Tyra Banks Reflects on Iconic 2019 SI Swim Cover, Working With Powerful Black Women

The industry legend shared the most heartfelt post featuring photographer Laretta Houston.
Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks.

SI Swimsuit legend Tyra Banks is an industry icon and everyone knows it. The model made her brand debut in 1993 and returned three years later for her first cover photoshoot in South Africa alongside fellow model Valeria Mazza. In ’97, she landed on the front of the issue again, solo this time, and became the first Black woman to do so in the brand’s history.

The 49-year-old’s most special and groundbreaking appearance came more than two decades later when she came out of retirement for another SI Swimsuit cover feature in the Bahamas. Banks reflected on the experience in an adorable, wordy and heartfelt Instagram post earlier this week.

The creator and host of America’s Next Top Model, who began modeling at the age of 15, admitted that when she started out, there were very few Black female photographers. When she was asked to be in the magazine and knew she would be featured on the 2019 issue cover, she wanted to use her platform for good.

“I wanted to give a black FEMALE photographer 👩🏽‍🦱 a career changing opportunity. Just like my past @si_swimsuit covers changed my career big time. I  searched social media, high and low. IG, Pinterest…scrolling scrolling scrolling and then WOW… I landed on @larettahouston 📷 Laretta’s work was edgy, artistic, had depth. She had the eye 👁️. And I knew that because she was a woman, and more specifically a black woman, there was a chance that the world at large would not get to witness her creative genius,” Banks explained in her caption of photographer Laretta Houston.

She then presented Houston’s portfolio to SI Swimsuit editor in chief MJ Day, who enthusiastically agreed to the opportunity to highlight a new photographer.

“Cut to a month later and we were all on the beach of the Bahamas and OMG…Laretta is right there photographing me! As I posed for her lense on that sand, my heart was so full because I felt that her career was about to change,” the Life-Size actress added. “She later told me she was so nervous, but I couldn’t tell. She was a BOSS 💪🏾on that beach. Leading her team and getting shot after great shot.The Bahamas sun set and we left the island 🏝️ and the cover debuted! One of my fave covers EVER!”

A photographer-model partnership was created that day, in addition to an important and profound friendship. Banks and Houston have worked together numerous times over the years and the women continue to be each other’s biggest supporters. 

“But I didn’t want that to be the end of my work with Laretta. After we helped to made sure she got a good agent, I couldn’t leave my work with her to just that one (major) job,” the former Victoria’s Secret Angel wrote. “Every time I work with Laretta, it just feels so good. She’s the truth. And now the world 🌎 knows she is, too. Keep dreaming, y’all. Your time to shine will come. 💫💛TyTy.”

“OMG! I am in tears. 😭 You literally changed my life. There are enough words to describe how honored to have worked with you on so many campaigns. I am internally grateful for you! ICON TYRA BANKS! ❤️❤️❤️❤️,” Houston gushed in the comments.

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Ananya Panchal


Ananya Panchal is a NYC-based Lifestyle & Trending News writer at SI Swimsuit. Before joining the Swim team, the Boston University Alum worked for culture & entertainment beats at Bustle, The San Francisco Chronicle and the TODAY Show. When Ananya is not writing or doom-scrolling on social media, she can be found playing sudoku, rewatching One Tree Hill or trying new restaurants. She's also a coffee and chocolate (separately) enthusiast.