Chelsea Tyler Claims Her Fame
by suzy Buckley Woodward
When it comes to strong facial characteristics, sometimes it plays better in the original rather than the inherited version. But the genetic-gene-pool stars have surely aligned for the Tyler offspring we’ve already seen in the spotlight (actress Liv and model Mia), and now, ready for her close-up, is 23-year-old Chelsea, a new IMG model, musician, and artist who’s arguably the most spitting image of Steven Tyler of all. And it works.
Born in Boston to Tyler and his second wife, clothing designer Teresa Barrick, Chelsea grew up in the outskirts of the city, living what she calls “a very taking-the- bus-to-school-every-day” kind of childhood, even working at American Apparel (“I just love the clothes!”) and waitressing to pay the bills.
But life was anything but humdrum, interspersed with the occasional around-the-world trip with Tyler as he toured with Aerosmith, plus plenty of experiences unique to being the child of a celebrity. “I didn’t quite understand why we’d go to Disney World and my dad had to wear a fake beard and a big hat, and keep his head down,” she explains. “I was trying to go on rides, and people were approaching us, stealing him away.” Life as the progeny of a rock star has, understandably, left her a bit wary of Hollywood and the institution of fame. “It makes me sad, because a lot of people who get into the entertainment industry—whether it’s acting, music, or modeling—are in it for fame. I read an article recently about a fifth-grade class that was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Around 75 percent said, ‘Famous, sexy, or rich,’ and I was like, ‘Wait a second, it should be about doing what you love and what you’re good at.’ Then, you might achieve fame through taking it seriously, hard work, and being an honest person.”
Chelsea spent her late teens studying painting and sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. While living in Boston, a friend she’d known since preschool asked her to model for a fashion blog they’d just launched, jandymonroe.com. She hit it off with the project’s stylist, Wesley Nault, who would later end up as a design contestant on Project Runway. “We got to play, and it totally changed my perception of the modeling world,” she explains, adding that she’d also had an epiphany about the industry thanks to an oil painting class she had taken in school: “When nude models posed for us, everyone took it really seriously. Models have been around forever as muses for painters and sculptors. There was a long period of time when I was definitely pushing [the thought of modeling] away because I didn’t feel it as an important way of existing. But then I realized it’s not just about fashion and pretty, skinny girls; it’s about holding positions to make the most of the body from a visual standpoint. And with the hairstylists, makeup artists, and even the guys holding the lights, modeling really becomes an artistic collaboration.”
According to modeling world standards, Tyler was a late bloomer, by choice. “Modeling didn’t interest me; it takes a level of confidence I don’t think I had when I was 15 or 16 years old,” she says, pointing out her admiration for Mia, her older half-sister from her dad’s first marriage, who has carved out a career as a successful plus-size model. “She has such poise and incredible awareness of herself, and she is so sure and proud of her body. I think, if she can do that, why am I worrying about being a little bit too tall, or my lips a little bit too big? I’m still meeting new challenges, like really being comfortable in my own skin, and being ballsy enough to say, ‘All right, this is what I am and I am fine with that—you can take it or leave it.’ This is a visual industry, and your specific look may or may not be right for a certain project, but you have to deal with it.” As it turns out, long legs, enormous eyes, voluminous lips, and alabaster skin hit the mark in plenty of circles: After appearing in the ads for the Andrew Charles collection at Macy’s (a line of rocker-inspired apparel Steven designed with Andy Hilfiger) alongside her dad and Mia, she was signed to IMG Models in 2011, and she’s since landed a campaign with Alice + Olivia. (Tyler has been so busy, she’s had to relegate the creation of her visual art—charcoal, wood burning, oil paint, and sculpting with found materials including driftwood and metal—to her “number-one hobby, what I do when I finally have time to myself.”)
Living with her famous father’s face took some getting used to. Unwitting bystanders all over the world would constantly tell her she looked like Steven Tyler. At one point in her life, she would outright deny the relation altogether. “[Back then] I didn’t want the extra attention,” she says. “But now I don’t care. When the three of us—Mia, Liv, and I—are out together, you really see how much I look like him, and how I really picked it up more than them. I totally embrace it now and don’t really think about it anymore—it’s just my face.”
Chelsea is also the first Tyler offspring to front her own band, badbad, which she formed with her boyfriend, Jon Foster, an actor (he starred alongside Jenna Elfman in the CBS sitcom Accidentally on Purpose) she met through longtime friend/fellow-rocker-descendant Zoë Kravitz in New York in June of last year. “Music has always been close to my heart, obviously, because of my family, but also just a personal drive,” says Tyler, who admits to “pulling a lot from [my dad],” and cites Etta James, Nina Simone, and Jeff Buckley, as well as Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé among her influences. Her voice is bluesy, while Foster is a DJ/producer who plays the guitar, drums, and bass. Together they’re working on an album. “It became our love child. It’s really this thing that came out of two people that got to know each other,” Tyler says. She is hoping to finish the album in a couple of months. “The art really happens when he puts it all into his computer and pieces it together.”
She says she’ll occasionally call her dad for writing tips and tricks to keep the inspiration coming but isn’t in it for the fame or even fortune. “When it comes to my music, I just like to know that someone hears it and connects with it. It’s a cliché, but you can have so many fans and still be very much the loneliest person in the world, which is not what I’m looking for. I meet so many people who meet me and say, ‘Wow, oh my God, you’re so down to earth,’ but why wouldn’t I be? I was just a girl with braces, who had the regular concerns of finding a boyfriend and having the right nail polish color and all that. Now I’m in a place in my life where I’m finally ready to be part of the industry. It’s in my blood.”
Photography by Brian Bowen Smith; Styling by Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson for Rachel Zoe Studio at The Wall Group; Hair by Rod Ortega for soloartists.com/Shu Uemura Art of Hair; Makeup by Spencer Barnes for soloartists.com/Tom Ford Beauty
AG Jeans design director Mark Wiesmayr and stylist Jeanann Williams on denim's cultural footprint.