The New York Times magazine recently ran a profile of Tyra Banks about which there has been much bitchery online. She’s an easy target: utterly lampoonable yet ruthlessly ambitious. We think the interview is a masterclass in how to build a media brand and in how to maintain control. Particularly fascinating are the insights into how Tyra and her formidable mother London plotted her rise. Any fame wannabes should pay particular attention to the following:
Around this time, in the mid-’90s, Banks started gaining weight. Her agency made a list titled, “Designers who will not book Tyra because of hips and breasts.” They had a meeting with London and told her to put her daughter on a diet. “My mother told me the whole thing as we were walking down the street in Milan,” Banks said. “She said, ‘They say you’re too curvy. Let’s go order pizza.’ We walked into a pizzeria, and we discussed a career change.” Her curves dictated a different sort of modeling. “Tyra was always smart,” Veronica Webb said. “Tyra didn’t like clothes, and why should she? She looked great in a bikini. And in a bra and panties. That’s where the real action is in the fashion business: if you have great cleavage, you can make a fortune. When Tyra started to get really curvy, she signed a contract with Victoria’s Secret. For a black girl, that was incredible.
Genius. Instead of bowing to the dictates of the fashion industry, Tyra and her mother dictated back. Rather than moulding her body to the industry, Tyra diversified. Did the gamble pay off? Tyra used the platform of her Victoria’s Secret contract to create her own celebrity brand. We also suspect she maintains a lucrative relationship with the lingerie company: note how many times she refers to the brand when reminiscing about her modelling days. From her two shows — Top Model and the eponymous chat show, Banks now makes an estimated $18 million a year, and her net worth is around $75 million. Both shows are constructed around her highly ‘Bankable’ (the name of Tyra’s production company) persona. She owns 25 percent of “Top Model” and last fall Bankable Productions signed a deal to develop projects for Warner Brothers television. She wins.