With the debut of her first film this summer, L.A.’s homegrown supermodel Chanel Iman is just beginning to show her cards.
“I didn’t get in so much trouble, but I got in enough,” confesses Chanel Iman, as she heads for a second helping of fruit and eggs from the breakfast spread on set at a private residence in Pacific Palisades. “A little trouble is good.”
The 5-foot-10-inch stunner, who has made her career walking the runway for the likes of Versace, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent, is reflecting on her formative years in Culver City, contrasting her own experience to Lily, the off-the-rails, ecstasy-taking seductress she plays in her first feature film, Dope. “I love my character because she’s really edgy. She’s wild, young and free-spirited,” says Iman. “It was the perfect part because nobody’s ever seen me messed up. They’ve all seen me nice and dressed up—like a lady.”
Iman took a leap of faith last summer when she signed on for the indie movie written and directed by emerging talent Rick Famuyiwa. The coming-of-age comedy/drama set in Inglewood started a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival (the flick ultimately sold for $7 million to Sony Pictures); it was also the final screening at the Cannes Film Festival and is set for theatrical release June 19. Not bad for a big-screen debut.
“[This role] was just meant to be. The script popped up, and I wasn’t even thinking about doing movies yet,” says the 24-year-old, who only had a week to prepare with a coach before auditioning. “I knew it was something that I wanted to be part of because of the people who were involved,” she adds, referring to Famuyiwa and producer/narrator Forest Whitaker, as well as castmates Zoë Kravitz, Quincy Brown and her now ex-boyfriend, rapper A$AP Rocky, who was chosen for the hip-hop-centric flick after being introduced to Famuyiwa by Iman.
It’s safe to say she’ll have a built-in audience: Iman’s 800,000-plus Instagram fans watch the model’s every turn, monitoring her behind-the-scenes movements on editorial shoots, candid moments with friends Gigi Hadid and Chrissy Teigen and obligatory sun-kissed Coachella poses. Iman courts the voyeurism, using it to her advantage: “It gives models a chance to have a voice and personality—a lot of my coolest jobs come through social media,” she says, explaining how casting directors are known to take a peek at a model’s online platforms to get a sense of who she really is, beyond her portfolio. “Some people just fall in love with you—who you are, not just a pretty face,” she adds.
These days, being in the spotlight is second nature to Iman, who made her official runway debut at age 16. Born in Atlanta to parents of African-American and Korean-American heritage, she was raised in Los Angeles, and signed to Ford Models at age 13. Three years later, in 2007, Vogue tapped her as one of “The World’s Next Top Models.” Since then, she’s appeared in countless editorials around the globe, and advertising campaigns for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Bottega Veneta. In 2010, she earned her Victoria’s Secret Angel wings, and earlier this year graced the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue.
Though her modeling career requires Iman to be based in New York City, she regularly makes trips back home to Los Angeles. And if her family, the beach and favorite haunts like Tito’s Tacos weren’t already reason enough to commute, she’s recently been romantically linked to Lakers player Jordan Clarkson.
Ultimately, she sees herself settling down in her hometown. “I remember when I did my first fashion show for L.A. Fashion Week and everyone was clapping for me,” she says. “Then I flew out for my first show in New York and no one was clapping—I felt like I was doing something wrong,” she reveals with a laugh. “L.A. is good because the people here show a lot of love.”
For now, though, Iman won’t be sitting still anywhere, with summer plans already in motion for vacation in the Caribbean and Italy’s Amalfi Coast, following her recent trip to Cannes for the screening of Dope.
“Acting is just like being a fashion model,” she muses. “If you’re not trying too hard or overthinking it, the pictures come to life.” Spoken like a natural.
By Lesley McKenzie.
Photographed by Gilles Bensimon.
Fashion Editor: Deborah Afshani.