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Tyra Banks Says Naomi Campbell Told Her "You'll Never Be Me" Backstage at a Runway Show

The two models were locked in a feud for years—and it may not be over yet.

Tyra Banks is one of the most successful supermodels in history—not just on the runway, but also in popular culture, from America's Next Top Model to her talk show to hosting Dancing With the Stars. And yet, there was a time when she felt rejected by her idol in the industry. Banks' first runway season in 1991 came on the heels of the "Big Five" supermodels of the '90sCindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, and Naomi Campbell—being minted. Though only three years younger than Campbell, Banks looked up to her, and the two were often compared. However, Campbell apparently didn't give her a warm welcome to the fashion world, and Banks once claimed that the more established model told her, "You'll never be me," when they were backstage at a show. Read on to find out more about the tension between the models and where their relationship stands now.

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Campbell broke down barriers in the industry.

Naomi Campbell in 1990
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Born in South London to a professional dancer and single mother, Campbell explained in her No Filter With Naomi YouTube series that she originally studied dance to follow in her mom's footsteps. But after she was discovered and landed the cover of Elle UK at the age of 15, her life changed drastically.

By the late '80s, Campbell had become friends with Evangelista and Turlington. The three were referred to in the press as "The Trinity," and Turlington and Evangelista refused to work with brands who wouldn't feature Campbell, helping her break down racial barriers. ""They really put themselves out there, Linda and Christy, in terms of supporting me with designers back in the day who hadn't used a model of colour yet," Campbell told The Observer in 2020.

By the time she posed for the infamous January 1990 Vogue cover deifying her and her peers, 20-year-old Campbell was one of the reigning queens of the runway.

Banks came up a few years behind her.

Tyra Banks in 1994
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Banks began her modeling career in 1988, but it wasn't until 1991 that she moved to Milan and broke through in her first runway season. By then, the Big Five were not just fashion royalty but a major pop culture sensation, having appeared in the video for George Michael's "Freedom '90" video and then lip-synching to it during in the finale of the 1991 Versace Fashion Week show.

Banks also got her turn appearing in a George Michael video, appearing alongside others (including Evangelista, the only returning cast member from "Freedom '90") in 1992's "Too Funky." By the time she signed with CoverGirl in 1993, she was touted by The New York Times as following in Campbell's footsteps.

However, according to Banks, Campbell was not impressed with her.

Banks was hurt that Campbell shunned her.

Tyra Banks in 2007

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal in 2019, Banks opened up about her relationship with Campbell, admitting that there was some truth to rumors the two didn't get along when she was first starting out. "I had very painful early days in Paris," she explained. "As much as I was booking every single fashion show, people didn't know I was going home every night crying my eyes out, because the woman that I was looking up to seemed like she just didn't want me to be there and was doing everything in her power to make me go away."

"And I didn't understand that, as a young girl, like why is she doing this, this is so evil, this is so awful. The adult me understands that she was reacting to an industry that was all about a token," Banks continued, touching on racism in the industry. "When this one girl, Kate Moss, came on the scene, they weren't telling Christy Turlington, 'You better look out, Kate Moss has got some high cheekbones like you do, Christy.' When Shalom Harlow came on the scene, they weren't [saying], 'Linda Evangelista, look out, another brunette is on the loose!' But when I came on the scene, 'Naomi, look out, there's another Black girl that's going to take your spot.'

Despite what Campbell's cold shoulder, Banks said she never looked at their situation as a rivalry. "I'm very sensitive to that word, because a rivalry is between two equals to me whereas one was very dominant, she was a supermodel, and I was just some new girl that had got on a plane from Paris and was studying fashion and magazines."

They hashed it out on Banks' talk show.

Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks on The Tyra Banks Show in 2005
Bankable Productions/Telepictures Productions

Years after those tense first meetings, the two models talked it out for the world to see. Campbell was one of Banks' earliest guests on her talk show, coming on in November 2005, a mere two months after The Tyra Banks Show premiered.

The host told her guest that she was Campbell's biggest fan when they met, and that she had her photos "plastered all over [her] bedroom walls." Banks said that she had been so excited the two were walking the same show together in Paris that she called her aunt, saying over and over, "Can you believe it?" She then asked if Campbell remembered what she said to her after overhearing (and allegedly misunderstanding) Banks' half of the conversation.

"You said, 'I heard you talking about me, you called me the b-word,' and you said, 'We have a photoshoot to do in Anguilla and it's not going to be pleasant if you're talking about me like that,'" Banks said.

Campbell told Banks, "I'm really sorry," and explained that she had heard her name and assumed Banks was gossiping about her.

Banks also told Campbell that she was sent home in the middle of that Anguilla photoshoot, and when she asked why, was told that it was because Campbell didn't want her there. Campbell denied that this was possible, saying she didn't have any say over who was on set. The host then recalled an incident backstage at a Milan fashion show, saying to Campbell, "You came up to me right when I was about to walk out… you said something like, 'You'll never be me, don't ever think that you'll be me.'"

Campbell said she didn't recall that happening, but told Banks, "If that's what you remember, I accept that, but it doesn't sound like me to people that would know me."

The feud may or may not still be active.

Naomi Campbell in 2022
lev radin/Shutterstock

Since the episode aired, the air seems to be cleared between the models—for the most part. They've been photographed together at several events, including the 2007 NAACP Image Awards two years later.

Campbell has also praised the younger model in the press. Asked about America's Next Top Model in a 2013 interview with Elle, Campbell admitted that she didn't watch it, but added, "If you ask me about Tyra Banks, I'm proud of her as a woman of color. She's given girls opportunity, and God bless her." And in 2019, The Guardian noted that the supermodel got visibly angry at the idea she wanted to push Banks out of the industry. "Some people think I wanted it to be that way," she said. "I did not want it that way."

However, in 2020, as reported by Page Six, Campbell shared an article to her Instagram story titled
"Here's Why Fans Are Starting to Think Tyra Banks Is the Real Mean Girl, Not Naomi Campbell." So maybe the feud is not quite dead after all.

Ani Bundel
Ani Bundel is an entertainment writer covering everything from celebrities to movies to peak TV. Read more
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