Claudia Mason Spills Her Secrets for Becoming a Teen Model
Plenty of people dream of modelling, but the job is more grueling than it looks — not to mention almost impossible to truly succeed at.
But model Claudia Mason’s new book, “Finding the Supermodel in You: The Insider’s Guide to Teen Modeling,” promises to be a guide for navigating the tricky fashion industry at a young age. We caught up with Claudia about what to expect in her book and in the world of modeling.
If you’re in New York City, catch her at a signing at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble on March 16 at 6 p.m.
Where did you get the idea for your book?
It was actually my agent that had the beginning of the idea and then we fleshed it out together. We were talking and I thought it was a wonderful idea to help give back to the industry that’s been so amazing to me – I’ve had a huge career as a model and I wanted to help those coming into the industry to know how to avoid the pitfalls and how to have fun.
There are some negative stereotypes surrounding the industry, but obviously it hasn’t been your experience that the modelling industry chews you up and spits you out, right?
There’s a lot of negativity surrounding modelling, fashion and the entertainment industry especially because it’s so concentrated on young people. Young people are what drives the industry. [Modeling is] s a business and kids are not prepared to be in the business world at 14, 15 or 16 – it’s not how our society is set up.
You start at such a young age – both boys and girls are discovered at such a young age – sometimes even at 12 which is just insane for women’s modelling. You’re discovered in your early teens, you work throughout your teens and that brings up a whole bunch of issues. People have to be guided. How do you have the best career possible and how do you navigate it all? Like anything in life it starts with who you’re raised by – you have to be raised well, you have to have a sense of yourself, you have to be grounded.
If you enter into this industry you have to have a sense of yourself from the get-go so that you can deal with the negativity of the industry. There are always downsides but people would give their eyes, their teeth to have a shot at this – to be a model, a pop star or an athlete because our culture celebrates this and makes it everything.
You have to be solid and know yourself so you don’t get lost in it and used up and spit out. The turnover in this industry is so quick – it’s very similar to athletes’ careers and to make your career last as long as it can – is outside your control.
Does a kid have the right look that’s in fashion, that’s a la mode, that’s au courant right now? That’s up to fate and there’s nothing you can do about how you look or how you’re born. Do you have good agents who are steering your career in the right direction and thinking about keeping it robust for as long as possible?
What about balancing modeling with school?
I don’t think you should ever throw away school. I don’t believe in leaving school in your teens but again, I can’t tell people what to do.
I think I started full time at 18. There’s no need to do modeling full time before 18 but of course if your career is hot and huge from the get-go as mine was when I was discovered at 13 – they wanted me to leave school and my parents weren’t having that.We adjusted the school curriculum and I was able to do shoots and correspondence school.
It can lead to so many good things. If you want to model and you’re given the chance, go for it but don’t throw yourself out there.
Who are the models succeeding today that are smart in your eyes?
These days it’s so much about Instagram, Twitter and obviously Facebook and Snapchat. Everyday there’s a new thing thats being created I feel that social media is the tool to market yourself.
The girls that are really smart today are… well, the two that come to mind, are Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. I don’t know their families personally but it seems like they were raised in a certain way and with the right attitude. They’re grounded within themselves and they don’t seem to be getting lost in negativity. They also know how to use their social media handles really well.
Brands and clients are attracted to girls that have a lot of followers. Girls knowing how to use the social media handles and all of that is a big part of what it is right now for girls in the entrainment industry.
What does it mean to be grounded in the industry?
It means something different to everyone.
Karlie Kloss is doing fantastic things. She’s so grounded and knows how to use social media to her advantage. She’s having fun with it, being smart, giving back, associating herself with a charity and that is the Karlie Kloss line – so that’s a way to make your career last as long as it can.
That’s the control you have – what you’re putting out to the world through your own social media handles, who you are on set, if you’re able to work well with people? It’s a business after all and the only way you’re gonna keep getting hired is if you work well.
Who you are with people behind the scenes is so much of the industry – it’s work ethic and professionalism. A way of being good at that is to be grounded in yourself. Hopefully, the people who raised you are pretty solid and will tell you modelling is not an end goal to life – it’s a short lived career. Work it, milk it, have fun with it.
It’s an amazing opportunity but use it to help you into your other life ventures and vocations and all of that.
What else makes a good model beyond having the right look?
If you’re grounded in yourself you’re gonna be much better in front of camera because you’ll have confidence. It’s not just looks-based. There are tons of beautiful boys and girls around the world so why are a few people chosen at it? You can’t have every good looking person be a model so it’s beyond just looks.
As Hollywod has always said that “star quality” is beyond looks or talent – it’s something you’re born with.
