Tyra Banks Discusses Naomi Campbell, ‘Modelland’, and TV | WSJ
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Tyra Banks Discusses Naomi Campbell, ‘Modelland’, and TV | WSJ

– I feel like when so
many people look at people in entertainment, they think
that you’re just playing. You’re playing and
singing in a microphone. You’re playing and posing for a photo. But the really truly successful people that have sustainability,
they’re not playing. They’re doing business. – Welcome to you, Tyra.
– Oh, thank you Lee! – What do you like to invest in? – So I have Fierce Capital, that’s my own little baby fund. And I’m very attracted to businesses that are female-founded or female-led. However that’s not the only
thing that I invest in. I’ve invested in companies
that are run by men, founders that are men. But I’ve learned over time that it’s not about
investing in the business, it’s investing in the individual. So I have realized, I made my mistakes, as all investors do thinking
“Ooh, that’s a hot area “that I want to invest in!”
– What are some of the mistakes–
I’m not gonna tell you! (laughing)
People are gonna connect it to what the companies were
that I lost money on. – OK.
– But right now, I’m very excited about,
I’ve invested in The Skim, two female founders. They are just kick ass and they started it in their living room. And now their growth is
exponential, it’s fantastic. Beginning of it was a daily newsletter. And what they did is they would wake up at the crack of dawn, look at newspapers, and literally skim them with a voice of a female millennial. So there was humor, where
you can learn world news and all this type of stuff
(laughing) with humor and a certain slant that made
you every morning wanna know all of the sections of that newspaper that you might kind of
not be that interested in. So they’re killin’ it.
– Tell me about Modelland. – Yes. Modelland is my baby
that hasn’t been born yet. But she is due at the end of this year. Modelland is a location based attraction where you can be a model for a day. And I don’t mean a professional model, I’m talking about families,
mamas, daddies, cousins, uncles, sisters, you know, bridal showers, stag parties can come to
Modelland and have fun, and can be the fantasy
versions of themselves. – Who’s your partner on it? – I have a super strong staff. I have Disney Imagineers working on this. I have people from Cirque
de Soleil on my team. I have people from immersive theater, one of the most worldwide renowned Immersive Theater experiences
called Sleep No More. I have very strong people on my team. We have a really wonderful investor. – You’re teaching at Stanford.
– Yes. – And you’re teaching a branding class? – Personal branding.
– Tell me about the class. – So about four years ago
I was speaking at Stanford. And then after I finished, I went backstage to kinda
get my stuff together because I was late for my flight. I had to rush to the airport. And one of the students was like “Oh Tyra, “there’s a professor that
wants to talk to you.” She comes backstage and she’s
like “I have to tell you “that I learned more on personal branding “than any book I have
ever read, and anything, “and I teach here at Stanford
Graduate School of Business. “Would you be open to
creating a course with me “and teaching it at the school?” I was like “What?” I’ve always wanted to
teach, I love teaching. I just thought it would be something that I would be doing
when I was 60, not 43, 42. Allison Kluger is her
name, and we spent a year developing a course called Project You which is all about personal branding. And it is so crucial
for business students. Because differentiation is key. I tell my students that
different is better than better. You think you’re the best. But better is just minutia
when it comes to that. And after a while it
just becomes a commodity. What is gonna make you stand out? What is gonna make you get the capital that your competitor is dying for, but that company, that investor
is gonna invest in you? Everybody’s also trying
to get the best talent. How do we make that talent out there the most attracted to you, to want to be hired by
you and your company? And it all comes down to what you’re doing with your personal brand
and what you stand for. So very serious course. (laughing) – Serious Class. It seems like your career
really took off at some point because you booked 25 shows
in your first runway season at Paris Fashion Week,
but behind the scenes what were you learning about business? – I didn’t realize that my mother and I were almost like the CEO
and COO of a business, and the business was my career as a model. And a lot of people are like, “Oh with modeling, it’s the
right look at the right time.” And I think that’s maybe 25% of it. For me, I think my success was strategy. I studied how Chanel models
walked in that fashion show. I studied how Yves Saint
Laurent models walked. Chanel was very happy and sweet, and they kinda twirled their pearls, and they kinda winked on the runway. Yves Saint Laurent, hair
slicked back in a bun, red lipstick and they
walked really elegantly like haute couture. So every single fashion
show had a different style and a different look. So when I got to Paris, I had a backpack full of stuff, a kit that I can
transform myself (laughing) to every single designer’s look and style. So when I did my runway
audition for Chanel, I had my hair down. I put on a pink frosty lipstick and walked to pretend to twirl pearls. Those people then called Karl
Lagerfeld out of his office and said “I want you
to look at this girl.” And he booked me. Went to the Yves Saint Laurent,
the House of Saint Laurent, pulled my hair back in a bun in an alley before I went into that office. In an alley, pulled my hair in a bun. Swabbed on some red lipstick, walked for the Yves Saint
Laurent casting people. They pulled mister Yves Saint Laurent out of his office and said
“Look at this chick right here, “what is going on?” (speaking French) Then Yves Saint Laurent booked me, and it was one after the
other, after the other. – But there was a lot
of preparation there. – Preparation!
