Monday 20 January 2020

Business models: From fashion to finance with a flourish

Tyra Banks €68m
Tyra Banks €68m
Kate Moss €59m
Elle Macpherson €45m
Christie Brinkley €61m
Gisele Bundchen €187m
Kathy Ireland €262m
Christy Turlington €20m
Helena Christensen €Helena Christensen
Cindy Crawford €33m

Declan Cashin

As showbiz headlines go, it's one of the more improbable: 'Tyra Banks graduates from Harvard Business School'. This isn't a fake story either. It turns out the former model and TV mogul had forked out upwards of $60,000 to study for a two-year, part-time diploma from the prestigious university's Executive Education Owner/President Manager Program.

Banks has said that she did the course to learn about "innovation and being first to the market", though as her fans will tell you, the 38-year-old could probably teach her Ivy League professors a thing or two at this stage.

That's because Banks has proved herself to be one of the savviest models in the business. She seemed to grasp early on that her looks wouldn't be en vogue forever, so capitalised on her fame by branching out into different ventures for long-term financial security.

Indeed, in a nice twist, so successful are Banks' post-modelling schemes that she has now become a case study on the Harvard Business School curriculum.

"Ty-Ty" was one of the most successful American supermodels of the 1990s.

Starting out at age 17, she was soon strutting her stuff on the catwalks for all the major designers, as well as making history as the first black model to appear on the covers of 'GQ' and 'Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue'.

Even at the height of her commercial modelling power, Banks was already adding the nixers to her CV. She turned to acting, playing Will Smith's girlfriend in the TV comedy 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air', and founded her own production company, Bankable Productions, at the turn of the millennium.

After turning 30, she scaled back on modelling and turned her focus to cultivating a strong media presence as a spin-off career.

One of Banks' first creations in 2003 was 'America's Next Top Model', a reality show that became an entertainment sensation, replete with its own pop culture-infiltrating terminology like 'fierce!' and 'smize' (smile with your eyes).

On top of that, Banks spent five years hosting her own eponymous talk show, winning an Emmy award for her troubles.

Not one to just coast along, Banks has continued acting, written a memoir, and a loosely biographical piece of fiction, 'Modelland' (the first of a projected trilogy of novels), that became a bestseller.

She's also recorded some music singles (which were rare flops), founded a fashion website,, and runs a philanthropic organisation called TZone, teaching leadership to young people.

It all means that Banks is the third richest supermodel in the world (behind Kathy Ireland and Gisele Bündchen), with an estimated fortune of $90m (E68m).

Considering that they made their name in an industry that values looks over everything else, it stands to reason that models would be a natural fit on television.

When they find a format tailored to their strengths and experience -- namely reality shows -- the models can flourish. More importantly, it allows them to maintain the profile needed to establish and nourish other professional outlets.

There's money in TV

German model Heidi Klum has taken a leaf out of Tyra Banks' book by having a crack at telly. The 38-year-old helped to conceive and hosts the reality show 'Project Runway', which won a Peabody Award -- the TV equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize -- in 2008.

She has also made inroads into other media platforms, starring as the villain in a James Bond videogame, and appearing in music videos by Jamiroquai, Kelis, and her soon-to-be-ex hubbie Seal.

On top of that, Klum has designed a line of jewellery through Mouawad, a clothing range for Jordache, and two perfumes, 'Heidi Klum' and 'Me'.

Most recently, Klum launched a range of maternity wear for women. In all, Klum is now loaded to the tune of E53m.

Elle Macpherson has had a similar 'Business Model' career trajectory, though she should be credited for being especially quick off the ball when it came to diversifying.

Known as "The Body" in her heyday, Macpherson played on that image by launching her own brand of lingerie, Intimates, in 1990.

Since then, the 47-year-old has turned the company into a global brand, and complemented it with a line of beauty products. She also launched her own fragrance, The Body Lotion, in 2002.

Don't forget her few acting ventures either (though it's probably more humane if you do): she guest starred as Joey's roommate on 'Friends', and recently played a lead role as a model agent in TV series 'This Beautiful Life' which was canned after just two episodes.

She has had more success as the host of 'Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model' on Sky Living.

Still, why should Macpherson care about such ups and downs when her combined business ventures have boosted her personal fortune to E45m?

Then there's the example of Kathy Ireland. According to 'Forbes', Ireland -- another 'Sports Illustrated' survivor -- is said to have amassed a fortune of E262m, making her the world's wealthiest model.

