VIP Interview: Paul Mason

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Photo Credit: Michelle Nunes

After more than 30 years in the fashion industry, renowned model Paul Mason remains as down-to-earth as if his professional career has just started. In fact, behind that silver beard — his definitive signature — there is a fresh, youthful energy that’s infectious to anyone around him.

Mason’s natural elegance we so often see in front of the camera is displayed in every detail of the way he carries himself. His voice is as gentle as his attitude, and his honest tone speaks not only to a trajectory of experience but also to a genuine personality.

I had a roster of interview questions memorized in preparation for my meeting with Mason, but after about 10 minutes of talking with the fashion mogul I totally forgot them. Our interview was more of a friendly chat in which he revealed the most important things he’s learned as a model, and what he hopes for the future of the Canadian fashion industry. Once I was done with one of the most spontaneous yet enriching interviews I’ve ever done, I couldn’t help but wonder if the polished Mason and Mr. Newman share something else besides their first name…

Novella: Your career as a model started pretty much overnight. How did that happen?

Paul Mason: I was doing Social Work at Ryerson University and my Sociology class was mixed in with Fashion students. That month they had to do a presentation and someone asked me to walk in one of the presentations and a photographer who was in the audience told me that I should be a model. He gave me a number saying that I should call this lady whose name was Judy Welch and who was running probably the first modeling agency in Toronto. She was also Miss Toronto in 1956 and later became the first Canadian finalist in the Miss World competition. So, I reached out to her and within two or three months I was on the runway in Tokyo and that is how I became a model.

N: What does fashion mean to you?

P.M.: It’s an expression of how you feel. Through our clothes we tell the world, “This is who I am.” It could be subtle things, the cut of a suit or  just the detail on the bottom of your pants.

N: What about style? Most people tend to associate style strictly with designer labels. 

P.M.: I don’t think style has anything to do with economics. You can wear a Ferragamo jacket and pair of jeans and you’ll look amazing. On the streets I also see so many people with great style! Fashion and style shouldn’t be dictated by economics, because even in streetwear you can tell how people take care and pay attention to details, and that’s what defines their personal style. Through details, I can totally see which people are stylish.

N: Speaking of street style, do you think the street style phenomenon has affected the way we dress and how we look at clothes?

P.M: Of course! Even designers look at what people are wearing on the street. It is the trickle-up effect! One of my favourite documentaries is the one about Bill Cunningham, the renowned street style photographer at The New York Times. That is a great example of what you see on the streets, which a lot of times is much more interesting from what you see on the runway.

N: I totally agree! Actually, now most of the interest and attention during fashion week goes to people outside the tents and arriving to the shows. Everyone wants to know what the attendees are wearing, and the goal is to be captured by a street style photographer.

P.M.: Right. Sometimes I think, though, that people play up that whole street style thing because they know that if they wear the most outrageous outfit they are going to be captured. However, when I see what’s going on in the actual street that’s more what I’m interested in because is authentic. There is this brand NN07 that is shooting all the clothes on civilians around different places in the world. They have shot their designs on the streets of LA, and then the same clothes or different variations in north of China. For me this is so fascinating because they aren’t using models but regular civilians.

N: Yes, it is amazing! And I think that has more impact into their audience because people want to look at other people who feel identify with. Of course Gisele Bündchen looks stunning no matter what she is wearing, but the thing is the average woman can’t feel identify with her. These women want to look at other real women in the streets.

P.M.: Of course! One thing that I like to see is uniqueness. At the end of the day we all have to work and everybody has his or her own “working uniform,” but it’s refreshing when you see someone that kind of sticks out a little bit. Maybe just one little thing could be enough to put your personal signature on what you are wearing and separate from the crowd.

N: Do you think that style is something that you can learn? After 30 years of working as a model, has that experience helped you polish and define your personal style?

P.M.: Absolutely! I’ve learned from the best. When I was younger I didn’t really absorbed all the stuff I’m looking at now because I was so crazy to be there and so excited about working in this fascinating industry but I wasn’t really digesting everything that I was getting from that experiences. Now that I’m older I have realized and I’m defining a key sense of what I really like and what I prefer to wear.

N: What other crucial learning you’ve got from the fashion industry besides how to style yourself?

P.M.: I think keeping your mind opened about everything is very important in this industry. Once you start closing your mind you are done with it! I think this is a youth driven business but you also have to have people that have been in this business for a long time to anchor all the people that want to fly. The wisdom and your experience in the industry come with time and as long as you are flexible and keep your mind opened.

