Photo: Michael Roberts/Trunk Archive
Tyra Banks isn’t one to do anything halfway. As a model, she broke ground as the first black Victoria’s Secret Angel and the first African-American to cover the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Her modeling-competition show, America’s Next Top Model is going into its second decade. She’s returning with a new talk show in 2015. In her free time, she writes the occasional Wall Street Journal op-ed.
But at this particular moment, Banks is fully focusing on her new cosmetics line, TYRA Beauty. Keeping with kooky tradition, she plans to usher in the collection in an over-the-top-Tyra way: a live, two-hour special on HSN on November 7, complete with everything from a choir to a DJ to a runway. “I don’t even know how to explain it because it hasn’t been done before,” Banks says of her Makeup Fierce Up. “It’s almost like a cosmetics concert.”
As fierce and fun as TYRA Beauty may seem, making it a reality took years of work. Banks enrolled in the Owner/President Management Program at Harvard Business School to sharpen her business acumen, and she put her own money behind the brand. “It was important for me to create a brand that wasn’t a licensing deal, but a true self-funded startup,” she says. “Something that could be a legacy business, not something that would be hot for a moment and then go away.” But in a highly competitive beauty landscape, having a famous name isn’t necessarily enough to differentiate a brand—and Banks seems to know that. “Everything is saturated today,” she says of the market. “But I’ve always been about zagging when everyone else is zigging. I hate me-too. So I became obsessed with innovation—with being unique, first, and different.”
You can see that drive for uniqueness in the TYRA Beauty products, most of which come in stick form for convenient, user-friendly application. (“I’m sticky on sticks,” Banks jokes.) Light In A Stick, for instance, is a dome-shaped highlighter for cheeks; two shades of Eyes In A Stick are meant to be finger-blended for a warm finish. The non-stick products, too, are simple but smart. For instance, a double-sided wand, Oops Liner, has black liquid eyeliner on one end and makeup remover on the other. What? Lipstick, with its slight blurring effect, may wind up being a sleeper hit. “It’s one of my favorite products,” Banks says. “You don’t need a mirror [to apply it].”
What? Lipstick in Younger Man
What you won’t find, however, is foundation or concealer. “On photo shoots, when I was a young model, they didn’t have my color,” Banks recalls. “And I said, ‘That’s not going to happen with my project.’” She says she won’t do foundation unless every woman—those with ebony and alabaster skin, and every color in between—can find what they’re looking for. (She notes that if future technology and budgets allow, she’ll make it happen.) That’s not totally surprising, considering Banks’s tendency to actively highlight diversity and praise the out-of-the-ordinary beauties. This is a woman, after all, who campaigns against “fat talk” and writes about celebrating beauty “one juicy, fit, dimpled, skinny, fat ass at a time.” Add her foundation for empowering adolescent girls in the mix, and it’s sounding like Banks might just be a feminist. So, is she?
“I do consider myself a feminist, yeah,” she says. “Totally. Even when I was a model with my bra and panties on for a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Sure, I was stompin’, and I know guys were like, ‘Woo, look at Tyra.’ But I know that my body being thicker on that runway meant something. A lot of the things I did in my modeling career as a woman of color was part of that feminism—of expanding the definition of beauty and making women feel beautiful, no matter what color their skin is.”
In a time when the zeitgeist is all about leaning in, Banks certainly seems to embrace her role as a leader and businesswoman. “Right now, with women in power, and not apologizing for being strong or wanting to make money or to be on top, that’s my message—and that’s all feminism,” she says. “I just feel like you should be able to have a fierce face at the same time.”