Liya Kebede
Liya Kebede 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra).jpg
Kebede in 2009
Born (1978-03-01) 1 March 1978 (age 45)
Years active2000–present
Kassy Kebede
(m. 2000; div. 2015)
Modeling information
Height1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)
Hair colorBrown
Eye colorBrown
  • DNA Model Management (New York)
  • IMG Models (London, Sydney, Los Angeles)
  • VIVA Model Management (Paris, Barcelona)
  • d'management group (Milan)
  • Iconic Management (Hamburg) [1]

Liya Kebede (Amharic: ሊያ ከበደ; born 1 March 1978)[2] is an Ethiopian-born model, maternal health advocate, clothing designer, and actress. She has appeared on the cover of Vogue three times.

Kebede has served as the WHO's Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health since 2005.[3]

Early life and education

Kebede was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[4] She is ethnic Amhara.[5] She is the only daughter in the family, having four brothers. A film director spotted her while she was attending Lycée Guebre-Mariam, the school in which she learned fluent French, and introduced her to a French modeling agent. After completing her studies, she moved to France to pursue work through a Parisian agency. Kebede later relocated to the US, initially to Chicago then New York City.[6]

Modeling career

Kebede at a Carolina Herrera fashion show (2008)
Kebede at a Carolina Herrera fashion show (2008)

Kebede's big break came when Tom Ford asked her for an exclusive contract for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show.[4] Then in May 2002 she was on the cover of Paris Vogue, which dedicated the entire issue to her.[7]

Kebede has been seen on the covers of Italian, Japanese, American, French and Spanish Vogue, V, i-D and Time's Style & Design. She has been featured in ad campaigns including those for Shiatzy Chen, Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent,[8] Victoria's Secret, Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger,[8] Revlon,[8] Dolce & Gabbana, Escada and Louis Vuitton.

In 2003, Kebede was named the newest face of Estée Lauder cosmetics, the only Ethiopian to serve as their representative in the company's 57-year history.[9] Her contract was rumoured to be worth $3 million.[9] At this time in Kebede's career, she was ranked #1 on[10]

In July 2007, with Kebede earning $2.5 million over the previous 12 months, Forbes named her eleventh in the list of the World's 15 Top-Earning Supermodels.[11] The following year, casting agent James Scully likened her to "an exotic Grace Kelly".[12]

In 2009, Kebede starred in the film-adaption of the bestselling autobiography Desert Flower by former supermodel Waris Dirie. The film recounts Dirie's childhood in Somalia, her rise to stardom and subsequent awareness campaign against female circumcision. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received a standing ovation.[13] Kebede has also had minor roles in The Good Shepherd (2006) and Lord of War (2005).[14] She featured as a 'Face of the Moment' in May 2009's US Vogue. [15]

In 2011, Kebede was among the models featured in Lacoste's "new look" campaign in January, with ads shot by Mert and Marcus, showing models wearing white Lacoste polo shirts worn over black eveningwear.[16]

Kebede starred with Jake Gyllenhaal in a Calvin Klein ad.[17]

Kebede is currently on the list of "New Supers" by[18]


Kebede at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Kebede at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.

Kebede launched Lemlem, a clothing line, in 2007. Lemlem, which means "to bloom" in Amharic, features hand-spun, woven and embroidered women and children's clothing. Kebede founded the line to help preserve the art of traditional weaving in Ethiopia, and to offer work opportunities to local artisans. The line is sold in 150 retailers.[19]


In 2005, Kebede was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.[3][20] She then founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world. The organization funds advocacy and awareness-raising projects as well as providing direct support for low-cost technologies, community-based education, and training and medical programs.[21] In one health center that the foundation works with, hospital deliveries rose by over 50% in 12 months.[22]

Kebede has traveled to Ethiopia to support maternal health projects on multiple occasions. In 2009, she worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Living Proof Project.[23] Kebede served as a High-Level adviser for the Center for Global Development's 2009 report "Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health".[24]

Kebede writes for The Huffington Post about maternal and child health,[25] and has been featured in Vogue and on The Daily Beast.[26] She is also part of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, an organization of African leaders led by former President of Botswana Festus Mogae.[27]


In 2013, Kebede was named one of Glamour's Women of the Year for her philanthropic work through her Liya Kebede Foundation.[22]

Personal life

In 2000, Kebede married Ethiopian hedge fund manager Kassy Kebede.[4] They have two children together: son Suhul (September 2000) and daughter Raee (August 2005).[28] As of 2007, the family resided in New York City.


Year Title Role
2005 Lord of War Faith
2006 The Good Shepherd Miriam
2009 Desert Flower Waris Dirie
2011 Black Gold Aicha
2012 Sur la Piste du Marsupilami Reine Paya
2012 Capital Nassim
2013 The Best Offer Sarah
2013 Innocence Moira Neal
2014 Samba Magali dite Gracieuse
2018 Nicky Larson et le Parfum de Cupidon Dominique, professor's daughter


  1. ^ "Liya Kebede - Model".
  2. ^ "Liya Kebede". Business of Fashion. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b [1] Archived December 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c Wiltz, Teresa. "The Swan." Essence magazine (September 2004).
  5. ^ "Liya Kebede: Model, Mother, Actress, Designer, Activist". 30 April 2019.
  6. ^ "The model of perfection". CNN. June 11, 2007.
  7. ^ "Liya Kebede - Fashion Model". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  8. ^ a b c Sterling, Wayne. "Model Citizen." Savoy Magazine, page 31.
  9. ^ a b Naughton, Julie. "Estee Lauder's New Ethnic Mix." Women's Wear Daily (March 14, 2003).
  10. ^ "'s 50 Top Models - 5-1". Archived from the original on February 15, 2004.
  11. ^ Kiri Blakeley (16 July 2007). "The World's Top-Earning Models". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 15, 2007. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  12. ^ Herbst, Kendall (9 May 2008). "Casting Agent James Scully's All-Time Favorite Models". New York. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  13. ^ Oakes, Keily (Sep 4, 2009). "Escaping the Somailian Desert". BBC News.
  14. ^ Liya Kebede at IMDb
  15. ^ "Vogue May 2009: More models". GoFugYourself. 27 April 2020.
  16. ^ "Memo Pad: Lacoste's New Look... Hail, Mario Testino..." WWD. 28 December 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Here's How Jake Gyllenhaal Ended Up Reciting Poetry to a Child". The Cut. October 20, 2017. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  18. ^ "New Supers". Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  19. ^ Cavanaugh, Alice (December 6, 2019). "The unstoppable Liya Kebede and her ethical brand Lemlem". Financial Times.
  20. ^ Holgate, Mark. "Role Model". US Vogue (May 2005).
  21. ^ "The Liya Kebede Foundation". Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  22. ^ a b Clinton, Chelsea (30 October 2013). "Models and Philanthropists Liya Kebede and Christy Turlington Burns Are Glamour Women of the Year for 2013". Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  23. ^ "Living Proof - ONE". ONE. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  24. ^ "Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health". Center For Global Development. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  25. ^ "Liya Kebede: Let's Make Mother's Day a Global Reality". Huffington Post. 7 June 2009. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  26. ^ "Liya Kebede". The Daily Beast. 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  27. ^ "..:: Champions for an HIV Free Generation ::." Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  28. ^ Burke, Meredith Melling. "Cause for Celebration" US Vogue (December 2006).