N: People from outside the fashion industry think that this is all about glamour and wearing nice clothes but they don’t see all the hard work and dark side. Of course fashion should be fun and make people dream but shouldn’t be defined by that because it’s definitely about something else, something bigger.

P.M.: I think that people working in fashion are probably the hardest-working people. From editors, to photographers, to stylists, to models, etc., it is a really tough industry to work in! There are so many pitfalls in fashion and, probably, one of the biggest ones is the fact that so many people are exploded. Sometimes people aren’t not paid what they worth and all the time they are putting in. Fashion people tent to be a little bit on the artistic side where they don’t grasp the amount of work that people are doing so they just think ‘well, we can get another one!’ I’ve seen across the board that people are putting countless hours and they are doing for free and, of course, here in Toronto. I feel like this city is already a little bit fatigued of doing work for free and it makes sense because people have to make money to live!

N: Why do you think this is considered almost normal within the fashion industry? Why is taken for granted that people working in fashion have to work for free for such a long time before getting paid properly?

P.M.: For me it’s just crazy seeing how people coming to the business and also people who have been around for a while are asked to work for free! This should be unacceptable! We all have bills to pay and need money to pay our lives.

N: It seems like fashion industry has started to be more aware of the ethical side of this business. Do you think this ‘fashion revolution’ is actually happening?

P.M.: I would like to think that. I’m not 100% certain that is changing. It might be changing a little bit but we definitely need more people to stand up and say ‘I’m not going to do this for free’. But I still think there is employers out there that are still treating people that way.

What about the people working behind the scenes? Should we be giving them more voice and visibility?

P.M.: I think that would be fantastic! Just seating here with you is a way to profile the other side of this industry and I’m thrilled about it! People need to know about the other part of the fashion industry because there is so many people working behind the scenes and it’s only because of them that we can enjoy fashion and have fashion. It would be nice to educate the public featuring these people and highlighting how crucial is their role or the countless work hours that they are putting in.

N: So, when you started your own modeling agency, was this something that you wanted to contribute to change?

P.M.: For now, my agency it’s a very on-going process. I started this because for me it seems that the natural thing to do is to manage and mentor new talents. I’ve been doing this for a year and now I have three models that I’m mentoring and I admit that I’m a taught person to work with because my work ethic has to be the same as their work ethic or I can’t work with them. For me, that’s the only way for you to recruit people that can stay and respect what you are doing. As I said, now I have three models, two guys and a fifteen-year-old girl who is phenomenal!

N: And what other projects are you currently involved in?

P.M.: Besides my modeling agency, my professional profile has expanded and even that I though that I was retired as a model, I’m back to modeling again. Now I’m also very focused on my collaboration with Yorkdale shopping centre for Christmas and I’m pretty open to any project as long as I find it interesting. I’ve been shooting a couple of campaigns lately and, of course, I am an ambassador of TOM*, and on January I’ll go to Tokyo to work for two months on commercials, runways, editorials, etc.

N: Nowadays, another big topic that so many people and publications are talking about is ‘diversity’. Is this actually changing already? Is the fashion industry more diverse than ten years ago?

P.M.: Yes! It’s definitely changing! I mean, Canada is probably one of the best exporters of models in the world because it’s a very multicultural country and the mixes are so beautiful! Once you start mixing races you get the most beautiful people. All that it takes in modeling is a height and weight requirement so as long as you fit just those two standards, your race it doesn’t matter at all! If you are a girl and you are between 5’8 and 5’11, or a boy between 5’11 and 6’2, you can do anything you want.

I think this is obviously changing and I find it so funny when I hear this question because in my mind has completely changed already. There was a day in the seventies and eighties when fashion industry wasn’t as much diverse because it was more about the blond Caucasian girl with blue eyes.

N: What do you hope for the Canadian fashion industry?

P.M.: My biggest hope for the Canadian fashion industry is to keep it at home. I don’t think that we are used to taking care of ourselves, I feel we don’t know how to do it!

N: Do you mean that there is a lack of local support?

P.M.: Oh, for sure! First of all, we should start buying more clothes by Canadian brands and supporting each other. Maybe the fact that we are geographically speaking right next to such a super powerful country as the States, is making us forget who we are but this is really a unique place! This is a place that’s unique on the planet.

I am also a bit advocate, especially, for the models in Canada. With all the US bigger department stores that are coming in, it’s either all the advertising that is being sourced out of Canada where no one makes any money here because it’s being taken care from the States; or they are importing models that come in and the locals don’t get any of the work.

