Beckford, Tyson 1970—
Tyson Beckford 1970—
In a world of fashion that has been dominated by women-from the British Twiggy of the 1960s to the multi-ethnic Naomi Campbell of today–Tyson Beckford was not only the first black male “supermodel,” he was the first male supermodel. As Scott Poulson-Bryant wrote in Vibe, “Fabulous females like Christy [Turlington], Linda [Evangelista] and Naomi [Campbell] used to epitomize the world of high fashion. That was until a brother bum-rushed the menswear show.” In fact Beckford has become big enough that he is now primarily known as Tyson. Ralph Lauren, one of the biggest fashion designers and clothing manufacturers of the 1980s and 1990s, attributes Tyson’s success to his “all-American look with a dramatic edge. He conveys power, style and intelligence in a very exciting way.”
Tyson’s current wealth and high visibility are not the result of a privileged background. He was born in the Bronx to parents of Jamaican descent. He points out that the exotic cast to his features comes from a Chinese grandparent. Soon after he was born, his mother took the family back to Jamaica where they stayed until he was seven. Coming back to New York City, they first lived upstate before returning to Harlem, where Tyson still maintains a residence.
Bethann Hardison, Tyson’s agent, credits his mother with a large part of Tyson’s success, saying that she raised him to be unusually sensitive. His mother worked for a time as a fashion model. Realizing her son’s extraordinary charisma from a young age, she dragged him with her from one runway show to another. Despite his mother’s influence, he was not immune to the usual tensions of growing up poor in the ghetto. Never disowning his past, he admits that he lived a wild life, sometimes running with a dangerous crowd and often courting trouble. He even spent a night in jail for stealing a car, though the charges were reduced.
Rather than hanging out all the time with the chic crowd of the international fashion world, Tyson still spends most of his increasingly rare free time with the same friends he had in the summer of 1993. It was at this time that a reporter for an influential New York City journal, The Source, asked Tyson if he would be willing to pose. Tyson was at first reluctant, not sure of what was being offered. When he was satisfied that the offer was legitimate, he made what proved to be an excellent
Born Tyson Beckford, December 19, 1970, in New York City, NY; son of Lloyd Beckford and Hillary Dixon Hall.
Fashion model. Posed for the Source magazine, 1993; has appeared in various publications, including Arena, British GQ, Details, EM, Essence, GQ, Mondo Uomo, New York Times-fashion section, Paper, Vibe, and Vogue Hommes; signed with Bethann Management Company, 1993; first black to sign exclusive contract with Ralph Lauren, 1995 Fashion shows include Tommy Hilfiger; Nautica; Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan.
Awards: Named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” 1995; Male Model of the Year, VH1 Fashion and Video Awards, 1995.
Addresses: Agent-do Bethann Management Company, Ine, 36 North Moore, New York, NY 10013.
career decision by accepting the opportunity.
Beckford’s next big break was coming to the attention of Bethann Hardison, an important agent in the world of fashion. Not only does she handle talented models through her own successful agency, but she also has taken the lead in demanding the use of a more fair proportion of African Americans among models. Although in the 1990s, it is not uncommon to see black faces in catalogs and in commercials, they are still extremely under-represented when compared to the number of black readers and buyers. To help fight this, Hardison formed the Black Girls’ Coalition, an organization of successful models who use their clout to demand that all black models receive a fair shake.
Hardison admits that she did not see right away what made Tyson a supermodel. She realized quickly, though, that he was a unique combination of strength, intelligence, power, and sensitivity. The best fashion photographers loved to photograph Tyson and felt his shots were great from the start. With Hardison and her agency behind him, his rise was dramatic. He appeared in the fashion section of the New York Times, in Gentleman’s Quarterly-both the American and English versions-and in the Mark & Spencer Catalog, perhaps the most prestigious catalog for a male fashion model in the world.
