult decision.

"In a business that's about newness, 15 years later, I knew how new could I be? I wanted people to remember me fondly."

She hasn't lost her taste for industry and the search for the next big thing, though.

"I'm always watching for a zeitgeist. I look at census information ... so getting into a cosmetics company using a sociological approach seemed natural. ... I also know that pop culture influences fashion and beauty more than the other way around."

The mid-1990s launch of Iman Cosmetics, which targets women of color, was both a business move and political statement. In 2000, she developed a complementary line called I-Iman Makeup.

"I-Iman is for everybody. You can be anybody. ... It allowed me to play with makeup again. And everybody can play this game."

Her celebrity has figured somewhat into the success of her company, Iman says, but the products are good enough that they would eventually have caught on.

Iman is not just a figurehead. She is in firm control of her New York City office -- except for the occasional afternoon when she sneaks away to be with her baby or go to a matinee show at a movie theater.

"I can do that because I'm the boss," she says with a laugh.

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