Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | February 28th, 2020

Alton Mason on the Redefinition of the Male Model

In an industry that usually considers male models to be fleeting accessories on the arm of their fairer, feminine counterparts, Alton Mason has been determined to change the limited narrative – backflips, smooth moves and all. As a life-changing year comes to a finish filled with shooting top editorials along with billboards for Etro, Missoni and Louis Vuitton, the Los Angeles polymath has continued to be a presence amongst the fashion and entertainment set, easily hopping from Grammy red carpets to walking for the high-energy runways of note. But what do you expect from an uncontested Model of the Year? Certainly, not slowing down. As Black History Month comes to a close in the States, photographer Dana Scruggs takes inspiration from the prolific artist Kerry James Marshall to reverently capture Mason in action as he discusses with his first show walking in a stadium, how he wants to evolve in fashion and music, and meeting his idols.

Photographer – Dana Scruggs for
Stylist – Alexander-Julian Gibbson
Grooming – Michela Wariebi
Set Design – Hans Maharawal

Model – Alton Mason
Interview and text – Irene Ojo-Felix
Photo Assistants – JD Barnes, Paula Agudelo-Paulsen, and Chris Lloyd | Styling Assistant – Chloe Lucan | Set Assistant – Odin Grina | Personal Assistant – Anire Ikomi

Fur Coat – Narciss | Pants – Pyer Moss | Jewelry – Aziza Handcrafted (worn throughout)

I just wanted to start off in the beginning and for context, let’s start at the beginning and first talk about when you were discovered and how you got started in the modeling industry?
I was in L.A. dancing for Laurie-Ann Gibson working with Bad Boy for the Bad Boy reunion tour. Dancing, getting coffee, running errands, and pressing play on the speaker, and mirroring Laurie-Ann’s every move. I’ve always been told that you should model, you’re skinny, you’re tall but it never was really my interest because I was focused on performance and dance and theater. I remember getting a comment on my Instagram picture asking “How tall are you? Are you with an agency?” I didn’t really know what to expect but once I saw the email and the confidentiality, I realized it was real. I showed it to my Mom and she was like, “You should do it.” My mom used to be a model and she just believes in supporting everything I do. Even though I was struggling in L.A. and I didn’t have any money, I took the risk and flew to New York, got cast for my first show at Madison Square Garden for Kanye West.

You talk about how you studied dance and martial arts before modeling. How do those two different arenas influence how your body moves on set?
I’m able to translate the way I feel, the way the clothes feel, and what the vibe is on set. It’s usually different every day. It’s not really the same when it comes to expressing emotion and execution. It changes all the time. Learning and channeling the martial arts, that all helped me align and coordinate my mind and my body.

Jacket, pants, and hat – Abasi Rosborough

I feel like it’s harder for men in the modeling industry to make a name for themselves. Were there any models that you looked up to in the industry and wanted to emulate their path?
It’s definitely hard for a male model to stand out but it’s twice as hard, as a black male model because you have to almost double the work to make an impression. There’s a lot you got to do and I feel like the one thing you have to start with is making sure your mental health is good. You’re fighting a system that broadcasts you have to compete with your brother.

You also have to portray yourself as inhuman. You’re not allowed to have a bad day, you’re not allowed to be angry or upset, or not proper when someone speaks down to you. I didn’t know that these were things that Armando and Fernando Cabral were going through. Those are models I idolized growing up just because of their elegance, their grace in the way they moved, their confidence and their brotherhood spirit. Today, we can not afford people to compete with one another. The only competition is yourself.

What’s one thing that you’d change about the industry if you could?
The list goes on and on the more that I grow. I think it’s beautiful that diversity has been growing within the model industry. I would like to see representation growing within casting directors, photographers, hairstylists, makeup artists that are brought on set. When I was shooting my story the other day, one thing that felt good was working mostly with a team of color. There was some alignment that made it so comfortable on set, a communication that made me feel at home and feel safe to create.

Headpiece – Stylist’s Own | Jewelry – Aziza Handcrafted

Going back to all that you’ve accomplished so far, what is your proudest moment to date?
One of my proudest moments was being shot by Karl Lagerfeld and working with him. That moment made me fall in love with Paris and modeling. It made me realize how chosen I was to be shooting with someone who has been doing this for decades and who just shifted the culture. To be shot by him and having him acknowledge my gift, it was so humbling. In this industry, a lot of times you feel like you might not be good enough, you’re not worthy, under-deserving, or overqualified sometimes. To work with someone who was so great and had such a vision, I surrender to that. Surrender to knowing that, “Wow, I’m amazing and I’m great. I can work with people who feel inspired by what I’m doing.”

