To set the scene for the most Christmassy interview ever, Refinery29 met up with Fashion Santa at Miracle on Ossington, a Christmas-themed bar in Toronto. It's been five years since Paul Mason earned viral celebrity status as a hunkier, funkier version of the original chimney slider. Since then, the Toronto model has adjusted to the daily selfie requests, emerged victorious in a trademark battle, and devoted a whole lot of time to whisker maintenance. So what's it like to be a world-famous holiday fixture? Pretty great, says Mason. (Just don't ask him to ho-ho-ho.)
Fashion Santa, have a seat. You seem like you’ve had a long December already.
Well actually, my first appearance this season was November 9 — an event to benefit HopeSpring Cancer Support Centre. I’ve been pretty much back-to-back-to-back ever since. I've been doing a Ritz-Carlton Fashion Santa tour with stops in Boston, Washington, Miami, and then here in Toronto on December 19. I do a lot of private parties. I’ve partnered up with the Canadian jewellery company Nogu to design my own line of bracelets. And then there are a lot of photo shoots.
When’s the last time Fashion Santa got a good night’s sleep?
There’s no sleep at this time of year. I’m going to another shoot after this, tomorrow I have two interviews, a staging. And I’m already meeting about some opportunities for 2020. It’s great though. This is I wanted this for myself, so I can’t complain.
In 2018, you won the trademark rights to the Fashion Santa brand in Canada, and just recently in the States. What does that mean for the future of Fashion Santa?
Eventually I am hoping to create a Christmas brand that would do all kinds of things from apparel to homewear. Having the trademark means any partnerships going forward will be legally binding because I can now sign contracts as Fashion Santa.
And just as importantly, no one else can.
Okay, let’s backtrack a little. I was doing some Internet research and came across these photos of you from an old Gap ad. Hard to recognize you without the beard.
That shot came out I was working as a Ford model which would have been ’93, ’94. I got into modelling when I was 1983. I was in the social work program at Ryerson and got discovered by an agent. I spent 15 years living and working in New York. The transition to Fashion Santa came from a life transition. My mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I decided I should go home to be with her. That was 2008. She passed away in 2013 and the grief was overwhelming. That’s when I stopped shaving. And then I kind of didn’t mind the look, and at the same time I needed a gig, so that’s when I came up with the idea for this Christmas character called Fashion Santa. I put together a pitch, and shopped it to a few different retailers. That’s how I connected with Yorkdale. I should send you the pitch. It’s eerie how much everything came true.
Well that’s what happens when you tell your wish to Santa.
Exactly. It really does feel like my mom’s legacy is in everything I do. The poor woman was dealing with so many ailments: Heart disease, liver cancer, and lung disease. So I can pick a lot of different charities to honour her.
You debuted Fashion Santa at Yorkdale mall and suddenly you became this huge viral sensation.
Right. It started in 2014, and by 2015 it was totally nuts. I did 88 hours of selfies in eight days. I was doing morning shows all over the world. I paid for the analytics, so I know there were 2-billion impressions.
Holy crap! So you’re Meghan Markle!
I know. It was crazy and amazing and a lot to adjust to.
In 2015 I leaned that Yorkdale was filing for trademark protection, so I sensed that something was up. I learned that I had been replaced just like everyone else did: on the news.
Fair to say Fashion Santa 2.0 didn’t go over so well.
The poor guy. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. He was like a deer in the headlights. He’s a fellow Canadian model [Adam Martin] and a good guy. When I ran for the Terry Fox marathon, he sponsored me.
Well that’s very Christmassy of him.
Still, you must have felt vindicated when the entire world saw the new guy and was like, that is not Fashion Santa.
Yeah, that was pretty great.
I get stopped everywhere — the meat aisle at No Frills. I’ve started going everywhere with a very deep shopping bag, so that I don’t get caught out if I’m buying toilet paper.
How often do you get stopped for selfies?
Oh, every day pretty much. It means I pay more attention to what I look like when I leave the house. I get stopped everywhere — the meat aisle at No Frills. I’ve started going everywhere with a very deep shopping bag, so that I don’t get caught out if I’m buying toilet paper.
Do people ever ask you to ho-ho-ho?
No ho-ho-ho-ing for me. That’s his line.
Before all of this, was Paul Mason a big Christmas guy?
I mean my mom always created a nice Christmas, but I just celebrated it like everyone else. It wasn’t a huge thing.
Do you remember when you learned the truth about Santa?
Oh God, it was horrible. My parents couldn’t afford a babysitter so they took us shopping and tried to hide what they were buying.
What are some of your personal holiday traditions?
On Christmas Eve, I’ll get together with family and friends. On Christmas morning, I do a thing called Heroes in Black where we go out into the streets and deliver socks and gloves to the homeless here in Toronto. I’ve been doing that since 2015 and they’re a great organization.
A lot of viral sensations go from global recognition to time capsule relic pretty quickly. To what to you attribute Fashion Santa’s enduring appeal?
I’m not entirely sure. I do notice that a lot of people who post pictures with me say they wouldn’t normally have their picture taken with Santa. I think Fashion Santa feels modern and fun and appeals to people regardless of race, creed, or colour. I get Muslims, Christians, atheists.
Do people ask you for things, like they would with regular Santa?
No. People tend to get pretty cheeky with me about whether they’ve been naughty or nice. I never have a chair for that reason. No lap-sitting. That could get pretty racy.
Fashion Santa, that’s pretty saucy!
Ha! I’m not trying to take away from this iconic guy, but I’m adding a bit of humour. Lately there has been this whole Keto Santa meme going around, which is pretty funny. Maybe the character needed a revamp. Maybe people were tired of the polyester suit guy.
Speaking of suits, yours are pretty snazzy. Does Fashion Santa make an effort to wear Canadian?
I do. Last year my suits were by Joseph Tassoni, who is a great Canadian designer. This year Farley Chatto made me a three piece that I’ll be wearing at the Ritz-Carlton event on Thursday. The one I’m wearing now is by Indochino on King Street [in Toronto]. Next year, I want to take my look a little further into the future. A little less conservative, a little more high-fashion.
Do you have a dream designer?
Well I don’t want to speak too soon, but Jean Paul Gaultier has just requested me for his anniversary show at the end of January. It’s not confirmed yet, but if I get in there, he’s the first person I’m going to be talking to about a collaboration
Are you the kind of model who wants to get into acting? I feel like a Fashion Santa Hallmark special is kind of a no-brainer.
No, no. I’m a horrible actor. But I think there is a movie in my story. There is going to be a script. The whole thing feels very similar to Miracle on 34th Street.
Tell me about your beard-maintenance routine.
Well, I’m lucky because often they will trim it on set, so that helps with the upkeep. I’m an ambassador for American Crew so mostly I used their products which are great. But if I’m out in a pinch any men’s body wash with a little bit of moisturizer in it will soften the hair and do the trick.
Is the beard insured?
No, not yet.
You’ve gotta get on that. If J-Lo has her booty insured…
Yeah, I did think of it while I was barbecuing in the summertime. We’ll see about that for next year.
Have you considered casting a Mrs. Fashion Santa?
No time for that yet. But if there was, I think Carmen Dell’Orefice would be great. She’s one of the oldest American supermodels. We have taken two photos together, one when I was 30 and one when I was 53. She would be the perfect Christmas wife.
Okay, let’s end off on some holiday themed rapid fire. