Tyra Banks Talks About the Business of Modeling

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Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks is beautiful and an incredibly successful business woman. She’s an international fashion icon who runs a multi-million dollar empire, which includes being the creator, executive producer, and host of the America’s Next Top Model series.

We caught up with Tyra at the CBS/CW all-star party during the Television Critics summer press tour. Of course I had to ask her about attending John Burroughs Middle School, but she was there to talk about the launch of America’s Next Top Model: College Edition, which premiered last Friday on the CW network.

The young women who participate in the modeling reality-competition series are lucky to have Tyra as their mentor. And she told me the best advice she has for them is “reminding them that it’s a business. It’s called the modeling business, not modeling fun-time, not modeling party-world. And it should be treated like a business full time. Be respectful. Be to work on time. Get an agent. It’s a business.”

Modeling today, she pointed out, “is not about being pretty. It’s about being educated.” And that’s why Tyra is so excited about the “College Edition” of Top Model. “We travel the world. We put scholarship money into the girls’ bank accounts. These are all college girls, and this will benefit them.”

A hands-on producer, Tyra said she looks at the show from a serious marketing perspective. “I have a strong work ethic. I hire the directors, balance the budgets, choose the locations. All the photo shoot ideas come from me and my team. Even the music cues are approved by me. And sometimes I spend ten hours a day in the editing room.”

Tyra recalled having that same strong work ethic when she talked about her early days in modeling. “I was just a teenager when I entered the fashion world. I’m lucky I had my mother, Carolyn, to guide me. She was my closest confidante and strongest influence. She ran my business empire until she retired last year. Also in my early years, Oprah helped me. She was always there for me.”

Tyra learned the modeling business early on, hitting the runways at age 17. She almost instantly became a top model, a favorite of many designers including Versace and Chanel.

“It wasn’t the wild, glamorous life most people would imagine,” she explained. “I struggled in Paris because I didn’t know the language, and I wasn’t a party girl. I went to the movies a lot alone. I simply concentrated on the work, doing six shows a day, letting the fashion world consume me.”

Despite the temptations all around her, she credits her mother for “keeping me out of trouble. She guided me. She was my business manager, and my mom.”

Coincidentally, her career started one day before she was to start college, when an agency signed her, and sent her off to Paris for modeling assignments. Her college plans were put on hold, but recently she “went back to school” and took courses at Harvard University.

Tyra was the first African-American woman to grace the covers of GQ and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, and is still very much in demand. She has done some film and TV roles, as well as music videos, recording, and she’s an author. Producing and hosting The Tyra Banks Show, a day time talk show that ran for five seasons, is also among her accomplishments.

She takes her work and the fashion industry very seriously, and pointed out that “the beauty industry breeds insecurity, and we have to change that. We have the goal of helping girls and women change their self image. My shows are here to inspire, to help you feel comfortable with who you are. We want to show that you control your life, and we want you to celebrate your life.”

Tyra revealed she is “grateful for all that I’ve been given. And because of that, I created Tzone Foundation. It started as a summer camp program designed to offer insights into the issues facing young women today.”

As for young aspiring models, in addition to stressing it’s a business, she also emphasizes proper diet and exercising, to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

So what else should we know about Tyra? She said she’s a normal person. “I am obsessed with my work, and I am not obsessed with fitness. That is a struggle that has existed during my entire modeling career.”

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