The 48-year-old's wealth stems largely from her company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, which makes everything from fans, furniture, and rugs, mats, to socks, fitness videos and clothes.

What's more, Ireland has also penned a business book for women and novels for kids, and starred in TV shows such as 'Melrose Place' and 'The Larry Sanders Show'.

Coming in a close second to Ireland in the earning stakes is Gisele Bündchen, who, over the past decade, has earned about $250m (E187m). In fact, 'Forbes' magazine has estimated that the Brazilian beauty -- still only 31 -- could become the first billionaire supermodel.

So where does the money come from?

Outside of her contracts with the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Victoria's Secret, Bündchen has designed her own range of flip-flop footwear called Ipanema (turnover E182m), launched her own beauty products, Sejaa Pure Skincare, become the spokesperson for companies such as Pantene and C&A, and invested in various properties in LA, New York and São Paulo. Every little helps, eh Gisele?

Designer millions

It's a lesson that was brought home to another superstar, Kate Moss, who has wisely picked a licence-to-print-money nixer too, teaming with Topshop to design a range of women's clothing.

Moss, now aged 38, knows better than most how easy it can be to lose your standing in the modelling world. After all, she was once considered a goner in the mid-Noughties, following the potentially ruinous drug scandal that engulfed her and her then fiancé, Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty, in 2005.

She lost multi-million pound contracts with Chanel, Burberry, and H&M as a result, but after a brilliant choreographed rehabilitation, Moss' image was restored enough to land a dozen plummy deals with labels such as Versace, Bulgari, Agent Provocateur and Rimmel, boosting her overall fortune to around E59 million.

The Topshop gig, however, has the potential to bulk out her bank balance even more. Moss' designs since 2007 are believed to have generated at least E4m for the model, but the real heft will come if Topshop expands to the Far East.

Access to the vast Asian market, with its massive youth population and an insatiable demand for Western designs, could potentially see Moss' Topshop earnings reach upwards of E40m, according to some predictions.

One of the most surprising facets of the 'Business Model' story is learning that names that long ago ceased to command any major pop cultural cachet are still generating enormous wealth.

One of the richest former models is Christie Brinkley, a woman about whom most of us outside of the US wouldn't have heard much in the last decade or more.

Would you believe that the one-time 'Uptown Girl' and Mrs Billy Joel is sitting on a fortune of E61m?

The majority of her wealth seems to come from shrewd property investments in the prime holiday destination of the Hamptons outside of New York.

The 58-year-old has also come up with her own line of sunglasses, released a skincare range, a perfume and jewellery collection, designed clothing patterns and published a fitness book.

Brinkley's 'Super' contemporaries are similarly flush. Cindy Crawford has had her fingers in a number of pies since her swimsuit modelling heyday.

First there was acting: who could forget -- though many have tried -- her acting debut in 'Fair Game' (1995), opposite William Baldwin, a movie that was enough of a critical and commercial flop to put paid to any further screen ambitions Crawford once held.

But after quitting modelling in 2000, Crawford (45) co-created a line of beauty products called Meaningful Beauty, and unveiled a range of "fun and non-intimidating" furniture entitled the Cindy Crawford Home Line in 2005.

The following year she put her name to a line of furniture for children in a deal with US store Rooms to Go, as well as another home design deal with JC Penney. Last year alone, Crawford earned about E3m to add to her E30m pile.

For a woman who was once proclaimed the 'Face of the 20th century' by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it makes sense that model Christy Turlington would make a large part of her estimated E20m fortune from beauty products.

The 43-year-old is a partner in the Sundari skincare line, and has also devoted her post-modelling career to her Nuala line of women's sportswear and the Mahanuala range of yoga-wear.

Finally, the model with perhaps the trendiest side-careers is Helena Christensen.

The 43-year-old Danish star owns an antiques shop in Manhattan, and also opened an achingly hip (but now defunct) shop named Butik in which she sold her own clothing line, designed with her friend Leif Sigersen.

What's more, Christensen was a co-founder of 'Nylon' magazine, and she's also a keen photographer, with her work appearing in 'Elle' and 'Marie Claire'.

In common with her peers, Christensen has done well from her combined modelling and business interests, with an estimated wealth of E19m.

Rarely has the term 'more than a pretty face' been more apt.

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