Liya Kebede (born January 3, 1980) is an Ethiopian model who has appeared on the cover of US Vogue twice. According to Forbes, Kebede was eleventh-highest-paid top model in the world
Kebede was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A film director spotted Kebede while she was attending Lycee Guebre Mariam 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 New York City. She has remarked that the modeling industry in Ethiopia is quite different from the catwalks on which she is now ubiquitous. In contrast, in Ethiopia she had to provide her own shoes for each runway show.
Kebede's big break came when Tom Ford asked her for an exclusive contract for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show. Kebede was a finalist in the Miss World supermodel contest and later established a place in fashion's elite by modeling on the New York, Milan, London and Paris runway circuit . Kebede's popularity in the fashion industry sky-rocketed when she appeared on the cover the May 2002 edition of Paris Vogue which dedicated the entire issue to her .
Kebede has been seen on the covers of Italian, Japanese, American, French and Spanish Vogue, V, Flair, i-D and Time's Style & Design. Kebede has been featured in ad campaigns including those for Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent, Victoria's Secret, Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger, Revlon, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada and Louis Vuitton. In 2003, Kebede was named the newest face of Estée Lauder cosmetics, the first Ethiopian to serve as their representative in the company's 57-year history. Her contract was rumoured to be for $3 million dollars .
Kebede is one of a very few African models featured in major fashion photo shoots and runway shows . According to Conor Kennedy, in 2003 a booker at Elite Model Management,
"It's like there's only room for one very successful black model at a time. For the past year it's been Kebede".
In 2005, Kebede was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. She also appeared in a group montage on a rare (as of recent years) group montage of up and coming supermodels.
In summer of 2006 she was also one of the very few non-white models to have been given a cover of American Vogue, the issue highlighted her humanitarian work.
In July 2007, earning at an estimated total of $2.5 million in the past 12 months, Forbes named her eleventh in the list of the World's 15 Top-Earning Supermodels.
Kebede has also had minor roles in two films: The Good Shepherd and Lord of War.
In 2008, Kebede was featured on one of the four covers of Vogue Italia's all Black Issue.
Kebede married Ethiopian hedge fund manager Kassy Kebede in 2000 and they have two children together; son Suhul (b. 2001) and daughter Raee (b. August 2005). As of 2007, the family resides in New York City.
Aside from being a mother of two, a model, an actor, a humanitarian and a goodwill ambassador, Kebede has also designed a children's-wear line that are made from Ethiopia. Kebede says she hopes this will part a sea of change for her home country. "It's wonderful to be able to donate and help people," she says.
"Honestly, I wish I could've lived in their time. They had so much fun." – Liya on the supermodel era, Vogue
"Every day we hear about the dangers of cancer, heart disease and AIDS. But how many of us realize that, in much of the world, the act of giving life to a child is still the biggest killer of women of child-bearing age? That over half a million die every year? Or that 3 million babies are stillborn? Or that another 4 million die during the first days and weeks of life?" – during her acceptance of the 2005 UN Day Award.