N: So, why don’t we take advantage of that? Why don’t we take their example in order to benefit our own fashion industry? Last year Michelle Obama hosted at the White House an educational fashion event with fashion designer Zac Posen among others. That not only gives a lot of exposure to designers but is also a way to tell people that fashion is something real and a serious business.

P.M.: I think now through TOM* we have kind of set a standard even that there is a lot of controversy surround. I believe that through more initiatives like that, the cultural institutions and the government in power really can’t turn their backs on what is going on. We have to support this industry from the ground level but once we get the government involved, everything will be easier, definitely!

Here Comes The Holidays: Marina’s Wishlist

As Black Friday creeps closer and closer, it reminds us that the holidays are upon us. I’m a simple woman, really; I like being comfortable, happy, and relaxed. That is why my wishlist includes some key pieces that I need in my life that will optimize my relaxation during this busy season.

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1) I have loved Club Monaco before I understood what it was. My mum used to dress me in the classic Club Monaco sweaters when I was little and it was the first brand I remembered longing for. That hasn’t changed, and this season, they have produced a collection of classics that you can effortlessly layer that I can’t wait to get my hands on, including the Amoray Nep Cashmere Sweater.

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2) Whether it is incense, candles, or smudging sage in my apartment, my housemates can attest that I am obsessed with making my home smell earthy and clean. That is why I have had my eyes on the DayNa Decker Atelier Candle Set from ANI+WREN. Each soy wax candle has a distinct soothing scent, so you can change the feeling of your home dependent on your mood.

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3) What is more important than sleep? The answer is nothing. You spend about 1/3 of your life sleeping, so you better make sure that you are having the best time possible. My holiday has come a little early, as I have already got a couple of the new Dormeo Evolution Dream Memory Foam Pillow for myself. You’re thinking “pillows”, but yes, pillows are so important. Between all the running around I do in a day, when I hit my bed, I want to have ultimate comfort and support, and that is what the Octaspring technology does. It has a combination of plush, memory foam to support your head, and ecosprings to give added support to your neck and shoulders. If you’re going to get anything off this list for certain, start with these.

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4) I have really started to pay attention to my well-being, and that includes taking the time to power down and be still.  My secret getaway in the city is at the Miraj Hammam Spa at the Shangri-La, indulging in their Hammam and Gommage treatment. Upon arrival, you are greeted by the lovely staff, who encourages you to spend the day enjoying the facilities, including my personal favourite, the relaxation room, where one is transported to a temple of calm. The treatment begins in the high intensity steam chamber, which rids your body of all unwanted toxins while purifying yourself, before enjoying a full body Gommage, with eucalyptus infused black Moroccan soaps and warm oils. It’s an experience like none other, which leaves you glowing from head to toe.

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5) I live in a beautiful heritage building with ancient hardwood floors, and when our Toronto winter hits, those floors become the bane of my existence. Lucky for me, I’ve found Sanuk, a brand of footwear with a similar mantra as Novella: made for the community, by the community. Created by yogis, surfers and dreamers, the Siena collection has a tribal outer shell, with a soft fuzzy interior, that Sanuk says is like walking on clouds. Yes please.

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6) Finally, as a freelance writer, I am always on the go, whether it is across Toronto, or across the continent, so I need a reliable bag to carry my laptop and essentially my life. The Harmonist Shopperbackpack by Bench is the epitome of what I need in a bag. It’s beautifully designed, from the sleek black frame, to the functional backpack to crossbody to shoulder bag straps, to the spacious interior with secret compartments. Whether I’m running to catch a plane or the streetcar, this bag will always be with me and that makes everything ok.

Happy Holidays – MK

Meet Jewellery Designer Colleen Poitras

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I’ve set up my interview with Colleen at The Spoke Club on 600 King Street West at noon. Even though I’m a pretty punctual person, when I get there she has already prepared the display with all the beautiful pieces she wanted to show me.

Colleen, as she herself mentions, is the perfect reflection of her jewellery line Colleen Poitras: sweet yet determined, rocker but still elegant, and chic.

With I lived by One Republic as a mantra, Colleen is not afraid to take risks, as that is the way she finds her way to keep moving forward in both life and professional career.

The fact that your mom was a seamstress and you worked with different designers has definitely influenced you to grow your interest in fashion and design, but why did you pick jewellery design as a career?