In 1994, People named him one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. Popular magazines do not dominate the fashion world, however; the designers do. Thus, Tyson’s most prestigious accomplishment was modeling for Ralph Lauren. He was the first black man to wear Ralph Lauren clothing in the company’s advertising. Beyond that, Ralph Lauren signed him to an exclusive contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, an unprecedented sum for a male model. The rising model had become a supermodel. He told the Source,” I haven’t let anything go to my head. New York [City] keeps you grounded. If you’re acting funny in the city, someone will let you know in a minute.”
Even with his phenomenal success, Tyson has not forgotten his roots or the other black models still fighting for some success; any job he does not get he wants to go to another black model. He turned down a chance to work the annual Milan fashion shows one year, because he was the only black man invited from the United States. As he told Vibe, “There are so many African-American and African men who are trying to get jobs, and they weren’t giving the jobs to them…. I’m not the only brother out here trying to make it. So I didn’t go.” This stance put him in some conflict with Hardison who felt his appearance in Milan would open doors of opportunity for himself and others. Both can see that Tyson’s success will be important to aspiring black models of the future.
Tyson’s discomfort with affluence and celebrity implies that he is ready for the challenges of sudden wealth and fame, even at his young age. He knows that some will be looking at him and to him as a role model. He is wise enough, though, to know that this is an unfair burden, but one he should not shoulder aside. As he told the Weekly Journal, “I just want to be looked at as a brother who’s doing something positive.”
Ebony, September 1995, p. 48.
People, May 8, 1995.
Source, January 1995; June 1995, p. 24.
Vibe, September 1995, pp. 100-02.
Weekly Journal, April 13, 1995, p. 4ff.
Fashion model, actor
In a world of fashion that has been dominated by women—from the British Twiggy of the 1960s to the multiethnic Naomi Campbell of today—Tyson Beckford was not only the first black male supermodel but was also the first male supermodel of any race. As Scott Poulson-Bryant wrote in Vibe, "Fabulous females like Christy [Turlington], Linda [Evangelista] and Naomi [Campbell] used to epitomize the world of high fashion. That was until a brother bum-rushed the menswear show." In fact, Beckford has become big enough that he is now primarily known among the fashion conscious simply as Tyson. Ralph Lauren, one of the biggest fashion designers and clothing manufacturers around, has attributed Beckford's success to his "all-American look with a dramatic edge. He conveys power, style and intelligence in a very exciting way." Since 2000, Beckford has leveraged the good looks and charisma that made him a sensation on the runway into a successful career on the silver screen.
Tyson's current wealth and high visibility are not the result of a privileged background. He was born in the Bronx to parents of Jamaican descent. Soon after he was born, his mother took the family back to Jamaica, where they stayed until he was seven. Coming back to New York state, they first lived upstate before moving to Harlem, where Tyson maintained a residence as of 2008.
Bethann Hardison, Tyson's agent, gives much of the credit for Tyson's success to his mother, who was a fashion model herself for a time. Recognizing her son's extraordinary charisma from a young age, she dragged him with her from one runway show to another. Despite his mother's influence, Tyson was not immune to the usual tensions of growing up poor in the ghetto. Never disowning his past, he admits that he lived a wild life, sometimes running with a dangerous crowd and often courting trouble. He even spent a night in jail for stealing a car, though the charges were reduced.
In the summer of 1991, a reporter for the popular New York-based hip-hop magazine Source asked Tyson if he would be willing to pose. At first, Tyson was unsure of what was being offered, so he was reluctant to accept the opportunity. Once he was satisfied that the offer was legitimate, he accepted and launched what has turned out to be a successful fashion career.
Beckford's next big break was coming to the attention of Bethann Hardison, an important agent in the world of fashion. Besides her successful handling of a number of top models, Hardison has been a leading voice in advocating for a more significant presence of African-American models on fashion runways, where they were still sparsely represented in the 1990s. To pursue this goal, Hardison formed the Black Girls' Coalition, an alliance of successful models working to give African Americans a fairer position in the fashion industry.