– People don’t see, right? – Preparation, sure my look, of course, for the moment was something
that they were ready for, but it was that preparation
and the strategy and that literal tool kit on my back that booked 25 fashion
shows and broke history. A model had never done that. – Especially as a Black woman. I think that a lot of
people think that Europe has this reputation that’s
more open to Black creators. James Baldwin went there,
Lorraine Hansberry, all kinds of people have
gone there, Jimi Hendrix. Is Europe different, as a Black
woman, when you broken in? Did you experience racism there? – I think racism is everywhere. It’s just paramount everywhere. I do have to say that I felt
very much accepted in Paris than I did in my own country. I do not think I would
have become a supermodel had Paris not enveloped me in her arms and said “You matter,
your beauty matters here.” I had one of my first job
was as a magazine cover, booking all those fashion
shows, I really felt like I was Josephine Baker of modeling in Paris where that acceptance there. Of course there were
things “No you’re Black “and you can’t do X, Y, Z.” But it was probably 85, 90% less “Nos” than it was back home.
– OK, then you broke in, first Black woman to be on Sports Illustrated and GQ. Now you’re coming back.
– First female model on the cover of GQ.
– OK, wow. – And it’s interesting that
so many people get that wrong because I think it’s so hard to imagine that a Black woman was the first model, not the first Black
model, but the first model on the cover of GQ. So it’s something I’ll
always have to correct. – So now you’re on SI again.
– Yes. – [Lee] So you’ve come out of retirement. – Yes I came out of retirement. I hadn’t modeled in a while. So to go back into the wild
was not fun in the beginning. And then I got my sea legs. And I felt comfortable again. When I was 32 years old I
was a Victoria’s Secret model actually I had a contract
for many, many years, for a decade with them. My contract started
when I was 22 years old. And then when I hit 32, I felt the need almost in business terms, to pivot. And to leave an industry
that has a shelf life before it left me. To say “I am not going to be discarded “by this industry that values youth.” “I’m gonna leave at the top.” I think it was a really good decision. I have people in my life
that are like “Girl, “you had a big fat contract
sitting on the table “saying ‘please sign again!'” And I said “No.” Because I really wanted to stay ahead. But today the reason why I
am coming out of retirement is because since I’ve
retired, and even before that, I’ve been saying “Beauty
knows no size, no color, “no shape, no sexual orientation,
no feature and no age.” But I retired because of age. – If you hadn’t retired do
you think you would be sitting in this chair talking about all your business ventures, like you are? – No. I do think that at that time, the industry would’ve
kicked me the hell out. I think the modeling industry is changing, and it’s changing rapidly
because it has to. Because social media is so powerful and celebrating so much diversity. If the fashion industry
does not mirror that, they will become extinct,
their power will. So they have to follow what
social media’s doing (laughing) and what society is doing, but then of course, make it an
aspirational version of that. I think that’s what fashion
is, it’s aspiration. And so no, if I stayed modeling, I don’t think that I would
be talking to you right now, at least not about this. – Your mother came in right away and said “We have to look at this as a business.” – Yes.
– Right? And so that seed was planted. Do you think that that was
a big part of your success? Because you see all kinds of models. – One thing that a lot of people will say is “Supermodel turned businesswoman.” But I was a businesswoman
as a supermodel, (laughing) and now I’m a businesswoman that just happens to
be doing other things. But it started with the modeling career. I think it’s hard for people
to wrap their head around it. Because modeling can seem vapid, it can seem narcissistic,
it can seem something that’s just a genetic
lottery and you just hit it and you’re just lucky. But when you think about Cindy Crawford who I was very inspired by, that success. Yeah she’s a beautiful woman, but she’s a kick ass businesswoman. Heidi Klum, beautiful woman,
but a kick ass businesswoman. And I think the three of
us are probably a trifecta of models that have really
taken it somewhere else. And I will put Cindy out
there, she’s gorgeous, Heidi’s gorgeous, but I think
there’s a hell of a lot more models out there that look a hell of a lot better than we do. – And then you reinvented yourself again and came out with The Tyra Banks Show. – Yes.
