How Alton Mason Became the World’s Only Male Supermodel

Perhaps the most important factor in reaching supermodel-dom is simply believing you are one, and acting accordingly. “I thank God for gifting me with the presence that separates me from being just another hanger, or a mannequin, and allowing me to redefine what it means to be a male supermodel,” Mason said while accepting GQ Australia’s Model of the Year award in 2019. Supermodels reach for something higher than simply looking good in front of a camera. Mason has grown into the lifestyle one might expect: partying with Leonardo DiCaprio, vacationing with Naomi Campbell, and gracing red carpets on seemingly a weekly basis. But he also has ambitions for a more widely defined career, which, if they pan out, could truly redefine what his role means.

“This is just the beginning,” he told me at one point this spring. “It’s bigger than me.” Mason had recently wrapped up an appearance as an influencer in the upcoming A24 flick Dream Scenario, which stars Nick Cage, whom Mason had recently appeared alongside in a campaign for the fashion brand Casablanca. We were speaking over Zoom, because Mason doesn’t know where he’ll be four days from any given point in time, which makes scheduling face-to-face encounters challenging. Mason told me he couldn’t reveal anything about the film or his role in it before saying, “It’s super trippy. It takes place in the future, and I think it really highlights and magnifies the human mind and influence and social intelligence. It’s pretty fly. It’s pretty dope.”

Models have wanted to be actors practically since the invention of moving pictures. Mason said a couple trips to the Cannes Film Festival had got him hooked on the event’s “magnetic energy,” a world that might feel bigger than the glamorous but niche confines of Paris Fashion Week. I asked him to characterize his trajectory in the film world. “Starting out as a male model,” he said, “I didn’t know that I would reach these heights in fashion. So I really don’t have any expectations. I’m just going to show up. I’m going to experiment. I’m going to be daring, I’m going to be willing to try new things, and we’ll just see where that takes me. I love surrendering to that.”

“I don’t think Alton has any cap on his ambition as an artist,” Baz Luhrmann tells me, “whether that be acting, modeling, moving, or singing.” (Mason is, naturally, also hard at work on an album.)

Mason is not leaving the fashion world behind, though—far from it. “As soon as Dream Scenario was over, I was back on the plane, back on set, shooting, doing shows, traveling. And since that was my first movie since doing Elvis, I think I was open and enlightened to the idea of being able to do everything all at once,” he said, before filling in the broad strokes of his future in fashion: “I really can’t wait to creative direct and have my own fashion line. I want to be a house.

Coat by Balmain. Turtleneck by Dries Van Noten. Pants by Hermès. Boots by Alessandro Vasini. Ring by Bulgari. Suitcase by Gucci.

The central paradox of Mason’s line of work is that though the men’s fashion industry today wields unprecedented cultural and commercial influence, it is harder than ever to make a career as a model. At the fundamental economic level, there’s been an influx of labor, accelerated by social media, which makes it easier for agents and casting directors to scout new faces. Once you’re in, longevity is not guaranteed. The look of models is as trendy as the clothes they are wearing. One season, models of West African descent might dominate; the next, they’ll be South Asian. A particularly zeitgeisty kind of casting director might not even employ agency models, but specialize in street casting funky-­looking amateurs.

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