updated 05/09/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/09/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Unbelievable? Well, it did take some work. In addition to watching style shows on CNN, the 20-year-old says, "I practiced by putting on my mother's robes and high heels and walking up and down the living room before I went to Paris." Her emergence, however, hasn't been entirely without effort. Last year a jealous Naomi Campbell reportedly had Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld ban her look-alike rival from his runway. And the American couture world hasn't been color-blind. "I have 20 magazine covers in Europe and only a few in America—Essence for one," says Banks. "But I think there's more understanding of the beauty of ethnicity now."
Living in L.A. with her mother (and manager) Carolyn London-Johnson and her stepfather, Banks—who tends not to comb her hair or wear makeup on off days—says in real life she's "just real goofy," not at all like the sexy model who slithers along the runways. "I try, at least on my answering machine," she says. "I try lowering my voice and talking sexy, but it just doesn't work."