Her Size 6 Calvin Klein double-breasted pantsuit hangs on her.

"You know what it is," explains Iman, one of the world's most famous models. "I have very small bones so I give the illusion of being skinny. But I'm not," she says, then shrugs with a little giggle. "Nobody will believe it."

The trend toward curviness in models has not reached Iman's body. Thinness is still part of her fortune. Most of it is her Somali goddess face and waves of dark, thick hair.

When she arrived in New York from Kenya a decade ago, she went to a party where Diana Vreeland, former grande dame of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazines, looked at her and proclaimed, "Now that's a neck."

"She said, 'This is Nefertiti reborn,' " Iman recalls. "I didn't know if it was a compliment or what."

It turned out to be a prediction of what the fashion world would make of Iman. Almost upon arrival, she became the archetype of the exotic black model -- the sultry face, the sinewy long stalk of a body. (People routinely think she's about 6 feet 1. She's 5 feet 9.)

Even in an era when The Look is a kind of diluted exoticism, Iman, 31, has remained at the top of her profession, earning about half a million dollars a year, sashaying through the New York designer shows wearing $2,000 Oscar de la Rentas -- "some designers pay me for the day $5,000," she says -- and romping around in $100 dresses in the Garfinckel's catalogue you get in the mail.

And with her modeling career still in high gear, she's retiring -- sort of.

"I'd like to leave when I'm hot," she says. "And I'm hot now. I'm bored, too."

How long has she been bored?

"Since the day I arrived."

That may account for her irreverence, her self-described penchant for stirring things up, her theatricality. A disastrous movie debut in 1980 sent her scurrying for cover from critics -- for about five years. Now she's cut back her modeling to special assignments, has roles in two summer movies and has taken on a fashion business venture.

The time: high noon. The setting: the scarf counter at Garfinckel's downtown. Iman is wrapping herself in something she calls a kikoi, a two-yard-long rectangular cotton swatch that comes in numerous colors and, as Iman is demonstrating, can be worn around the shoulders, around the waist, around the head and so on.

A thicket of onlookers, male and female, teens and adults, black and white, presses for a closer look. Over their noise and their heads, Iman hawks the kikoi, hailing volunteers up to a platform where she nimbly works the fabric over their clothes. Nearby a television screen plays over and over a slickly produced video of Iman and Bill Cosby wearing kikois.

She says the kikoi, based on a traditional African body wrap, was her idea, and she took it to the Echo Design Group, which markets it as "Iman's kikoi" and pays her, she says, 10 percent, to promote it in department stores throughout the country.

"This is exhausting!" she says, leaning back in an elevator after a two-hour appearance. She laughs. She has this wonderful out-of-control voice -- throaty, deep, loud -- and a laugh that more times than not ends in a girlish little shriek of self-amusement.

She whines self-mockingly about her schedule.

"Now I have to get up at 8 and travel. When I was modeling all I had to do was lie in the chair, have them do my makeup, my hair, my manicure, my pedicure."

How much does it cost to hire Iman? If you have to ask, you can't afford her. More to the point, if her agency has to ask who you are, you can't afford her. "If you're a new designer you'll be charged so much you won't be able to think about it," Iman says. "The idea is you can't be associated with someone who's not known and you can't just simply say no. You have to give a reason why not. You want a designer to say, 'Oh, no, I can't afford her.' So you say, 'How about $100,000?' " She giggles.

Despite her status in the fashion world, Iman has never graced the cover of American Vogue, one of the most prestigious assigments.

"The cover has nothing to do with beauty," Iman says. "It's exactly what it is. It sells at that time."

December Vogue issues, says Iman, are for cover girls with "blue eyes . . . Everybody in the business knows that," she says. "January or July or August are the months black girls or dark girls would be on it . . . The first breakthrough I've seen in the 10 years I've been around is Elle having a black girl on their Christmas issue. And the amount of letters they got! They have it written in the editor's notes. White readers said they couldn't identify with that black model. As if we identify when we see a blond! It doesn't make sense but that's the consumer. The editors do not make that choice. It's the consumer who makes that choice."

