Ice cream might not be the first thing you associate with a supermodel, but Tyra Banks has made a career out of breaking the mould.
Both on and off the runway, Banks has worked to redefine how people see beauty and now she’s here to tell everyone that life is for living and ice cream is for eating. And not some low-fat, keto, sugar-free version, either — but the good stuff.
“I can see the confusion on people’s faces when they ask me why I launched an ice cream brand,” Banks tells The National. “But for me, it makes perfect sense.”
Smize & Dream is the result of a lifelong love affair that started with her great-grandmother hand-making ice cream for her as a child, to Friday night bonding sessions with her mother as a teenager, where they would catch up on their weeks and discuss her dreams for the future, always over a bowl of ice cream.
“That’s what ice cream means to me,” she says. “It’s nostalgia, it’s my mum, it’s dreams. I’ve been obsessed since I was three or four years old. It’s natural to me because it’s a passion.”
The company, which was launched during the pandemic, has chosen the UAE as its first location for international expansion outside of the US, a decision that Banks said “made sense to her”. On Wednesday, she launched the brand at the cafe's outpost in Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi.
“I was here with my family for a month, my mum, my son, my man and me — and really loving it,” she says. “And I am obsessed with researching where to eat, where to go, what to do.”
That’s how she discovered UAE favourite Brunch & Cake, which will exclusively launch Smize & Dream in the region at its four sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“Brunch & Cake kept popping up in my research and so my family came here, we ordered everything on the menu,” she says. “My son was crazy running around the restaurant, we had a great meal, it was amazing.”
Banks says the restaurant — which is known for its creative, hearty food that is served with a promise of “grandmother’s goodness” — was a natural fit for Smize & Dream. The brand also celebrates grandmothers with its mascot DJ Splitz, inspired by her own mother.
“The partnership felt like synergy,” she says.
Banks is known for breaking the glass ceiling of modelling when she started her career in 1991, making history by booking 25 shows at Paris Fashion Week — more than any other model had walked in a season at the time. And that accomplishment didn’t happen by chance.
“I went to the fashion library that I found in the Yellow Pages,” she said during a talk at Forbes 30/50 Summit, held at Louvre Abu Dhabi last March. “The librarian showed me all of these tapes — Chanel, YSL, Dior, all the French fashion houses. I studied the videos of how they walked and then I took that home.
“I noticed that, for YSL, they walked very classy, had their hair in a chignon and red lipstick, and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel was always playful and happy. So then when I went to Paris, every single time I had an audition or a casting, I changed my hair and make-up in the alley in the back and I walked specifically for how those designers presented their collections.”
And Banks took that same approach before entering the world of ice cream.
“My first night here I downloaded Talabat and I got 15 pints of ice cream to see how it was tasting over here,” she says. “We looked at famous brands, new brands, brands that were big here.”
Banks believes that Smize & Dream, which hides a truffle cookie dough “Smize Surprise” at the bottom of every tub, offers something different.
“I want people to think about their dreams as they dig, dig, dig for that cookie dough,” she says.
To celebrate its UAE launch, Smize & Dream has also launched a new flavour that’s inspired by the region, Chocolate Pistachi-dough, which will available at the branded ice cream carts found in all of Brunch & Cake’s sites.
And expect to be seeing much more of Smize & Dreams, as Banks reveals there’s a book and live show in the works centred on the brand and its characters. “We’re all about dreams and entertainment,” she says. “Entertainment is a big part of our business.”
“I am very aware of how the world sees me and I know that it’s not as an ice cream entrepreneur and so to some it seems crazy insane, but it’s crazy insane amazing,” she says. "Years from now, I wanted to be remembered as this woman who started this worldwide company, and then people will say: 'Oh yeah, didn't she used to model once?'"