For this week's "Encounter" in New York, we spent 62 minutes in the boardroom with Tyra Banks. "Tyra the businesswoman is very close to — and I hate third person, but you said it, oh, chiiild, you said it — but me the businessperson and me the person: very similar," she told us. "I can be in a business meeting and be all ‘Wooo!’ and ‘Oh, child!’ and still be talking revenues and profits and cash flows. But what’s different is that Top Model person who sits behind that desk. I don’t know who she is. That is so not me. Sometimes it’s me. But when it’s like, ‘I have two photos in my hands’ — who is that? It’s a character.” We talked to businesswoman Tyra about everything from her new online magazine, TypeF.com, to diversity in fashion, to Lady Gaga's meat dress (she hasn't seen it), to how long America's Next Top Model will run. Below, enjoy more from our interview with Tyra that you won't find in the print issue.
What have you learned attending Harvard Business School that you wouldn’t have otherwise known?
Oh my God, it’s so much. It really takes you a step ahead. In fact I just met with my accountant the other day, and he was like, "We have to kind of look at your EBITDA." He goes, "Oh, let me just explain to you what that is." And I go, "Earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortization?" And he goes, "[Gasp!] You’re my only client in the entertainment industry who knows what that is." And that’s because I’m going to school. So many people place emphasis on this whole tap dancing and performing, but I know I’m not going to do that forever and don’t want to.
Why do you think diversity in fashion can feel like a trend? For instance, the recent increased visibility of plus-size models or Asian models.
My company, were trying to do research to figure out how much of it is dictatorship — how much of it is women really purchasing things that don’t look like them, and so the industry says, you’re spending your money and the ad doesn’t look like you so we’re going to continue to be giving you stuff that doesn’t look like you. So I don’t know what it is, but my mission is to break that.
Is that why you're more interested in the commercial end of fashion, as opposed to high fashion?
I’m not the high-fashion girl inside. So I was walking in the runways of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent and Dior and all the other top designers of the world and the Vogues and the Bazaars and all that globally, but I always still felt intimidated, which is interesting. Karl Lagerfeld is dressing me, Yves Saint Laurent is like smoothing my hem or something, and I felt like a little teenage girl and that these amazing designers were around me and that they were like these Greek gods. So I knew it wasn’t my truth. Although I was, like, flattered and like, “Oh, this is amazing!”
A lot of fashion companies have been very trepidatious when it comes to getting online. Why did you want to do TypeF as an online magazine?
We have to really face that that’s where the world is going. The day Mark Zuckerberg was born was the day that the earth changed forever. And I think it is really important for the earth to wake up and understand that.
Why did you want to become a businesswoman?
I remember one day being backstage at a fashion show in Paris and in walks this woman, and she was tall like I was tall, and she had thick brown hair and I had thick brown ... weave hair, and she had all these people around her and she looked so in control. And then the crowd parted and it was Cindy Crawford. She was hosting MTV’s House of Style, and I was just like, “Wooooaaaahhhh. She’s not waiting for a phone to ring and for a designer to hire her, and I know she has a Revlon contract, and I hear that she has an office at Revlon.” Like to me her having an office in the Revlon building was like, “I want an office in a building like that.”
Will you always do TV?
TV. Film, definitely. More publishing.
Any film in the works?
No. Offers. I’ve had offers to take the Modelland book — before it’s even written — and turn it into a movie.
How's that coming?
I just turned in my first draft. Its like the size of three books because I wasn’t doing a page count but that’s another story. My editor was like, “Well, maybe we have two books in here.” I was like, "No we just have way too much detail that needs to be smushed down into one book."
Would the talk show ever come back?
Not with me on it every day.
But we loved it! Why not?
Thank you so much. I think it was difficult with me producing it and hosting, and producing Top Model and hosting Top Model and all this other stuff. I started thinking like, What is success? You have to be happy. And when you’re pulled so thinly, it’s hard. And then the advertising market is hard. And when the recession hit and our budgets are getting decreased — so it’s just difficult. Everything was just very difficult. I don’t think I could have written books having not done the talk show, I don’t think I could have done TypeF, I don’t think I could have gone to school, so you kind of have to give and take.
With Top Model, you’ve done a few things that have gone on to be bigger things, like Lady Gaga’s meat dress, for example.
You know I never saw it, I just read about it. That doesn’t make me upset — other things make me upset. Lady Gaga is such an artist that I doubt that she was looking at Top Model or her stylist was looking at Top Model and saying we should do it. I think they just did it and we just happened to do it first.
How long do you see ANTM running?
As long as y’all want to watch it. You know, every great thing must come to its end, and it will come to its end. It’s just not there yet.