Hardison admits that she did not see right away what made Beckford a supermodel. She realized quickly, however, that he possessed a unique combination of strength, intelligence, power, and sensitivity. His stunning good looks—an "exotic" mélange that reflects his Jamaican heritage as influenced by a Chinese paternal grandfather—didn't hurt either. The best fashion photographers quickly came to love shooting Beckford, and with Hardison and her agency working hard on his behalf, he quickly rose to the top of the profession. He appeared in the fashion section of the New York Times, in Gentleman's Quarterly (both the American and English versions), and in the Mark & Spencer Catalog, on of the world's most prestigious catalogs for a male fashion model.
In 1993 Beckford became the first black man to wear Ralph Lauren clothing in the company's advertising. Lauren soon signed him to an exclusive contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, an unprecedented sum for a male model. The rising model had become a supermodel. In 1995 People named Beckford one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world. By this time, he was also in great demand as background eye candy in music videos, leading the music video channel VH1 to tap him as its "Man of the Year" in 1995. He told Source that year, "I haven't let anything go to my head. New York [City] keeps you grounded. If you're acting funny in the city, someone will let you know in a minute."
Even with his phenomenal success, Beckford did not forget his roots or the other black models still struggling to succeed in a traditionally white profession. He turned down a chance to work the annual Milan fashion shows one year because he was the only black man invited from the United States. As he told Vibe in September of 1995, "There are so many African-American and African men who are trying to get jobs, and they weren't giving the jobs to them…. I'm not the only brother out here trying to make it. So I didn't go." This stance put him in conflict with Hardison, who felt his appearance in Milan would open doors of opportunity for both himself and others.
As so many fashion models have attempted to do, by the turn of the millennium Beckford was ready to make the move into acting. He made his motion picture debut in 2000 with an appearance as himself in the little-seen film Boricua's Bond, and the following year he appeared—again as himself—in Zoolander, Ben Stiller's spoof on the male model business. He followed with something of a breakthrough role opposite Laurence Fishbourne in the 2003 movie Biker Boyz. He has made roughly a movie a year since then.
In June of 2005 Beckford survived a horrific auto accident that nearly took his life. Beckford's truck struck a utility pole and burst into flames. He barely managed to extract himself from the vehicle before it exploded, escaping with just cuts and minor head trauma. Recounting the incident on Oprah Winfrey's television show a few months later, Beckford broke down in tears as he described his close brush with death. In 2007 Bravo announced that Beckford and fellow supermodel Niki Taylor would host a new reality series Make Me a Supermodel, in which several aspiring models would live in a loft together and compete in a series of challenges for the chance to win $100,000 and a shot at the big time. The show debuted in February of 2008. As his twin careers in modeling and acting continue to thrive, life, like Beckford's face in the eyes of fashion aficionados, remains beautiful.
At a Glance …
Born Tyson Beckford on December 19, 1970, in New York City, NY; son of Lloyd Beckford and Hillary Dixon Hall.
Career: Fashion model, 1993—; actor, 2000—; Make Me a Supermodel, cohost, 2008—.
Awards: Named one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People," 1995; Male Model of the Year, VH1 Fashion and Video Awards, 1995.
Addresses: Agent—c/o Bethann Management Company, Inc., 36 North Moore, New York, NY 10013
Boricua's Bond, 2000.
Pandora's Box, 2002.
Biker Boyz, 2003.
Dream Street, 2005.
Into the Blue, 2005.
Searching for Bobby D, 2005.
Hotel California, 2008.
Kings of the Evening, 2008.
(Cohost) Make Me a Supermodel, 2008—.
Ebony, September 1995, p. 48.
Essence, August 1996, pp. 63-66, 126-131.
Fresno Bee, January 8, 2008.
Guardian (London), September 15, 2007, p. 30.
People, May 8, 1995.
Source, January 1995; June 1995, p. 24.
USA Today, June 7, 2005.
Vibe, September 1995, pp. 100-102.
Weekly Journal, April 13, 1995, p. 4ff.
World Entertainment News Network, October 20, 2005.
