Claudia Mason. Thriving with resilience.
From ballerina to international model, Claudia Mason has worked with some of the most respected designers in fashion, including Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein; and been the subject and muse of image-makers like Avedon, Bruce Weber, Patrick De Marchelier, Steven Meisel, and Mario Testino, to name a few. Her personal and professional experiences have guided her evolution as a writer, speaker, and mentor, herself. We sat down with Claudia to discuss her work, the importance of recognizing inner beauty, and ‘paying it forward.’
LM: You have built a successful career in the fashion industry, however you began your journey as a ballerina. What inspired your love of dance and how did you transition into modeling?
CM: My first love was classical ballet. Ever since I was a child I was captivated by it. There’s a great passage in my book “Finding The Supermodel In You”, where I describe my passion for this art form. My mother always took me to the ballet, the theatre, museums, etc... and being born and raised in Manhattan I was so lucky to have the best of the arts and culture available to me. I was privileged to train at Balanchine’s famous School of American Ballet (SAB) at Juilliard. I happened to be discovered by a modeling scout right across the street from SAB, in the music store, Tower Records.
LM: What have been the most memorable moments in your career?
CM: Too many to name; however, shooting the Revlon campaign with Avedon is up there. Shooting Fendi and Chanel campaigns with Karl Lagerfeld, then dining with him afterwards in Monaco. Crossing the Nile River for a Vogue shoot with Mario Testino and on and on; like doing fittings with Gianfranco Ferre for Dior shows, what a gentleman, a tall teddybear of a man.
LM: Finding the SuperModel in You: The Insider’s Guide to Teen Modeling (Skyhorse Publishing) was your first published work. What inspired you to write it?
CM: In life you must find your purpose, at the heart of one’s purpose is generally ‘how can I pay it forward?, how can I help others?’ I knew there was a book in me with a message to focus on one’s insides rather than their outsides since that is where all success and achievement comes from. It was great to be the first supermodel to say this! Imagine: here is someone - me - who has huge success in the public eye and made her living from her looks, predominantly, and I’m saying: ‘Hey! Focus on your insides everyone! That is where all achievement comes from - inner life!’
LM: The book offers advice and expertise on the modeling industry - in a sense, you have become a mentor. Who have been your most important mentors?
CM: The book is for everyone - not just for would-be models and their parents. It is great advice for life no matter what one’s career path, age or gender. It is a guide on how to build your self-esteem, confidence, self-worth in order to live your super life - resilience is my super theme. One of my mentors, the great Kundalini Yoga master teacher, Guru Singh, who is a man over 70, calls it “...a marvel, extremely powerful...”. My expertise, experience and knowledge come from so many areas of my life: as a model, actor, producer, stroke thriver, author, and spokesperson, who has been immersed in so many spiritual practices from Transcendental Meditation to Kundalini Yoga, to Jungian Psychoanalysis, to A Course In Miracles, to name a few.
My biggest mentors have been Guru Singh who I mentioned above; Rev. Michael Beckwith of the Trans-denominational Spiritual Center ‘Agape'; the spiritual teacher, author and Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson; and the therapist and mystic Kevin Jennings. In the fashion industry Karl Lagerfeld always told me how powerful I was. He was one of the first people in my life to tell me that I was going to go on to do important things in the world. Donatella Versace always reminded me of a woman’s strength and she always pushed for me to explore my creative side. Also Mario Testino thought I was the most divine creature when he first met me as a teen model and he always showed me how strength can be kind, soft and calm - as opposed to loud and egotistical. So many examples, so many people.
LM: You have become a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association after suffering from a stroke yourself. Why was it important to raise your voice for this cause?
CM: When a person suffers a health crisis, like that of a stroke, they reevaluate their life and purpose. After a health crisis, the sense of self is knocked around and needs to fight to regain confidence. I certainly did. I was really able to listen to my inner guide, something that is available to each and every one of us, and hear how I was to proceed in my life. There hasn’t been a public face, like mine, connected to stroke: 'supermodel stroke thriver', Those of us in the entertainment industry who have a platform must use it to show that we too are fallible humans who can fall down from life’s difficulties just like non-industry folks. Also, because of the circumstances surrounding the nature of my stroke, that is my complete ignorance to the fact that young people can get strokes from an impact or trauma to their bodies… I felt it was crucial to help spread the message of stroke prevention and awareness to the public. Thankfully I’m still alive and most of my vision returned! One acronym that everyone should know is: act FAST: face drooping/arm weakness/sight or speech difficulty/time to call 911. And there are more: sudden numbness, sudden confusion, sudden difficulty walking, sudden severe headache. You must call 911 asap since there are only 3 hours in which you have time to get yourself or someone else to the hospital so they can administer the clot busting drug: tPA.
LM: “Self-esteem”, “confidence” and “resilience” are themes that permeate your work as a writer and speaker. Can you give us some insight into how you have nurtured these qualities for yourself?
CM: My expertise, experience, and knowledge come from so many areas of my life. As a model surviving and thriving in the fashion industry. As an actor and producer, who navigated their way through the film, TV and theatre worlds. As a stroke-thriver who decided to live and thrive, and not fall into depression and drown within myself post-stroke. As an author who wrote my book and learned so much from that experience including how to deal with my publisher and editor, graphic design and so much more. As a spokesperson and speaker who tells my stories to help heal the world by empowering others. I am immersed in many spiritual practices, [and have learned from] my teachers and mentors like Guru Singh, whom I mentioned above, and my mother - a spiritual, intellectual Manhattanite who raised me with Quantum Physics, Buddhist Principles, Joseph Campbell’s teachings, and so much more. I have always been drawn to the ecstatic song of the soul, and the innate human ability to be and do our best in every moment. It’s a choice, and it’s up to the individual.
LM: You have evolved your career role into that of a mentor and an educator. What do you enjoy most about these roles?
CM: It’s like I’m now taking my past love of helping my friends, relatives and fans, one on one, to helping more people at a time! I’ve always loved to inspire people with an authentic and direct truth for any situation or circumstance. My intuition mixed with the knowledge I’ve picked up along the way has allowed me to speak from experience and know-how. In life, we all must find our way to 'pay it forward.’ During my book tour, I discovered how much I truly love talking to audiences about inner life and resilience, two big themes of my book, which led me down the current path. [At the moment], I’m in negotiations with a couple of wellness spas to be a guest speaker on their rosters, and I’ll be interviewing the well-known neuroanatomist, author, TED Talk star, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor for Thrive Global/Share Your Stroke of Genius in May, as well as speaking at Tenth Gate Yoga Center in Rhode Island June 19th. All details can be found in the 'news’ section of my website: claudiamason.com. Make sure to revisit the site for updates!
Interview by Linda Mateljan