Supermodel and America's Next Top Model icon looks back on her history as the first Black Victoria's Secret contract model as the brand breaks barriers with new VS Collective.

By Joey Nolfi
June 17, 2021 at 12:47 PM EDT
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Victoria's Secret model turned Emmy-winning television mogul Tyra Banks is honoring the future of fashion with a look into her boundary-breaking past as a runway legend.

After the lingerie brand announced Thursday its plans to replace the long-standing roster of curvy catwalk Angels with a diverse group of seven women including Megan Rapinoe and Priyanka Chopra Jonas - now known as the VS Collective - who represent a wider range of people (like larger body types, trans women, and more), Banks heralded the "necessary" shift she credits herself with beginning nearly three decades ago.

"First is crucial so that a door can be opened for others to fit through. Within a 10 year span starting in 1995, I was the first Black Victoria's Secret contract model ever. The first Black Victoria's Secret cover model. The first Black VS model to do so many other groundbreaking things with the brand," she wrote on Instagram the same day the New York Times published a feature on the label's reinvention - which falls three years after controversy ignited over the company's sexualization of women for the male perspective (and exclusion of different body types and genders). "But after a first, must come a flow of more. A flow of different. A flow of unique. A flow so strong, a flow of so many that we LOSE COUNT."

Banks added that she's "proud" to be "witnessing a beauty revolution" spearheaded by the "badass ROLE models" that have come after she cracked open the door for inclusion with her earlier career.

In addition to Chopra Jonas and Rapinoe, Victoria's Secret has also partnered with new VS Collective personalities like Chinese American freestyle skier Eileen Gu, photographer and #Girlgaze founder Amanda de Cadenet, trans model Valentina Sampaio, South Sudanese refugee turned fashion model Adut Akech, and biracial model Paloma Elsesser, who earned significant attention when she appeared on the cover of Vogue as a size 14.

Tyra Banks
Tyra Banks responds to Victoria's Secret's VS Collective initiative.
| Credit: KMazur/WireImage

Banks, 47, rose to prominence in the early '90s, pushing the fashion industry envelope as the first Black woman to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition while balancing a prestigious career on international runways for high fashion designers. She has long been open about her intentions to create a more diverse space for beauty in the fashion industry, most notably through her work as the host and producer of America's Next Top Model - a reality competition series that has drawn celebration and criticism both for its diverse casting (including trans model Isis King on cycle 11 and a burn victim, Tahlia Brookins, on cycle 12) and questionable challenges that had, over the years, seen the show transforming models into different races for photoshoots.

"Even though I was a successful supermodel, I was hearing 'no' quite often… being black and being curvy made me empathize with people who didn't fit the cookie cutter," Banks previously told EW of the show's impact. "In putting these girls on the show and saying, 'You are beautiful,' I wasn't necessarily telling them they were beautiful; I was using them as a vessel to tell millions of girls around the world who looked like them that they were beautiful… It's so nice to see it's normalizing. I guess Top Model has normalized what difference is in beauty."

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