After a brief delay, Tyra Banks and André Leon Talley walked into Marea Wednesday morning to greet the five tables of guests, most of whom were already clutching Bellinis. The onset of Fashion Week was just hours away, and the two icons held court at the Central Park West restaurant to fête the new cycle of America’s Next Top Model. The upcoming season, which begins tonight, will add a European touch: the winner will be offered a spread in the vaunted Vogue Italia.
“André,” Ms. Banks said, clutching the microphone with two hands, “was the begininning of taking America’s Next Top Model to high fashion.”
Mr. Talley, in a black leather trenchcoat, nodded.
“Andre and Miss J were the first people I went to, 8 years ago,” Ms. Banks went on. “And André was, like, ‘What is this reality show thing! Ahhhh!”
“Ahhhh!” Mr. Talley joined in, and burst into laughter. As the reel for the new season ran he kept on laughing — well, he mostly laughed when his face appeared onscreen, usually behind the judges’ booth.
After the presentation, the two of them sat down at our table and began to discuss how the partnership with Italian Vogue and its editor, Franca Sozzani, would take the show to a new level.
“Tyra had brokered this extraordinary relationship with Franca—having been in Franca’s legendary, fabulous, collector’s-item issue that was all about black models,” Mr. Talley said.
Mr. Talley reached for a strawberry from the rich spread of fruit and popped it in his mouth.
“She wanted to do something deeper with me,” Ms. Banks said of Ms. Sozzani. “She really wanted to take Vogue Italia to the American audience. She felt that we had a strong connection to the American audience.”
The conversation segued to a debate regarding the problem with pushing very young children — those who are 13 or 14 years old — toward modeling, and soon Ms. Banks was talking about the fictional book series she’s been working on, Model Land. It will be about four less-than-perfect-looking girls who infiltrate a school governed by body image, she explained.
There was a brief discussion of Lady Gaga’s Terry Richardson-shot cover for Vogue Homme Japan. “She posed with meat? Raw meat?” Mr. Talley exclaimed. Then a bell rang, and the duo left for the next table.
After bacon, eggs, blueberry streusel muffins and sticky buns were all served, Mr. Talley and Ms. Banks again took to the microphones at the front, this time to answer random questions drawn from a box. One question prompted Ms. Banks to list her worst fears, which happened to be “Birds, cats, fish, whales and dolphins,” she said.
Another asked for advice on posing for cameras, which led to a discussion about the red carpet. “I hate the red carpet,” Ms. Banks said. “Like, I haaaate it—”
“I hate it too,” Mr. Talley said.
“I don’t like the red carpet because with a model background — well, I’m not modeling anymore, I’m retired — there’s one photographer and you know where that one photographer is and you can find whatever angle is right because of that photographer,” Ms. Banks said. But on the red carpet, “there’s like a hundred of them. And so it’s like, ‘ugly shot, ugly shot, ugly shot, pretty. Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly—pretty.’”
Then, to answer the question “What is the best angle for a flattering picture face-wise,” Ms. Banks shared her own personal trick.
“You have to do the turtle. So everyone do it together.” She stuck her head out slightly. “Do the turtle, and then raise it a little higher, push it out, and it’s gonna look crazy from the side, but from the front, girl, you’re gonna look so fine.”
By then everyone in the room was doing the turtle.
“And then we’re all gonna take a picture, one by one, me and Andre. We’re gonna do a smize, and I’ll teach you guys how to smize.”
To smize, as fans of Ms. Banks know, means to smile with your eyes.