You may recognize American model Kendra Spears from her fall 2009 Prada campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, in which she appears with a head of frizzed hair, wearing rich velvet jacquards and avant garde highwater bondage boots. Or from a Teen Vogue spread that same year, in which she was labeled as one of the modeling industry's break out stars.
But now Spears has been cast in a whole new role: she's about to become a Muslim princess. Last week, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of Shi'a Ismaili Muslims, announced the engagement of his eldest son, Prince Rahim Aga Khan (age 42), to the Seattle-raised model (age 24). The marriage will make Spears the princess of a nearly 15-million-person-strong Islamic group.
Since Spears's career broke out in 2009, she's appeared on the covers of lofty titles like French ELLE, Chinese Vogue, and Dazed & Confused. In New York, she is signed to super-cool agency NEXT Models, alongside models like Anja Rubik and talents like Alexa Chung. Until now, the Seattle native's romance with Prince Rahim pretty much flew under the radar: a spokesperson for the Aga Khan was not even thoroughly clued in on the origins of their relationship, when we reached him for comment on Tuesday.
In a statement announcing their engagement (which includes the couple's first official portrait, in which Spears wears a decidedly Kate Middleton-esque dress), the Aga Khan Development Network noted that “the couple will be married in a Muslim ceremony.” The line led some to speculate if Spears might convert to Islam. “That is the assumption,” the Aga Khan’s spokesperson confirmed via phone. “If it is a Muslim marriage, it’s understood that [Spears] would be converting to Islam.” (The spokesperson did not have any insight into the future of Spears’s modeling career.)
The Telegraph reports that Prince Rahim is worth an estimated $800 million. (The family’s spokesperson would not comment on his personal wealth.) The Aga Khan, a British national, is the 49th hereditary Imam of Ismaili Shi'as, and is regarded by his followers as a direct bloodline descendent of the prophet Mohamed, making Prince Rahim a descendent as well.
“If it is a Muslim marriage, it’s understood that [Spears] would be converting to Islam.”
By marrying Prince Rahim, Spears will become an official princess -- but she will not be a royal one. “You could describe them as prince and princesses but they don’t have a kingdom so in that sense they are not royalty,” the spokesperson explained of the family’s social positioning. “[The Aga Khan] is a prince in the sense that he originally comes from a family that was part of the Iranian royal dynasty…he has the title ‘His Highness’ which was awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth in the fifties upon coming to the U.K., so you can describe him as a prince…but he does not use the title ‘His Royal Highness.’”
Shi'a Ismaili is the one of the largest Shi'a groups in the world (with somewhere between 12 and 15 million followers worldwide), and is the only Shi'a group “that has the institution of a living current Imam,” explained the spokesperson. Much like the British monarchy, when the current Aga Khan is ready to abdicate his post, he will personally choose a successor. “It’s usually hereditary, taking one of the male descendents,” the spokesperson explained of the typified Aga Khan procession. He would not shed light on Prince Rahim's favorability for the position.
The couple has not yet set a wedding date. On Friday, Spears tweeted “Thank you for all the kind tweets! We’re very excited! :)” NEXT Models did not return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.