LIFE STORY

Amer­ica's Next Top Model might have ended, but Tyra Banks is only get­ting started – fo­cus­ing on her grow­ing beauty em­pire and her new baby

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - @tyra­banks Words SHANI RHODA

Tyra Banks

’VE AL­WAYS BEEN WHAT PEO­PLE MIGHT CALL AP­PROACH­ABLE. On the street, peo­ple are like, “You’re cool and you weigh 20 pounds more than those other girls in the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­a­logue and that makes me feel good. And you’re funny and crazy…” I want to hear that. That makes me feel good.’ Tyra Banks has never been a con­ven­tional model, mov­ing seam­lessly from the cat­walk and mag­a­zine cov­ers to host­ing and pro­duc­ing a global hit TV show – all while keep­ing her size-6 feet rmly on the ground.

Tyra Lynne Banks was born on 4 De­cem­ber 1973, the se­cond child to com­puter con­sul­tant Don­ald and med­i­cal pho­tog­ra­pher Carolyn Lon­don, who di­vorced when the su­per-to-be was only six years old. She didn’t let the sep­a­ra­tion make her bit­ter, re­call­ing in Su­san Mitchell’s 2008 book To­day’s Su­per­stars En­ter­tain­ment, ‘I stayed with Mommy on the week­days and Daddy on the week­ends. I had two birth­day par­ties, two Christ­mases. Dou­ble the presents, dou­ble the love.’ Her school life, how­ever, was lled with a lit­tle less af­fec­tion. Awk­wardly built with a tall, skinny frame, she was mocked with names like ‘Gi­raffe’ and ‘Light-bulb head’, but her strik­ing olive com­plex­ion and green eyes al­ways re­ceived at­ten­tion.

When Tyra was 15, her mother helped her com­pile a modelling port­fo­lio. Two years later, and af­ter be­ing re­jected by sev­eral modelling agen­cies for be­ing ‘too eth­nic for print’, Tyra was signed to Elite Model Man­age­ment. At rst she was torn be­tween her stud­ies and the agency’s of­fer to send her to Mi­lan, but the Ital­ian run­ways won. Af­ter her first run­way sea­son, she walked an­other 25 shows at the 1991 Paris Fash­ion Week. She has since added Chanel, Saint Lau­rent, Chris­tian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Giorgi Armani, Fendi, Givenchy, Valentino and Michael Kors to her ros­ter of high-fash­ion clients, with her cat­walk charm eas­ily trans­lat­ing to pho­to­genic al­lure.

She was the rst black woman on the cover of GQ (1996) and Sports Il­lus­trated’s Swim­suit Is­sue (1997), and the rst one to ap­pear in the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­a­logue. Tyra’s ap­pear­ances on the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret run­way from 1997 to 2005 cre­ated room for a more volup­tuous body shape. This was a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment for an av­er­age girl from a work­ing-class fam­ily from In­gle­wood, Cal­i­for­nia, and a colos­sal step for the fash­ion and beauty in­dus­try. But she re­mained hum­ble, even with a list of awards un­der her tiara – in­clud­ing be­ing named Sports Il­lus­trated’s ‘Woman of the Year’ in 2000.

Even with her su­per­star sta­tus on the rise, her lin­ger­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties from her school days resur­faced – es­pe­cially in the light of ru­mours that fel­low model Naomi Camp­bell greeted Tyra’s ar­rival on the scene with a cold shoul­der and a ter­ri­to­rial bark. The pair later at­trib­uted the feud to the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of modelling, es­pe­cially for black women.

Tyra shifted her fo­cus from modelling to a to­tal mul­ti­me­dia takeover, ap­pear­ing in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1993, and Coy­ote Ugly and the Lind­say Lo­han Dis­ney fan­tasy Life-Size in 2000 – but it was as pro­ducer and pre­sen­ter of Amer­ica’s Next Top Model that she re­ally came into her own. Since the show’s launch in 2003, Tyra has men­tored hope­ful mod­els, in­struct­ing con­tes­tants to ‘smize’ – that is, ‘smil­ing with your eyes’. She also tack­led is­sues fac­ing women in her talk show The Tyra Banks Show and last year, she cre­ated and hosted FABLife along­side model Chrissy Teigen. She an­nounced her de­par­ture from the show in Novem­ber last year. In an in­dus­try that seems to thrive on the self­pro­mo­tion of aw­less mod­els, Tyra changed the game. Each sea­son of Amer­ica’s Next Top Model in­tro­duced beauty in var­i­ous forms, from Win­nie Har­low, a model with vi­tiligo, to the rst plus-size win­ner, Whit­ney Thomp­son. Tyra an­nounced the end of the show af­ter 22 sea­sons, telling her three mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers ‘I set out to cre­ate a show where per­fect is bor­ing. So I hope you con­tinue to love your freck­les, your big fore­head… The stu about you that makes you, well… you.’

Tyra’s work out­side of the spot­light is just as im­pres­sive – she es­tab­lished the Tyra Banks T one foun­da­tion in 1999, giv­ing work­shops to young girls on top­ics in­clud­ing body im­age and ca­reer mo­ti­va­tion, along with con­stant men­tor­ing.

Now 42, Tyra has al­ways kept her per­sonal life pri­vate, but she’s hinted that she’s ready for moth­er­hood. Speak­ing on FABLife, she said she’s been strug­gling with fer­til­ity is­sues with her anc , 50-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher Erik Asla. In true Tyra style, though, she sur­prised ev­ery­one with an an­nounce­ment on In­sta­gram in Jan­uary about the birth of their baby boy, named York Banks Asla, via sur­ro­gate.

She’s still work­ing on her em­pire, too – Tyra en­rolled for a course at Har­vard Busi­ness School in 2014 to set up her cos­met­ics brand, Tyra Beauty. For Hal­loween last year, she dressed up as su­per­en­trepreneur Richard Branson, hint­ing at what’s on the hori­zon – and with Life-Size 2 com­ing out this year, she’ll be ‘smiz­ing’ her way to the top.

‘I SET OUT TO CRE­ATE A SHOWWHERE PER­FECT IS BOR­ING’

CLOCK­WISE FROM FAR LEFT

Tyra’s ground­break­ing cover for

Sports Il­lus­trated; The fi­nal

sea­son of Amer­ica’s Next

Top Model; with fel­low Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret An­gels Adri­ana Lima, Alessan­dra Am­bro­sio, Gisele Bünd­chen and Heidi Klum in 2004

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