“I’m able to translate the way I feel, the way the clothes feel, and what the vibe is on set…Learning and channeling the martial arts, that all helped me align and coordinate my mind and my body.”

How do you want to evolve as a model?
There are so many things that I want to do. It’s just about aligning the timing you know? What I’m falling in love with are music and photography. I always loved clothes so styling them is amazing. But I want to work behind the scenes when it comes to movement. I want to work with a team and have my vision align with another person’s body and be able to interpret something different within. So they’ll be able to discover shapes within their own bodies and poses. I really admire that with Stephen Galloway because he works really hard with that and I love having him on set.

Jacket, pants, and hat – Abasi Rosborough

You’ve mentioned music, and I’ve noticed on Instagram a lot of soundboards. How do you see all these industries connected together? Being so involved in dance and fashion, it makes sense that a natural evolution would be music.
Honestly, I feel like fashion and music go hand in hand. It’s like a married couple, especially in my world because I’ve always loved music and a lot of times, music will occupy my dance and movement. I’ve always loved performing environments. Last year I was with one of my friends who brought a microphone and their laptop over to my hotel and we just hooked it up to the base, taped the mic, I wrote this song and we were like “Let’s try singing it.” I just started singing and to just hear my voice on the mic it made me happy. It’s something that I became committed to and it became a little hobby.

You recently had the opportunity to meet up with a legend like Quincy Jones. How was that experience and how did it even come about?
Well, it’s amazing because I actually was on set, on a shoot with Missoni. Angela [Missoni] saw some of the playback of me dancing and calls me. “Alton, I’m absolutely in love with this idea you’ve done with movement. I feel like there’s so much I don’t know about you. I wanted to know, can you sing?” And I was like, “Yeah, I sing. I actually have been writing my own music.” She was like, “See, I’m glad I asked because I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t so interested in who you are.”

She was like, “I have someone I want you to meet. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve been friends for years. I don’t know what’s going to come from this, but I just know that you guys should meet each other.” And I was like, “Who?” and she was like “Quincy Jones”. My entire life stopped in front of my eyes, and I started jumping and screaming throughout the entire studio, everyone was just looking at me like “What’s going on?” I just started tearing, flew to LA and got to meet him and his team.

Did he give you any advice because you want to enter into music? Things to look out for?
He told me, “I can tell you’re very special. I feel it. I heard you want to do music.” He said, “You need to understand this. There’s the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain. Now the left side is logic and the right side is the soul. So whatever that means to you, you should seek that.” Quincy Jones dropped jewels.

Sweater and Pants – Todd Snyder

You’ve accomplished a lot but are there any goals that you still want to check off?
So many other things that I want to accomplish when it comes to music, performance, acting, just paving the way for others. There are so many beautiful kids in Nigeria and Ghana who wanted to pursue fashion and modeling but can’t breakthrough because of the visa situation. I want to bring back the power of fashion to Africa. We are innovators, we are the influencers and I don’t like how a lot of those kids feel like they’re undeserving and they’re not qualified just because of their country and where they are. I think that means that there need to be more opportunities within fashion, entertainment, and performance but also not feel like they’re only qualified and worthy if they’re working in Europe for whomever.

What is some advice that was given to you that you would pass on to others?
I think I would pass on what my mom and my dad told me. So just to be myself, unapologetically, not to assimilate or turn into something that people expect me to be. Not just surrendering to being a hanger or a mannequin and wanting to see a change. There’s a calling, a time, for you to be yourself, not to be anyone else.

What’s your favorite part of the experience?
I think my favorite part is when you’re getting dressed, that part of the evolution. When you go on the runway, and the casting director says, “Okay, go Alton” that out-of-body experience happens and you don’t really feel or see what’s happening until you’re back behind the curtain. I remember walking for Virgil who told me, “Okay Alton, I love what you were doing in rehearsal. At the end I want you to just do you.” I said, “So what does that mean?” He was like, ” I don’t know that what means, Just do it.” And I was like, “Okay?” I didn’t know what to do. I just took my time, I looked up to God, started doing backflips and that’s when that out-of-body experience happened. After that, I was behind that curtain, woke up from the dream and the next thing I know, the Louis Vuitton sculptures were made. I feel like all the hard work that we put in these last couple of years has been made for this moment and I’m so thankful for the position I’m in. I’m thankful for the people who embrace me and speak out like Kirby at Pyer Moss, Virgil Abloh, Halima [Aden] and Paloma [Elsesser] – all of these amazing people who are just being themselves and paving the way for others growing up within this industry.

Boxers – Tom Ford | Socks – COS

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