Photos for social media are big business.
Companies such as Refinery29 and pop-up installations Candytopia have contributed to the boom of funhouse venues where people pay to visit immersive rooms and leave with Instagram-worthy snapshots. The latest entrant poised to capitalize on our self-obsession: Tyra Banks. And she’s doing it with diversity in mind.
The top model maven is launching an experiential exhibit dubbed ModelLand in the spring. Unlike many of the temporary pop-up exhibits in big cities across the country, ModelLand is set to be a permanent stay in Santa Monica, California.
There are lighting setups that adjust to complement your skin tone. Banks will use the venue to scout for models of all ages and body types. Imagine Disneyland meets the reality show “America’s Next Top Model.” That’s the idea.
The motivation behind the twist on photo pop-ups is simple: Make everyone feel like the center of attention.
” ‘America’s Next Top Model’ was a show that few wannabe models starred in while millions watched. There was the competition to be the best and be chosen as number one,” Banks said. “ModelLand is a show, where anybody can come and be the star of that show in an immersive attraction.”
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Though the 21,000-square-foot venue isn’t open yet, Banks promises there will be a runway, hair and makeup stations and high-tech cameras that snap photos of visitors. The former daytime talk show host’s voice will offer “smizing” – smiling with your eyes – tips as visitors move through space, she told USA TODAY.
ModelLand: Behind the business
ModelLand will be the latest “experience”-centered venue in a landscape of curated museums that are beginning to define an era. There have been whimsical destinations in New York, Los Angeles and Miami that are designed around food, illusions and artwork.
One of the most popular examples of the trend is the Color Factory, an interactive exhibit that started in San Francisco in 2017 before hopping to New York and Houston.
“We’re in an era where people want to touch, feel and experience,” Banks said.
Despite launching during the social media age, when teens and young adults perpetually edit, post and scroll, Banks had a tough time getting investors to believe in a niche venture. In fact, the project took 12 years to unfold. And the exact date for the space to be completed is somewhat of a moving target.
“There are challenges every single day when you’re doing something that has never been done before,” Banks said. Especially “when you’re showing people something that they don’t even know they want until they see it.”
As word spread about the modeling funhouse, turning down potential business partners was another challenge, said Banks, the founder of a makeup line.
The serial entrepreneur promises ModelLand collaborations with big companies that have yet to be announced. “When it comes to success, it’s not what you say yes to. It’s what you say no to” that counts, she said.
ModelLand: What to expect
Showing up to ModelLand is less like showing up to a sprawling amusement park and more like arriving at a ground lounge in Las Vegas, Banks said. Guests will be treated with a branded robe, then image specialists will style them. The venue includes a general admission area with immersive shopping opportunities.
Banks said she and the management team haven’t nailed down whether patrons can take selfies on-site since there are dedicated cameras intent on capturing your best moments.
Banks’ years as a supermodel served as not-so-subtle inspiration for ModelLand. When she was a teen, she entered a rigid industry that nitpicked her body proportions and skin tone. Even after she became one of the world’s best-known models, there were brands that didn’t want to be associated with a black model, she said.
“Pain leads to passion,” Banks said. Her passion was giving people a platform for unique beauty. Her plan, ModelLand, is meant to take that to the next level, so parents, kids and modeling enthusiasts can experience the most uplifting parts of the industry that launched her into stardom.
Is Instagram ruining modeling?
The modeling industry has changed a lot since Banks walked the catwalk for Victoria’s Secret and a slew of other big names. Social media influencers are the new “It” girls. There’s much more diversity and agencies that used to be known for representing models added celebrities, musicians and influencers to their boards.
Model Tyson Beckford said Instagram models “ruined” the industry.
Banks puts focus on the many ways platforms such as Instagram enabled society to better dictate what beauty is, rather than have it thrust upon the masses by gatekeepers behind glossy magazines and design houses.
“When you have a public forum that is showing a shift in beauty, showing a shift in body types, and then you see other company’s sales going up … it forces change,” Banks said. “I think that the world is doing a really good job of making their themselves heard.”
How much is ModelLand?
Tickets for ModelLand start at $59. The top-tier experience including a fantasy photoshoot is $1,495. Guests leave with a personalized digital look book of photos they can post online.
They might see Banks walking around, offering to take photos for them.
“This is my baby. I’m going to be there a lot,” Banks said. “I might be discovering somebody that never thought that she could do a cosmetics campaign and has no desire to be a professional model. I’m going to make her a professional model even if it’s just for a day.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.