Still, Iman contends that there are more black women modeling and with more visibility than ever before. "Before Elle there was never a magazine that had four black models at the same time -- on the same page," she says, referring to the magazine's editorial fashion section. "And now even Vogue has in the editorial section, every shooting, a black girl. When I came here, they used to have one black girl at a time. Yes, maybe I had four, five, six, seven pages at one time, or Beverly {Johnson, a successful black model} would have that, but not me and Beverly at the same time."

Iman Abudulmajid was discovered in Kenya at the age of 19 by photographer Peter Beard, who assured her place in modeling lore by saying he had first spotted her herding cattle in the bush. In fact, she was a multilingual college student -- the daughter of a Somali diplomat -- sitting in an office at Kenya's Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife in Nairobi translating brochures into Italian.

After five months of transcontinental coaxing by a modeling agency, she quit school, sneaked out of the country without telling her parents in Tanzania ("they wouldn't have let me go") and came to seek her fortune in New York.

"Come on, if you were 19 years old and you had people banging at your door saying, 'You're going to become a top model and you'll be making this much money,' why not?" Besides, she wasn't all that interested in the political science she was studying in Nairobi. "It's very aggravating, you know?"

Her parents found out about her plans from a news magazine and Iman finally called them, soothing her distraught mother. "Now my mother has been here and seen me and maybe she trusts me more," Iman says, "but when she first read in Newsweek, 'In her first year she could easily make $100,000,' my mother said, 'What are they making you do besides just sitting and smiling?' I said, 'I swear, Mother, I don't do anything else.' "

At first people restrained her exoticism -- slicking and pulling her hair back into puffy ponytails. Garfinckel's, for one, didn't know what to do with her when she first hit the modeling scene 10 years ago. The stylists put her in Shetland sweaters and button-down shirts and had her ride a bike on the towpath. "She was so beautiful," says Gloria Kreisman, vice president for sales, promotion and marketing at Garfinckel's. "The exotic black model had not yet materialized."

Kreisman appears with a handful of Garfinckel's catalogues and opens a vintage 1977 one to pictures of Iman smiling sweetly in jumpers. Iman and the rest of the group shriek with laughter, like former high school friends clucking over their old yearbook pictures.

Iman says that before she began modeling, she'd never seen a fashion magazine, never worn high heels, knew nothing about makeup. "The first time I saw an eyelash curler I thought they were going to do surgery on me," she says.

She says she didn't know she was beautiful.

"Are you kidding? Do I know I'm beautiful now? I don't think I'm beautiful. I think I have a lot of style. And I think I have a lot of sense of humor about myself."

In the conference room, Iman pages distractedly through the fashion catalogues on the table, pointing out models she knows and commenting on her own work.

Garfinckel's uses only New York models like Iman. "The best models go to New York," Kreisman says. "The ones in Washington are good runway models -- not great but good. Adequate."

What makes the best model? "Obviously physical beauty," says Kreisman, "but also attitude -- "

"How I work this dress," adds Iman, pointing to one dress.

The idea, says Iman, is to make it look better than it is. "The worst thing is that when I go to a booking usually they give me the worst outfit. They say, 'Oh! We saved this for you because nobody could make it look better.' " She, herself, buys designer clothes.

She detests the notion that models are simply hangers, attributing much of the way a garment is perceived to the way it is modeled. "The reason why I've been working for 10 years every day is because I can do that for the designer without taking something away from him. My less is a lot."

If anyone tells her how to pose, she balks.

"I tell them, 'You do your job, I'll do mine. Otherwise get yourself somebody else' . . . When people start to say, 'Why don't you put this hand on your waist and put the other one on top of that and put your leg here -- ' wait. Forget it! That is how you want me to do it . . ."

