Tara Shannon is the Forest Gump of Modeling. Her knack for being at the forefront of a trend is uncanny.
What a career. She did it all: Covers, editorial, couture, runways, advertising, catalogues, commercials, television, movies, music video’s. She was Ring Mistress for Cirque du Soleil AND trained with them in Canada; she was on Oprah twice; married Spiderman at Shea stadium in front of 50,000 fans in a Patrick Kelly wedding gown and then was written up in the wedding section of the NY Times; co-hosted with Joan Rivers’ on her television show, did a schtick with Jerry Seinfeld on MTV. She could do anything. She wisely marketed herself as: “The Woman of a Thousand Faces.” Her Bride of Frankenstein for Huey Lewis was hysterical – you can still see it on YouTube – and I remember a composite she did as Joan Crawford, Marcel Marceau, Tina Louis and David Bowie. She has a lot of iconic images from her shoots with Helmut Newton, Avedon and Irving Penn. I loved her work with Albert Watson and Francios Lamy for English and Italian Vogue. Did you ever see the spread she shot with Ruven Afanador as a beaten down, tragic Marlene Deitrich? Brutal. Brilliant.
She grew up with a political activist mother who worked with the Black Panthers; the FBI wiretapped their phone and the police tear gassed their house. From this she ends up socializing with old Hollywood, new Rock and Roll, and international royalty. I heard she’s writing a book. It’s about time.
By John Stanny, award winning advertising genius
TARA SHANON’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW FOR SMI:
Fashion, it can be said, are what dreams are made of.
The clothes, make-up artistry, photography and the models are what provide the fuel for these dreams.
Interviewing Tara Shannon for supermodelicons.com fulfilled one of my dreams and it was a joy to do.
They say that blondes have more fun, but I believe Tara completely shatters that illusion.
I absolutely enjoyed talking to this red-headed spitfire who has had more experiences than could fill the lifetimes of many people.
Tara is living in West Palm Beach with an expansive view of the water. It is “a lifelong dream fulfilled!” she says. She is designing and building her own website (tarashannon.com) which, “feels like being an over-caffeinated elf in Santa’s Workshop. I am in abundant creative expression with endless toys to play with.”
Working on her memoirs as well, Tara will include excerpts on her soon to be launched website.
Tara has been coaching and giving workshops as a Certified facilitator since 1997 for The Work of Byron Katie, whom Time Magazine named “A spiritual innovator for the new millennium.” She shared, “The Work transformed me in minutes. LITERALLY! I am now able to see how every event that I believed had caused pain; each belief around lack or loss are now doorways leading to unbelievably inspiring and heart desired solutions.” She says. “It has shifted the concept of joy into the experience of joy. Every person I know that seeks this truth, has found it. It really is the most effective and efficient process to end the confusion at the core of suffering.”
So after my trying to reach her (I got lost in the time zones by an hour!) we finally got to chat, and what a divine conversation it was.
SMI: During your career, did you ever come up for breath?
TS: I really never wanted to. I was constantly go go go!
SMI: What were your early years as a child like?
TS: My mother was a radical political activist and feminist, working with the Black Panthers. We lived below the poverty line. This background fed my ambition. I consciously picked modeling as a career choice but saw I had to carve out a market for myself in Denver as it had a fashion industry that wasn’t exactly thriving.
Tara volunteered to be the artist model at department store’s for the experience and exposure. She would also set up “Tea Room” modeling between small speciality shops and restaurants, thus producing, styling and modeling for the show. She tested with photographers, scouting locations, art directing, doing her own make-up and hair, and styling the clothes. She said, “I created my own opportunities to model. This actually became the mission statement for my career… and my life. If the opportunity isn’t there, create it.”
TS: Yes. Ambition fed by a love of learning and backed with professional pride. I wanted to know about the entire process of being involved in the art of fashion, period. It was truly a career choice. A business decision.
At shoots, I always asked to see the layouts to know what the client and the photographers visions were so I could better deliver. I could visualize the camera framing and know how to fill the spacial graphics of the layout ( already cropped ) in my head. I could always SEE the finished shot in my head while we were shooting. By having a clear understanding of everyone’s expectations visually, I was able to give them what they needed. Polaroid’s were a vital tool to me. My personal goal (of which I often achieved!) was for the client to be able to use at least 80% of the shots on a contact sheet. It became a trained instinct that served me very well.