– And I remember that, (laughing)
you brought Naomi Campbell on that show.
– Oh yeah. I don’t have an in studio
audience here with us today. So I’m gonna ask you at home to please help me welcome Naomi Campbell. – Hi! So weird ’cause it’s so quiet. – I know.
– And you talked about, I don’t know if it was
a manufactured rivalry. – No.
– There was some truth to it– – It wasn’t a rivalry. I’m very sensitive to that word because a rivalry is with two equals to me. Whereas one was very dominant, she was a supermodel and
I was just some new girl that got on a plane from Paris and was studying fashion in
magazines at a fashion library. – You opened that show telling her that. That you basically had her
picture all over your room. – Yeah.
– And there were a lot of things that happened
that you reflected on that you wanted to confront and heal. – Yeah I had a very painful
early days in Paris. As much as I was booking
every single fashion show, people didn’t know I
was going home at night crying my eyes out because the woman that I was looking up to seemed like she just didn’t want me to be there and was doing everything in
her power to make me go away. And I didn’t understand
that as a young girl. Why is she doing this? This is so evil, this is so awful. The adult me understands that she was reacting to an industry that was all about a token. When this one girl Kate
Moss came on the scene they weren’t telling Christy Turlington, “You better look out, Kate Moss has got “some tight cheekbones
like you do Christy! When Shalom Harlow came
on the scene, they weren’t “Linda Evangelista, look out! “Another brunette is on the loose.” (laughing)
But when I came on the scene, “Naomi look out, there’s a Black girl “that’s going to take your spot. – Because there’s only one spot available. – Only one spot available.
– Did you starting Top Model have anything to do with that? – I don’t think necessarily
consciously that it did. I think a lot of that
had to do with my mother and her showing me the
business of fashion. My mother used to say “It’s
not called fashion fun time. “It’s called fashion business.” And I wanted to show models,
wannabe models worldwide that it’s more than just a pretty picture. – Is it showing in other countries now? – Oh yes! So America’s Next Top Model,
the one that I started and created, at its height
was in 186 countries. Now we’re in about 140. We’ve had 40 international versions. – And this is all under
Bankable Productions? – No, so I created the brand. So Bankable Productions
produces the American version, the original version. All of the other versions are formats that the network sells that
my partner and I participate in a profit participating of that. Those other shows are not produced by us. – OK, but somewhere along the line you had to learn about the
business side of television. – Most definitely.
– Was it a baptism in fire? (laughing)
How did you prepare for that? – Yeah. A lot of mentoring by my partner. My partner on Top Model is named Ken Mok. And I get a lot of credit for the success of Top Model
because I’m on the show and my face is on the show, but we are partners through and through. And there would be no
Top Model without Ken. What people don’t know is
Ken pretty much created the format for competition
reality television. So many shows followed that. Top Model was the first, I
didn’t create that format. Ken Mok took my idea, and said “OK, “this is how we’re gonna break
it down every single week.” And unfortunately, you can’t copyright, you can’t trademark, you
can’t register a format. So there’s no participation from Ken Mok on the thing that he has really changed reality television with.
– But you say that you “Were raised by a
mother who stayed in a marriage “longer than she should have.” Tell me about your childhood. – I think it was still pretty positive even though my parents
weren’t the happiest married. I was extremely spoiled by my father, very, very, very spoiled. However my mother wasn’t happy. I didn’t know this as a little girl, but she wasn’t happy and
later as an adult I learned that she stayed way
longer than she wanted to because she did not
have financial freedom. Knowing that as an adult made me make sure (laughing) that I have financial freedom. – A lot of people think about wealth, but not as much about ownership. It seems like you were doing
that from the beginning. How important is it?
– I’m not into money. I am into legacy. I’m
into owning something. I want to pass something
down to my family, particularly being an
African American woman and being able to pass
that down to generations, that’s power, and not just
money, but a platform, and a symbol to my community to say “It’s not just about the paycheck, “it’s about signing other
peoples’ paychecks.” – Tyra Banks.
– Thank you! – Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
– Thank you. (mellow music)


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