All this has earned her a reputation for being difficult. "I've been called everything from 'diva' to 'queen,' 'princess' to 'a bitch.' " She says she particularly loves the bitchy part. "You know when someone is called all those" -- she pauses and smiles deliciously -- "you know there's something special about them. Otherwise if they don't think anything, you're just another one."

At abrunch earlier that morning at Garfinckel's she charmed store executives and Somali diplomatic wives with stories about modeling and acting.

Having heard that she loved eggs, her hosts served eggs benedict, which Iman never touched. Canadian bacon, it turns out, is not on her diet. "I'm half Moslem," she said at brunch. "I drink but I don't eat pork. What can I say?"

The Somali women at the brunch watched Iman with quiet affection; they know that the looks that are common in their country can be the currency of stardom here. "I think the American attitude toward Somali girls is, 'Oh, you're beautiful. You should model.' I think women should use their intelligence first," says Fatima Jibrell, the wife of the defense attache' at the embassy. "We are proud of {Iman} and happy for her, but we don't want people to have the attitude that Somali girls are only good for modeling."

Iman's professional success spilled over into her social life when she first came to New York. There were dates upon dates with the rich and famous.

"That was the problem, because you didn't meet all the people who were nice and just regular. You either didn't meet them or they thought, 'Oh, no, I couldn't ask her.' So you're stuck with boring . . ." she trails off and sighs, "popular, famous people." She giggles.

That changed for a while. She met former New York Knicks and Washington Bullets basketball star Spencer Haywood and married him in 1978. They had a daughter, Zulekha, now 8, but separated last year. A divorce is pending.

Since last June she's been romantically involved with 26-year-old New York investment banker William Regan. She met him when the two were seated together at a cabaret where a friend of Iman's was singing. "I was in a very bad mood. It was a full moon. It's true! He was very nice, he was very charming, and he tried to cheer me up all night. And we started dating."

The couple share a duplex on New York's Upper West Side and a house in Southampton.

She has no problems dating interracially -- Regan is white -- but mentions that when the couple are out in public, she overhears some envious grumbles from black men. "I think it's highly complimentary when a black guy says, 'Oh, what a waste.' " She laughs delightedly.

In 1983, Iman was riding in a taxi in New York when it was broadsided by another car. The taxi overturned; Iman crawled out and then passed out in the street, finally waking up in the hospital.

"I broke the left side of my face, the eye socket, my forehead. The cheekbone came out of the skin. The right side of my body -- my shoulder was dislocated, my collarbone was broken. I was a mess."

A surgeon reconstructed the left side of her face, working from inside her mouth to repair her cheekbone. She spent a month in the hospital. Two months after the accident, she was modeling.

Upclose, her face looks flawless. Iman, however, knows better. She says she sees a difference in her left eye. Her left cheekbone is flatter than the right one, she says. She prefers to make up her own face, brushing more gently on the injured side. "This side is sometimes numb," she says, patting the left side of her face, "because there's a nerve that's been damaged. I can tell the weather.

"There's nothing different that it taught me to do," she says. "What I learned was not to take anything for granted, including physical beauty . . . It's not something that you work hard for. It's something that's given to you."

What she would most like to pursue now is an acting career. Her 1980 debut in Otto Preminger's spy thriller "The Human Factor" was such a disaster that she backed off from acting altogether. She gradually started working again a few years ago, with a part in a Jermaine Jackson video -- he saw her on a French magazine cover and called her for an audition -- and with a nonspeaking role in "Out of Africa." A role as a pregnant patient on "The Cosby Show" earned her Bill Cosby's encouragement -- he told her to start taking acting classes.

She now has roles in a couple of upcoming films, including "Surrender" with Michael Caine and Sally Field, and she had a part on "Miami Vice" last season.

"I owned a transvestite club. I was a drug dealer -- come on, like everybody else! What else would I play? Is there any other script?"