Q&A: Tyra Banks Is Opening Modelland With the Goal of ‘Bringing Modeling to the Masses’

The experiential attraction stems from childhood trips to Disneyland

Banks describes Modelland, which has been 10 years in the making, as a "fantasy version of the modeling world." Getty Images
Headshot of Lindsay Rittenhouse

Tyra Banks, the super model, actor, entrepreneur and creator of America’s Next Top Model, is starting yet another venture: an experiential attraction called Modelland in California’s Santa Monica Place.

The attraction aims to create an inclusive “fantasy version of the modeling world” and will feature interactive entertainment, creative collaborations, curated retail, dining and special events. Modelland will be a permanent fixture located in a 21,000-square-foot space blocks away from Santa Monica State Beach. It is set to open in late 2019 and is 10 years in the making for Banks, who aims to eventually expand it globally.

Banks has redefined beauty and paved the way for a diverse array of models to break into the elusive fashion industry, mostly through her reality show, which recently concluded its 24th season. Modelland will build on these efforts by aiming to create a global community for user-generated content that amplifies people of all ages and genders. Attendees will be able to interact with the Modelland brand plus other select partners in the beauty, fashion, entertainment, food and beverage, and technology sectors.

Adweek caught up with Banks to discuss her vision for Modelland and how it all came together.

Adweek: Can you give us a sense of the type of experiences Modelland will offer?
Tyra Banks: I can’t give too many specifics, but it is really about a transformation and giving people an opportunity that they can never have anywhere else. This has always been important to me. There are certain things that I and so many people in entertainment, particularly in fashion, have experienced, certain insecurities that have come along with taking photos, particularly now in social media. A lot of people are feeling like, ‘Whoa, I can never look like that or have access to that.’ I want to [give them that access]. This phase in my business career is really about bringing modeling to the masses and redefining what a model is.

You’ve helped so many models throughout the years launch their careers, especially with ANTM. How does Modelland further that mission?
I see it as an evolution. I started as a high-fashion model. I was very naturally thin and then my body began to change. From there, I had a choice to either quit fashion, lose a lot of weight or to come up with something different. My mom helped me to strategize over pizza, ironically, to change my career to be more commercial. So then I did Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated and Cover Girl, different brands that were reaching a broader audience. That was the first step of being a bit more open.

From there, I created [ANTM] that gave 10 to 15 people per cycle the chance to experience the modeling world and potentially have a modeling career while millions of people watched. My mission was not to create a show of ‘Oh, look how hard modeling is.’ I really used the modeling platform as a vessel to expand the definition of beauty. When I pitched the idea for [ANTM], I pitched it with the idea that the majority of my models would have atypical beauty, something that is debatable. And throughout the course of the season, people would see the inner and outer beauty that these people have. But still, [ANTM] only gave a certain amount of people per year that opportunity.

With Modelland, this has been my dream for 10 years, my first business plan was seven years ago. I wanted to open this up to everyone. It’s not just for young women—it’s families, guys, LGBTQ, Generation X, Generation Y, millennials. I want women to come and have bachelorette parties. Guys to come and say, ‘Dude, we have to do this thing.’ I want couples to come. I want moms and their toddlers to come. This is the place that’s really for everyone.

Will the creative collaborations … include brand collaborations?
We’re extremely open to brand collaborations and figuring out organic fits with brands. It’s a natural marriage because the fashion industry is about brands. It is about designers. As a model, I represent everything from designers to soft drinks to technology to jewelry to cosmetics, so we’re very open to finding these collaborations or integrations with different brands. It’s a big part of our business model. It makes sense. And we’ll also have collaborations with artists and designers. This is a place where people can really shine. Yes, we are creating a Modelland brand and there’s a certain world and storyline that goes with it. The relationships that we have with advertisers—we want to make sure they’re organic fits.

How do you view influencers and their partnerships with brands?
That’s such a sore point for a lot of people from my generation of modeling. A few years ago, I wrote an op-ed about it called ‘Model Wars.’ I found myself in the middle of it because my generation was complaining about Instagram models. However, I find models on social media and put them in [ANTM] and put them on my pages to bump their followers and help them get agents. I’m a big fan of it. I think it also has to do with me being a business person and understanding where the world is going. If you don’t adapt, you just lose out. I understand some of the pain of the women of my generation and the women who came before them; their frustrations because it was so hard for them. At the same time, the world is where it is and we have to respect that. I don’t just respect it—I celebrate it and participate in it.

So Modelland is 10 years in the making. What sparked the idea and how do you feel finally being able to launch it?
As a child, being from Los Angeles, I went to Disneyland and Universal Studios a lot. I was transfixed by being transported somewhere and being totally immersed and enveloped in the worlds that they created. What I loved about Disneyland was, you didn’t just go and get on a ride. Even standing in line at the rides, the storytelling began. All of my senses were engaged, and that stuck with me for a long time. Universal Studios, the same thing. It was more a behind the scenes on how film and television was made when I was young more so than the big attraction it is now, but it was still one of my favorite places in the world to go. My inspiration for being a television producer came from my experiences at Universal Studios. My launching Modelland comes from my love of Disney and bringing me on that never-ending adventure [that stretched to] before I even went to when I was there to when I left. This is the next chapter of my childhood dream.

How might Modelland affect your involvement in your other ventures? (No announcements have been made yet regarding the renewal of ANTM Season 25.)
Modelland is a big focus, and I will continue to produce and develop as we prepare to open Modelland and of course, beyond that. I have an overall deal with Universal Television for scripted and unscripted programming. We have an incredible development slate that is compelling, dynamic and unique that spans beyond our existing audience. Bankable Productions is focused on content that has strong international format appeal. Our team is growing and will also be in charge of producing content connected to the Modelland brand.

@kitten_mouse lindsay.rittenhouse@adweek.com Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.