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
’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