If you had to imagine Santa Claus, odds are good you would conjure up the image of a portly, bespectacled, rosy-cheeked older man, sporting an unkempt gray beard dotted with cookie crumbs.
For generations, the conception of Santa Claus has remained the same — that is, until Paul Mason decided that jolly old St. Nick needed a modern rebrand.
Thus, Fashion Santa was born.
Mason, 60, is a fashion industry veteran, who has worked as a model since he was scouted in college. He’s walked the runway for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Jean Paul Gaultier.
In 2015, Mason, a native of Canada, began appearing as Fashion Santa in Toronto’s Yorkdale mall, posing for selfies with mallgoers for over 88 hours during the holiday season. After going viral that year, he began attracting throngs of fans eager to snap a selfie with the cool Kris Kringle — even fellow Canadian Justin Bieber made an appearance.
Eight years later, Fashion Santa continues to tour the world over the Christmas season, appearing in malls to raise money for various charities. On Friday, Fashion Santa appears at Tysons Galleria to help raise money for Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, where for $25 fans can attend a private screening of the Disney animated film Wish, or sip cocktails with Fashion Santa before snapping a selfie.
Mason chatted with Northern Virginia Magazine about the origins of Fashion Santa, his modeling career, and his mission to inspire “wonderment” in everyone he meets.
How did you come up with the idea for Fashion Santa?
The idea started off on a somber note. I was a model in New York City for about 16 years with Ford models. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer back in Canada, I moved back home. Unfortunately, she passed away. In my grief, I went into hibernation and stopped shaving. When I woke up, I was like: ‘Whoa, you look like Santa Claus.’ So, I thought, ‘Why don’t you create a character that is Santa Claus with a charity component?’ This new Santa isn’t about making toys or gifts, it’s about bringing awareness to causes. My mother’s legacy lives on, and I found my own niche.
With your career in the fashion industry, have you partnered with any brands to reinvent your outfits?
My concept of Fashion Santa was always a dandy guy with fitted suits. I was lucky enough to partner with Indochino, which is a great brand. I went into the store, and I saw the velvets, and I was like ‘This is beautiful quality.’ So, I have a streamlined, fitted guy who is elegant and fashion forward. But I’ve had the character going for a couple years, so I’m looking for what to do next. Do I keep this imagery, or make it more current fashion? I haven’t figured that out yet.
Has portraying this character changed your understanding of Santa Claus?
There are many ways to explore this. Fashion Santa could be a celebrity, a superhero, or a do-gooder. When I put that red suit on, it’s almost like a Superman suit. The scheduling is intense, but as soon as the suit comes on, something happens where I stand taller, and the fatigue goes away.
Do you have any rituals before stepping out in public?
Obviously, my grooming has to be on point. My beard is very important. The last few years, hairspray has been my go-to because it locks everything in. I start my day with some Zoom calls and go through my day making sure that the wardrobe is in check. And, you know, lots and lots of travel by Santa, so I’m in airports a lot. My flight schedule has been challenging this season, but I just love it.
Sounds like you have the schedule of a touring musician?
I mean, I would like my own plane with a big Fashion Santa logo on the side. It would definitely make it a little easier.
When children are younger, posing with Santa Claus usually makes them cry. Do you have the same problem?
Children are brutally honest and direct. I had the chance to visit the Boys & Girls Club of Miami, and after 2 or 3 minutes a child said, ‘I don’t know, there’s something off with this Santa guy.’ So, I came up with the concept that I’m Santa’s younger brother. When I approach it that way, it works. And why wouldn’t Santa have a brother who’s 100 pounds lighter and a century younger?
If a movie was made about your story and Fashion Santa, who would you want to play you?
I would want the film to be animated. Maybe not as dark as Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, but with beautiful fashion illustrations to depict Fashion Santa. That would be really tricky to do in real life. There are moments during this character’s development of grief and despair. And at the end there’s flourishing and raising awareness to important causes.
What do you love most about being Fashion Santa?
My favorite word in English for the holidays is ‘wonderment.’ As adults, I think we lose our sense of wonderment. When someone wants to take a photo with me, those 30 seconds are full of wonderment and joy.
I love being able to honor and celebrate initiatives like what we’re doing with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic. Tysons has really gone above and beyond for the whole evening. They’ve done an amazing job. All of the money raised for that event will go to providing life-changing wishes for children, and that checks all the boxes for me in that regard.
Feature image courtesy Fashion Santa
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