And then knowing how to conduct yourself with people. Not being rude, not skipping work, not being strung out on drugs and missing things, not letting drugs ruin your looks. All of that you can’t do and stay in a modelling career because they want you to look beautiful. You have to take care of yourself and that involves everything from eating well, to exercising, to a great outlook on life that touches on spirituality, positivity, giving back to others – being kind is actually cool. Being conscious, helping others and educating yourself as much as you can.
Also, know fashion history so when you’re working on the set with Karl Lagerfeld you know what an amazing talent he is in history and you’ll be able to talk to him more wow and he might even like you more. So educate yourself, expand yourself, know about art and culture and the other things.
What happens when a model doesn’t have a good attitude?
Modelling is not different from any of the entertainment industries. You have to know how to conduct yourself the way you would in any other industry. We’ve all heard examples of people wigging out.
Certain diva behavior isn’t going to help you in the long run because even if someone may be a huge model and they can get away with certain diva behavior —I mean diva in an uhealthy way, where you think the world revolves around you — people get tired of it and there’s always a next new model coming up around the corner and it’s just life. In all the entertainment industries it’s no different.
I know some people get discovered, but is that the only way to do it? What would you say to someone trying to get into the industry?
You can walk yourself into the agency, you can find out when they’re seeing new talent, you can find out what their requirements are and then make an appointment. I’ve laid all that out in my book.
Being discovered is completely up to fate but you can walk yourself into an agency and you can enter certain legitimate contests and there’s tons of information online about that stuff. Since we’re so focused on social media these days a lot of agents are putting out notices via social media – via Instagram and asking girls or boy to submit pictures of themselves and if the agents like it when going through your feed you could have a shot that way.
Definitely putting oneself out there. This whole thing with social media and people having followers, girls who are not even that known but doing a little modelling in their small town and suddenly they have a big following – they might be of interest to a big city agency.
No one can plan being discovered. You can walk around and plant yourself in certain places where you think modelling scouts will be but that’s up to fate. But you can walk yourself in to an agency and go after it in that way.
Tons of people do enter competitions and get discovered that way.
How do you tell what’s a legit modelling thing to sign up for? I’d imagine there are some scammers who take advantage of people’s dreams.
Generally, if modelling agencies in the USA are advertising in a local mall, that typically should raise a red flag.
Teenagers should always be with parents or have parents check it out, check online. If they’re asking for money up front, they’re typically not legit. Scouts will not ask for money up front because they’re typically getting paid by a model agency that they’re hired by.
There are lists of legit agencies online, good ones, top ones, and they have affiliate offices online throughout the country. Do your research online, but the whole thing of asking for money up front should be a red flag.
One should always have a lawyer. I’m talking to young kids thinking they can do it without their parents help. You never wanna sign anything without having legal counsel.
It’s generally that’s a big red flag in my opinion when one is with a legit agency they’re gonna take test photos of you that will come out of your account with them so they wont ask you up front. If it’s a legit agency there are things you’re going to pay for but if someone comes up to you in a mall situation like “Hey, if you pay me now I can take you [into the business],” then no no no no. That comes down to instinct.
It’s harder when you come from a smaller town. Everyone knows their neighbor, laid back, easygoing and this sounds like a wonderful way to be raised but the world at large and in the entertainment industry doesn’t work that way. You have to put on your big boots and get discerning. Just because someone’s smiling at you with a card saying, “Hey, you’re pretty. Pay me some money and I’ll introduce you to an agent.” No, you want to question that.
Thank you very much, take the card, look them up online, get an adult involved.
Can you think of a story from the book that will entice readers?
It was fun to hang out with Bono backstage, it’s always fun to go to award shows. SNL was a highlight because I’m a New York City kid, so going to a taping of SNL was a blast.
There are those stories and also what to avoid and what to look out for. Crossing the Nile River in Egypt for a Mario Testino shoot was a blast. Having a couple of members of Duran Duran at my birthday dinner was huge for me because I was a massive fan of theirs as a kid.
I have a Bruce Weber story. The first time I worked with him for Italian magazine called Ley, I was 14, 15 and I hadn’t had a real boyfriend yet. I remember I got to make out with one of the male models for a picture and it was like woo! and that’s coming from again being a 14-, 15-year-old who was not — I was kind of a late bloomer.
The sensuality of the industry. Sexy is the obvious word to say – sex sells – but theres a sensuality of the shoots, the heightened experience most people don’t get to experience, its so much fun you’re treated like a queen, all these people running around, what do you need, what do you want, you have best clothes, best makeup artists, best hairstylists, gorgeous male models posing with you, the best photographers, the whole thing’s heightened because it’s not a normal experience and most people are having. Models are doing this day-to-day to day. It can be very heady stuff. I definitely share that stuff [in the book].