Alton Mason. If you don't already know him by name, surely, you've seen the 22-year-old model at work. Perhaps you've spotted a video of him spinning and sliding down the Tommy Hilfiger runway, or performing a series of back flips in a purple suit at Louis Vuitton. There's also his history-making turn as the first Black male model to walk at Chanel. Casual.
With his dynamic personality, Mason is exactly the spark the fashion industry needs — at a time when retail is crumbling under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. And true to form, the Arizona native already has a formula for remaining positive during a time of great uncertainty.
"I’ve been staying creatively inclined by surrendering to nature, dancing, writing and recording music, and most importantly, cherishing my family and real love," he tells Bustle. "Those are my ingredients for self care and self love.”
He also hasn't lost his taste for luxury, a sentiment that many shoppers share as they move away from trendy purchases toward wardrobe staples that stand the test of time. Besides his penchant for Laquan Smith fuzzy coats and Maison Margiela boots, Mason is a big fan of BMW and he partnered with them for NYFW.
"BMW has always been timeless and fly to me ever since I was younger," he shares. "They’re constantly evolving and transcending to new levels which reflects the energy of being driven by innovation.”
Mason is one of three fashion industry notables — including supermodel Joan Smalls and journalist/activist Noor Tagouri — featured in BMW's "Driven By Innovation" program. As the official automotive partner of NYFW, BMW lent each subject a BMW M8 Gran Coupe, which Mason used to travel to and from fittings. “The BMW M8 is so clean, fast, and sleek, which is definitely my style and approach to luxury," he says.
While driving a BMW and modeling for fashion shows seems like a dream job, Mason admits his career ascent wasn't without its challenges. He must contend with "egos, privilege, and systemic racism" almost daily, he says.
But despite these obstacles, he is hopeful for the future. "What surprises me most is that this is still just the beginning," he says. Ahead, he walks us through a day in the life of a model at September 2020 Fashion Week.
6 A.M.: A Peaceful Start
Mason typically begins his day with meditation. Gratitude and reflection are an important part of his daily routine, as they help give him the mental fortitude to get through the day. "When I reflect on who I was, who I am, and who I'm becoming, I am proud to not only wear my crown but also to crown others," he says.
He's candid about "the egos, the privilege, and the systemic racism," he's encountered, even sharing that he was once told that he'd fly back home "a failure."
At the same time, he remains thankful for the "genuine, gifted people" he's met during his career. "People that I cherish and hold close, people that see the gift and purity in me, as I see in them."
After reflecting and giving thanks, he'll dive into his exercise regimen, which includes "50 push ups and sit ups." Next up is his morning grooming routine followed by a quick breakfast and a smooth drive in his BMW M8 Gran Coupe to scheduled fittings.
12 P.M.: Work Work Work
Once the afternoon hits, Mason enters into hair, makeup, and final fittings for any virtual fashion shows scheduled that day. Though there's a lot on his plate — from dress rehearsals to lunch with his team to "zooms, emails, and shoots from home" — he thrives off the energy, "trust, and collaboration" shared among artists.
Mason says adjusting his routine for the pandemic required a lot of perseverance. "And that [is true] for the models, the creative directors, the stylists, the photographers, the makeup artists, everyone," he adds.
"The highlight of this fashion month is perseverance, and that’s my plan for the rest of the entire year: to persevere, to grow and create, and to rise no matter the circumstance — even in a pandemic."
3 P.M.: Showtime
Just a few hours later, Mason is ready to shoot. He'll get dressed in the final looks for the show and "walk a couple takes until the directors feel they got it from every angle then BOOM! THATS A WRAP!"
After months of isolation and quarantine, the safe and socially distanced interactions with other creators on set is a welcome change. "Being on set feels great because each set comes with the gratitude of being safe and healthy," he shares.
Creatives engage in "discussions about the time we’re living in," which give them a sense of community and solace during a challenging period in their lives. And there's some levity as artists spend their down time "laughing at videos of Karen’s while on set," says Mason.
8 P.M.: Toast To Success
Mason unwinds at dinner with his team where they toast to a successful day and just enjoy each other's company.
Followed by dinner, he may either go home to rest or prepare to travel to the next Fashion Week capital. "Flying feels crazy because the airports are so empty, like a ghost town," he shares. "But honestly I like it. Empty airports are therapeutic."
Mason is deep in the throes of Fashion Month, with Milan and Paris still to come, but he's already looking toward the future. "There’s so much I want to accomplish. Music, acting, designing: I want to do it all." He's especially passionate about the future of fashion, one that he envisions will lead to a deeper connection between Western fashion and all of the talent and ingenuity coming out of Africa.
"I want to advance technology in fashion and its reach to Africa," he says. "When I went to Nigeria for the first time and experienced Arise Fashion Week, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was left with so many questions. Hear me out: NYC, Paris, London, Milan, all amazing cities, but why isn’t any country or city in Africa as amplified as the places in Europe or America when it comes to shows, production, or publications?"
Echoing Naomi Campbell, who urged Vogue to launch an African edition while visiting Lagos in 2018, Mason believes it's time for the publication — and the industry at large — to recognize Africa's contribution to the global fashion sphere. "Why isn’t there an African Vogue? Why aren’t any of these gifted designers that are a part of the CFDA and LVMH showing in Africa? Why is there a limited access of luxury and high fashion available to all of Africa?"
Mason also stresses the need to celebrate the great design talent that's already there. "South Africa is cool, but have you been to Nigeria? Ghana? Senegal? Mali? Sudan? Egypt? These are all beautiful places with brilliant people. There are already so many gifted designers, photographers, talent, and artists there right now who deserve a space and a platform at the top. The culture, the 'new trends', everything comes from Africa. What are we waiting for? It’s time.”
In America, the racial reckoning following George Floyd's death is leading to some progress, but Mason wants to see more than just a surface level commitment to inclusion. “Not only do I want to see more models of color, with different shapes and sizes, from different backgrounds, families, and walks of life, but I also want to see that diversity and representation instilled in the teams that work behind the scenes: the casting directors, the stylists, the photographers, the artists, the designers," he explains. "Diversify everything."
"Instead of seeing people succeed and benefit off of nepotism and privilege, I want to see empires that reflect my brothers and sisters, and their brothers and sisters.”