the edge of 17: iman pérez

Iman Pérez is a true renaissance woman –  model, actress, activist. And she’s still only 17.

At the age of 12 Iman Pérez started her career by starring in her mother's (the actress Karine Silla Perez) directorial debut, Un Baiser Papillon – she soon signed with a model agency and became a much sought after model. The daughter of Vincent Perez and niece of Luc Besson, the teenager is not only pursuing a career as a model but also a career in the French team in the European horse-riding championships, with an eye to take part in the 2020 Olympics.

Who do you look up to in the modelling world?

I would like to do what Jourdan Dunn’s done: succeed as a black model and overcome prejudices and taboos. The industry perfectly reflects the reality of life, I think – black women have to do much more than white women in order to succeed. They have to fight for consideration. There’s still a lot to do, even in 2017, for black models to get the role they deserve in the industry. That’s what I want to fight for. Tyra Bank’s path strongly inspires me. She was a model but also a businesswoman. Her convictions made her climb the ladder, which inspires me a lot.

You are also a professional horse rider. What do you feel when you ride?

I have been practicing since the age of 5, it’s something I’ve always felt passionate about. When I was 7, I started competing in showjumping. Right now, I’m working with Jean-Maurice Bonneau, former coach of the French national team. He spotted my friend and I  and is training us for the European championships.

I’m addicted to adrenaline, to speed, to the unpredictable. Horse riding is a language involving the body, using movements and requiring confidence. You can’t control a horse with words, you can only control him with your energy and power. What I really love with horse riding is the possibility to let yourself go and forget everything. When you’re on a horse, you only think about seizing the moment, everything can suddenly happen.

So you have to use your instincts?

I think that it’s a question of confidence – about your own personal strength and the one of the animal you’re riding. There is always an unpredictable aspect: even after years of experience, you never know what can happen in the horse’s brain so it’s hard to apprehend anything. The important thing – and I think it is valid for a lot of things in life – is to feel connected, to communicate. Instinct definitely plays an important role.

Is it possible for you to allow yourself to be led by your senses?

Yes, sometimes. When I ride I swing into a different universe, in the countryside, in the Yvelines (near Paris). I’ve gone there every weekend since I was a little girl – the smell of the stable, the hay, and the straw calms me down systematically. I have always been obsessed by smells: I have been collecting them since I was a kid. I probably have about thirty bottles of perfume at home! I spray it on everything, it’s a proper ritual – my bed, my hair, my drawers, everything. I need fragrances to wrap myself in  –  I could not live without roses perfume around.

You are often travelling and changing atmospheres but you seem to be well-grounded. What is your favourite place on earth?

I’ve really fallen in love with Paris. I have some favourite places, where I spend most of my time without getting bored. Le Café de L’Homme, which is owned by Coco Coupérie-Eiffel, the sister of my coach and French show jumping champion –  is my sanctuary. On the terrace you have a wonderful view on Paris rooftops. Otherwise I am always at Carrette where I have all my meetings and appointments. This city inspires me. I can walk for hours, looking at the details of every buildings and their architecture. I don’t think I will ever be able to leave Paris.

You’re only 17 but you’ve already been shot by some great photographers. Do you always feel comfortable in front of the camera?

Yes, my mum is a model and my father is an actor – I grew up with lenses and cameras around me. Peter Lindbergh boosted my career as a model and helped me believe in myself. I had the opportunity to work with him and he made me feel safe very quickly, he explained to me that despite of my young age I could totally fit to the industry. When this kind of compliment comes from one of the greatest photographers in the world, it takes on its full meaning.

Your family is in the film industry – what is your favourite movie and why?

Breakfast At Tiffany’s, without a doubt! Audrey Hepburn represents what I admire the most in women: strength and grace. Everything she did, played, sang, wore, I know everything. I’ve read every single book about her and saw all the documentaries that were made about her life.

You told me that you hate school. Have you ever been a hothead?

I am very independent and I am somehow hyperactive! It was very hard for me to stay in the classroom, in a confined space with teachers giving lessons. When I was a child, I was really into sport. I did dance, swimming and gymnastics. And even after that, I still had a lot of energy! School was like jail for me. I always knew it was not made for me. But I still want to pass the baccalaureate, with correspondence courses.

Do you feel more comfortable with adults?

I have always been more comfortable and spontaneous with adults. In fact, when I think about it, I don’t have many friends of my age. They are all between 20 and 30 years old. I have my group of friend from horse riding: Marie, my teammate, is one of my best friends. And that’s a beautiful friendship because there is a difference of ten years between us! Horse riding is a passion that you share with other people. It gathers different personalities and mixes generations. It creates very intense friendships and encounters.

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