Exclusive with Supermodel Niki Taylor
The iconic supermodel celebrates a career marked with momentous milestones, including 15 years calling Nashville home.
Written By: Megan O’Neill
Photographers: Lou Freeman
In 1991, Niki Taylor, a 15-year-old Florida native with a megawatt smile and girl-next-door beauty, walked in her first runway show. Her theatrical, structured-latex silhouette pressed down the Thierry Mugler runway in Paris, alongside models who came to define an industry. Emblematic of an entire generation, the “’90s Supermodel” transcended fashion and performed as both muse and successful entrepreneur. Niki Taylor was one of them.
Today, 42 and one of the most accomplished models of all time, she sits at Pinewood Social, a black tea in front of her, 26 years removed from her first American Vogue cover. There’s an all-American charm about the supermodel, one that’s fully at home in Nashville. Taylor began modeling at 14 and made her first million before most teenagers learn geometry. She became the first spokes-model under 18 to sign a contract with Cover Girl cosmetics and has been on more than 300 major magazine covers. Yet, her charm is one that’s quintessentially humble and soft, one that declares none of these things are her biggest accomplishments in life. No, that would be her children—twins Jake and Hunter (22), Ciel (8), and Rex (5). Along with her husband, former NASCAR driver Burney Lamar, and their two youngest, Taylor calls Franklin home.
“There’s something about the country, about the South,” she says. “I get off that airplane after coming back from New York, and I just—I’m here, I’m home. Everyone’s demeanor, everything changes when you step off the plane in Nashville.”
This year marks major anniversaries for nine iconic establishments in Music City. And, because it’s also a milestone year for Taylor, who is celebrating her 15th year calling Nashville home, she partnered with each institution to honor them through art, in a photography exhibit that’s currently on display in the Nashville International Airport and at the Visitor Center at Bridgestone Arena. Photographed by her longtime manager, Jean Renard, Taylor modeled at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (10th anniversary), Ryman Auditorium (125th), RCA Studio B (60th), Country Music Hall of Fame (50th), Nashville Songwriters Association International (50th), Tin Pan South (25th), Bluebird Cafe (35th), Music City Walk of Fame (10th), and with the Nashville Symphony (70th).
“We definitely wanted to bring a high-fashion element because it’s me, and I’m not a country music star,” Taylor says. The Ryman, at which she was photographed in a plunging black Leanne Marshall gown next to Johnny Cash’s legendary Guild guitar, was a special moment for her. “My family and I, we’ve seen so many great shows there. I’ve always wanted to see where the artists get ready before the show and go behind a stage that legends have sung on. I couldn’t help smiling; I kept saying, ‘Somebody pinch me.’”
When you speak with Taylor, about these accomplishments, about her life, her sweet voice carries confident notes of both perseverance and humility. It’s clear that she was simply born with a force to succeed, even through the setbacks. In 1995, a few months after the birth of her twin sons, Taylor's sister, Krissy, died of a heart condition at the age of 17. Six years later, in 2001, an almost-fatal car crash placed Taylor in critical condition, needing more than 100 units of blood over a three-month period to survive—it’s one reason she’s extensively involved with the American Red Cross.
“I’m no different than anyone else, and everyone has their obstacles and tragedies to go through. It’s so amazing to be on this side of it, and it’s made me a stronger person.”
As she revisits a semi-normal pace of travel and modeling, her life at home continues to ground her—she runs every morning with her dog, a black lab rescue named Uncle Buck, and keeps her health a priority.
In September, she watched her daughter, Ciel, walk in a Sherri Hill fashion show during New York Fashion Week. Moving forward, she’ll continue to navigate a modeling industry that has transformed since the heyday of the ’90s supermodel—many campaigns today focus on social-media following instead of portfolios. But Taylor is in the business of selling products, and she’s good at it—$785 million has been spent in advertising campaigns that feature her image. She’ll flourish through it all, in Nashville or New York, because of the support system she’s created and because, more importantly, it’s not her features or social influence that make for beauty. It’s personality.
As Seen in the October issue of Nashville Lifestyles