The model of perfection

January 11th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

LONDON, England (CNN) — Born in 1978 and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Liya Kebede attended the French Lycée in Addis. It was here that she was talent-spotted by a French film director and began her rise to supermodel status. (more…)

LONDON, England (CNN) — Born in 1978 and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Liya Kebede attended the French Lycée in Addis. It was here that she was talent-spotted by a French film director and began her rise to supermodel status.

On finishing her schooling she moved to France where she joined a Parisian model agency. After three months she moved to Chicago to live with her brothers (she has four in total) and continued her nascent modeling career doing catalog work. It wasn’t until she moved to New York that Liya received her break into big time modeling.

In the fall of 2000, the legendary designer Tom Ford handpicked her to walk the runway in Milan for his fall/winter Gucci collection. Soon she was walking the runways for Donna Karan, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana.

In February 2003, Liya joined Elizabeth Hurley and Carolyn Murphy as the newest face of Estée Lauder. It was a significant moment in the company’s 60-year history, as Liya became the first black woman to front their global advertising campaigns for cosmetics.

Aerin Lauder, Vice President of Global Advertising Estée described Liya as someone who “defined modern beauty” and “has a global appeal, of interest to all ages and cultures”. The $3m contract cemented Liya’s place among fashion’s elite and she has gone on to appear on the covers of American, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese Vogue, as well Numero, V, South African Elle, Harpers and Queen, Essence and Time Style and Design and Bazaar.

Away from the glamour of the catwalk, photo shoots and film sets – she has had minor roles in two Hollywood films – The Good Shepherd and Lord of War – Kebede has found time to concentrate on her other passion — working for charity.

“When I went back to Ethiopia, I wanted to do something. I wanted to give back.” Kebede told CNN. Married to Ethiopian hedge-fund manager, Kassy Kebede and a mother of two children herself — her boy Suhul is six years old and her daughter Raee is approaching her second birthday — Kebede was horrified to learn of the plight of millions of mothers and newborns in the developing world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that on average each day 1600 mothers die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth and nearly 11 million children die each year before they reach their fifth birthday. A staggering four million babies die within the first 28 days of life.

In 2005 Kebede was handed a charitable platform when she was appointed WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Her success in this role led to her being reappointed in March 2007.

Last year, Liya worked on a Global Mother’s Day campaign for WHO called “Make Your Mother’s Day, Every Day”. To mark Mother’s Day in the UK, Kebede met with Women Parliamentarians at the House of Commons in London in March 2007.

In addition to her work with WHO, Kebede has also set up the Liya Kebede Foundation, which raises funds for a range of organizations and services in Ethiopia. The Foundation is currently helping raise money for the Durame Hospital — to buy operating tables, bicycle ambulances and birthing kits; the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital — which helps to repair and restore the lives of women affected by obstetric fistula and for the Health Extension Program (HEP), which aims to provide universal coverage of primary health care.

“The more you do it [charity work], the more you realize how much you have to do it,” Kebede says, “Here we are today. But in a hundred years how do you want the world to be? Everybody should get together to make the world a better place.” Liya Kebede Foundation

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