C.P: It’s interesting because I didn’t actually foresee myself as a jewellery designer. When I was younger I loved fashion, I loved accessories so I was that girl in high school with those big earrings and always trying to look a little bit different. So, I fell into jewellery little by little as I started taking a few classes just as a hobby and eventually it grew into a full time business. To me, it is something that it happened naturally so I just go with the flow and this is where I found myself, and I love it!

When you are creating a piece or a collection, how does the process work?

C.P: I’m probably not the norm on that because I think that a lot of people really plan their collections and plan what they are going to do. Just as I got into jewellery design, I’m very much organic during the creative process of my collections: I see something and I fall in love with a piece of leather or a colour and then I think ‘What can I do to make that a wearable piece of art?’ As an example, in with my Grounded collection, I kind of happened to put concrete because I was looking through Pinterest and I saw concrete and though ‘Oh! This is pretty cool!’. So I went to Home Depot and bought a bag of concrete just to see how I could work with it and if I could actually transform it into wearable pieces. I started getting familiarized with the texture, and doing a lot of research in order to learn about concrete in a jewellery format and what mixture would work. That’s how the line grew up, but in the first place I had no idea where I was going, it just happened very naturally.

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And how long does it take for you to design a piece or a collection?

C.P: It really varies! There is trial and error when you design a new piece and, also, in some of the pieces the process can take a little bit longer. As an example, my first sellable piece of concrete, from the start till I finished it took me about four months the whole process. With leather is different because I already know how to work with leather and is an easier material to work with so it would take me along the course of a couple of days to come up with something.

How would you describe your signature? What would you like to be recognized for as a jewellery designer?

C.P: I think as ‘pretty rocker chic’. I really like that logo because it’s me. I truly see my brand as a reflection of me, someone who doesn’t necessarily follow the trends but stays true to myself. Of course, not all the pieces that I create are a complete success but they always remain authentic to who I am.

What is your customer looking for when they buy one of your pieces? What distinct touch they are looking for?

C.P: They are looking for a bit of an edge so they are looking for a piece that can add to an ordinary outfit that special touch and my pieces do that very well. You can wear a basic t-shirt and a pair of jeans and my leather earrings will add that distinctive vibe to your look. These pieces are designed to take any basic look one step further and I think that is what my customers are looking for.

 

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What is the most special piece of jewellery you’ve ever had?

C.P: I have a charm bracelet from when I was a kid and I had worked to buy every single charm on it. It is this beautiful silver bracelet that still fits me and it is probably the most significant one because I was very young and I bought everything myself and also because is something that I can still wear.

Why do we wear jewellery?

C.P: I see jewellery as an extension of who we are. I think that jewellery makes us feel good and adds a touch of individuality and gives a unique signature to our style. Through our style, we try to get our voice out there so people wear jewellery in order to highlight that voice or that message that they want to tell to the world about themselves.

And what is the message that you try to project through your designs?

C.P: I’m not trying to project necessarily a particular message. I like that my pieces are all very soft and pretty yet rocker and chic, and my customers can give their own interpretation that speaks to their personal style. Also, there is nothing that makes me feel happier than when I’m in the store showing to people how to style each piece, and once I hold it up there is like a love affair with them.

What is the sound of your style? You can pick a song if you want!

C.P: I lived by One Republic because I think that in live we shouldn’t be afraid to take chances or being afraid of something not working out.

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Street Style By Chris Smart – WMCFW #Day5

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Yesterday the doors of World MasterCard Fashion Week closed till next season. It’s been a crazy yet exciting week for everyone in the fashion industry in Toronto, and now it’s time to say good bye. We all had to leave David Pecaut Square which has been almost our home for a whole week.

These are our favourite looks captured by Chris Smart on Day 5 when the sun was shining as bright as all the people attending the shows. Some of the staple pieces we spotted were hats, sunglasses, and different printings and patterns that embellished the exterior of the tents.

If you don’t want to miss all the best street style pictures from WMCFW check out Chris Smart’s Instagram at @csmartfx or visit his website at www.csmartfx.com !

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Street Style By Chris Smart – WMCFW #Day4

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World MasterCard Fashion Week is almost over and, after six months of preparations, all the fashion designers showcasing their Spring/Summer 2016 collections at David Pecaut Square have started to wrap everything up.

On day 4 of WMCFW Chris Smart captured how all the attendees were projecting the party mood as all the big after parties were happening after the last show.  It almost seemed like the rebel spirit of the Rolling Stones was around. Biker jackets, leather pants, chains, gold details and black colour all over the place.

Tomorrow don’t miss our picks from day 5, the last day of WMCFW!

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 All the best street style from Toronto to NYC is at www.csmartfx.com !