Interview

Tyra Banks on desserts, diversity and Dubai

From American supermodel to ice cream queen.

When most supermodels start side hustles, they haven’t strutted too far from the fashion industry. For American supermodel Tyra Banks, however, she has gone for an unexpected venture: ice cream. She is the driving force behind the new premium ice cream brand, Smize & Dream, which has launched in the UAE at Brunch & Cake. 

Tyra is a true trailblazer. Born in Inglewood, California, she started modelling aged 15. She was the first African American woman to feature on the front page of GQ and the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated. The long-running reality TV show, America’s Next Top Model, made her a household name. Plus, it was here where she coined the term “smize” – for those of you that don’t know, it’s smiling with your eyes.

Today, Tyra is sitting down with FACT inside Brunch & Cake in Al Wasl, Dubai. She’s got big blonde Beyonce curls, a smart brown blazer and top, and navy jeans. In real life, she looks like she has stepped straight off the catwalk, as she stands at 5 foot 10 inches, with flawless skin and immaculate make-up. 

So, that’s why it’s unusual to find someone with such a stylish CV associated with calories. From the moment we chat, she is passionate about the dessert and shares how her love comes from a sentimental place. She laughs: “I know a lot of people look at me and go, ‘Tyra Banks, I don’t know why you have an ice cream company. I want to taste it, but I don’t know why you did it’.

“I am obsessed with ice cream and have been since I was a wee little one. My great-grandma used to make ice cream, cranking it by hand. Years later, I would bond with my mum over ice cream. Every Friday night, we would drive to Hollywood Boulevard and get our favourite ice cream. We would cry together, as she was a single mum, going through hardships. She would dream and talk about the sacrifices she made to make mine and my brother’s life better.” 

Smize & Dream at Brunch & Cake 

Tyra Banks is an international star, from walking the catwalk in Paris Fashion Week to starring in Hollywood films and TV shows. She could set up shop anywhere, but clearly loves the UAE. She spent one month in the country with her family, and loved exploring the local dining scene. She even ordered ice cream on Talabat, so she could check out the competition. 

She recalls: “I chose the UAE because I’ve been spending time here with my family and friends. I found a connection and it’s special. We are supported by the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which wants us to be successful. So, Brunch & Cake slid into our DMs and said they wanted to do this big, beautiful residency. It just kept adding up, which is why this was our first international expansion.”

Throughout Tyra’s career, she has been outspoken on the importance of female empowerment. At Tyra Beauty, she had to make an effort to hire men, as she was so pro-women. She even created a shade of lipstick called “Ask For a Raise”. So, Brunch & Cake, which is inspired by the generosity of grandmas, was the perfect partnership.

She enthuses: “Brunch & Cake are all about female empowerment. They put grandmothers on a pedestal. I would not be talking to you right now, if it wasn’t for my mum. She gave me the tools for me to make decisions for myself. I have always felt that I wanted to take the power that my mother put into me to women worldwide. This is why I get up every single day as a businesswoman to break open those doors, so that the women who come in behind me don’t have to deal with that.”

Tyra Banks
Smize & Dream’s ice cream flavours

The Smize & Dream range includes decadent flavours: Biscaramel; Butter Pecan But Betta; Purple Cookie Mon-Star & Me; Salt & Peppa Sweet Cream; Strawberries and That Salted Cream; the vegan option, Banana Baby; and Not Chocolate, which is a homestyle-style Vanilla. Plus, Chocolate Chocolate Pistachi-dough has been created for the region. 

Tyra explains: “People are so obsessed with cookie dough, and pistachios are a local favourite nut. The super tasty deep, green pistachio cookie dough lives inside our rich chocolate ice cream along with roasted pistachios and chocolate swirls. It’s pure bliss. And I love to create new words, like ‘smize’, so I combined ‘pistachio’ with ‘cookie dough’ to create Pistachi-dough. Try to say it fast three times. It’s not easy! But it sure does taste doughp.”

As for Tyra’s favourite flavour, it’s currently the Butter Pecan But Betta. She admits: “I love caramel and nutty flavoured ice cream. Ours is a little different, as it has a caramel butter in it, which is not a traditional caramel. We have our roasted pecan and beautiful ice cream base, which has a little touch of vanilla. That is my jam.”

There’s clearly nothing vanilla about Tyra. So, what ice cream flavour would be she? She jokes: “I’d be SMiZe-ing Sundae Surprise. Every pint would be different, and you wouldn’t know what was in it.”

Tyra Banks
Smize & Dream’s children’s book

Tyra is the ultimate slashie – a businesswoman, model, producer, and now children’s author. To tie in with the ice cream, a book is launching based on the Smize & Dream logo. The logo includes a fictional family: grandma DJ Splitz; daughter LeeLee, a budding fashion designer; and seven-year-old Lil Y, who aspires to be an ice cream entrepreneur.

She explains: “So, the Smize & Dream logo has a family, which is inspired by my family. They show that you are never too old or young to go after your dreams. The beautiful thing is that they are black people inspired by family. It’s rare to see a logo that represents brown people and black people.

“I didn’t see a lot of that growing up. It’s very powerful for people to see a representation of themselves, or of different races and backgrounds. It was strategic and deliberate to make sure our logo had human beings, and human beings inspired by my family.”

Tyra, you’ve definitely put a smize on our face. 

GO: Visit https://smizeanddream.com for more information. 

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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, preferably with the promise of wine, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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