I knew that the Dallas fashion scene was going to be the perfect education for the eventual next step: New York.
I signed with the Kim Dawson agency and worked non-stop, especially with Neiman Marcus. Daria Retian, was V.P. Fashion Director in charge of creative services and was a major force in preparing me for New York City.
Neiman’s booked me for a catalogue in Maine with Patti Hansen, a personal idol. I was SO excited to work with a “real New York” model. I actually went with them to pick Patti up from the airport and followed her around like a puppy, pumping her for information about New York… driving her crazy. She arrived with no luggage but instead went to the Five and Dime where she purchased a package of men’s briefs, t-shirts, and a toothbrush. She lived in her truth with such freedom and clarity. This taught me how to let go of “doing it right” and to create from individuality. It was a phenomenal lesson for a young girl to learn.
After one year of being in Texas, the top agencies in New York wanted Tara to sign with them. She started at Wilhelmina, impressed with the professionalism of it’s founder. Eventually she moved to Elite, then headed by John Casablanca. She became known as “The Woman of a Thousand Faces” and rocketed to international fame doing iconic shoots with Avedon, Irving Penn, Horst and Helmut Newton.
SMI: Was there ever a time when you just booked out and said “I am unavailable” and just went off to some place you might have been on a job, to just get lost in it?
TS: Actually, I never did. So many of my best jobs happened by chance and at the last minute. I could never say no to something great, it always revived my inspiration. Once, after traveling around the world in 24 days, I said to the agency. “Book me out, I cannot pack another suitcase.” They informed me of a booking in Haiti for Italian Vogue with a possible cover. Once I arrived, I noticed the other model was sharing a room with the photographer. ‘Well, there goes my chance for the cover,” I thought. But as it turned out, during the “sleepover” this model got kneed in the face, which resulted in her receiving a black eye… and that was how I landed my first Italian Vogue cover. My career was built on moments and things like this happening.
She was also a show girl. Karl Lagerfeld’s genius, she said, was finding inspiration. For one of the collections, he asked the girls for feedback on the looks, which she states was, “AN AMAZING HONOR.” For one of the looks she suggested going with an airline stewardess motif, which was exactly what he did. He respected the insights from the girls, knowing the depth of their experiences.
SMI: (I discussed with her a YouTube clip that I had posted on her Facebook page, from the late 1980’s where she was reflecting on her career and saying that she was going to give it six more months so she could start over as an actress.)
First off, you look fabulous in that clip. I especially enjoyed seeing you flapping your arms so animated down the runway in one of the snippets, looking serious but hamming it up. Was that a normal occurrence?
TS: (laughs) Thanks so much for posting that. I laughed so hard watching myself back then. I thought: “OY! That girl needs a sandwich!” I was SO skinny, and second, I don’t know what the hell I was saying about six more months of modeling. I LOVED being a model SO much! I don’t know what was going through my head at the time.
SMI: But you did branch out into other things. Like being in a Huey Lewis video! And Cirque du Soleil too!
TS: “Doing It All for My Baby”. YES! (laughs) Oh, that was so much fun playing the Bride of Frankenstein. It was like the silent film days at RKO. “Come on kids, let’s put on a show!” and that is exactly what we did. Music videos were not union productions which is why that shoot lasted 36 hours straight. It was a lot of hard work but oh, it was so much fun.
Oh, and Cirque! My friend Bruce took me to see that show for the first time, and I was literally moved to tears by the uniqueness of the artistic expression. It blew my head off how creativity could be based on such limitless inspiration. Later, my agency called and said that Cirque was doing a charity event, no pay. Would I be interested in participating? I told them to book me out, of course I would do it. I reported to Debra Brown, the acclaimed choreographer, VERY enthused and was like “Ok, whatever you want me to do I will do it. If you want me to sweep the floor I will do it.” In the circus world, that is exactly the mindset and work ethic that prevails. The humility of doing everything and anything for the good of the whole. I was gifted with the position of Ring Mistress for the show, and it was one of the most exciting and fulfilling moments of my life.
All in all I have been extremely blessed in my career. To go from poverty to closing a YSL show as the bride, to Cirque. Look at all the gifts I was given as a result. I live in gratitude for what I was able to do and with the exceptional people I got to do it with.
SMI: What would be the one quote that sums up your life?
TS: “A seeker of shame and guilt finds shame and guilt. A seeker of truth finds redemption.”