"Niki Taylor, Tyson Beckford Host Bravo's ‘Supermodel,’" Zap2It.com, http://www.zap2it.com/tv/news/zap-nikitaylortysonbeckfordhostsupermodel,0,7994993.story (accessed May 21, 2008).
—Jim McDermott and Bob Jacobson
Beckford, Tyson 1970-
Beckford, Tyson 1970-
Full name, Tyson Craig Beckford; born December 19, 1970, in Bronx, NY; son of Lloyd Beckford and Hillary Dixon Hall; married; wife's name Berniece; children: one son.
Actor and model. Model for Ralph Lauren fashion line, beginning c. 1993, and for Sean John clothing, 2005; appeared in print ads for Guess Raw Denim, 1999.
Boricua's Bond, USA Films, 2000.
Himself, Zoolander, Paramount, 2001.
Shottas, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2002.
Lance Racine, Pandora's Box (also known as Trois 2: Pandora's Box), Columbia TriStar/Rainforest Productions, 2002.
Man/prisoner, Gully (short film), Clarendon Entertainment, 2002.
Donny, Biker Boyz, DreamWorks, 2003.
Karl, Gas, Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2004.
Dream Street, Lonette Productions/Dream Street Submission, 2005.
Jerome, Something for Bobby D, Monarch Home Video, 2005.
Primo, Into the Blue, Columbia, 2005.
Charles, Wait (short film), Glamour Magazine, 2005.
Homer Hobbs, Kings of the Evening, Picture Palace Pictures, 2007.
Television Appearances; Series:
Correspondent, Source All Access, syndicated, 2000.
Hollywood Squares (also known as H2 and H2: Hollywood Squares), 2002-2003.
I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, ABC, 2003.
Host, Fine Tuned, 2007.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Judge, Miss Universe 2001, CBS, 2001.
100 Most Irresistible Women, Spike, 2003.
Britney Spears: E! Entertainment Special, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
Ego Trip's Race-o-Rama, VH1, 2005.
Hollywood and Divine: Beauty Secrets Revealed, 2005.
All Shades of Fine: 25 Hottest Women of the Past 25 Years, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Wendy Williams Is on Fire on the Red Carpet, VH1, 2005.
Drift: The Sideways Craze, 2007.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1996.
The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1998.
Hunter, "The Kyles Go to Hawaii: Parts 1 & 2," My Wife and Kids, ABC, 2002.
Pyramid, syndicated, 2002, 2003.
Sexy guy, "The Big I Have a Dream Episode," Half & Half, UPN, 2003.
Motorcycle man, "Britney Spears: Toxic," Making the Video, MTV, 2004.
Cribs, MTV, 2004.
(Uncredited) Motorcyclist, Video on Trial (also known as V.O.T.), MuchMusic, 2005.
"Secrets of the Supermodels," The Tyra Banks Show, UPN, 2005.
"Model Madness," The Tyra Banks Show, UPN, 2006.
"Messenger to Model Material: Jesan H," Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, 2006.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Presenter, The VH1 Fashion Awards, VH1, 1996.
The 1997 Billboard Music Awards, Fox, 1997.
Presenter, The 29th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1998.
The 1999 Source Hip-Hop Music Awards, UPN, 1999.
VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, VH1, 2001.
Presenter, The 30th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, ABC, 2003.
2003 Vibe Awards: Beats, Style, Flavor, UPN, 2003.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
(In archive footage) And You Don't Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop, VH1, 2004.
On the Come Up at the Source Awards, Ventura Distribution, 2001.
Inside the Industry, 2003.
"One More Chance" segment, The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die—The Remaster, Music Video Distributors, 2004.
Appeared in the music videos "My Up and Down" by Adina Howard, 1995; "Pull Up to My Bumper" by Patra, 1995; "Anything" by SWV; "Breathe Again" and "Un-Break My Heart" by Toni Braxton; "Say How I Feel" by Rhian Benson; "Slow Down" by Trisha Covington; "Toxic" by Britney Spears; and "21 Questions" by 50 Cent.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 11, Gale, 1996.
Top Model, May, 1997, pp. 30-35.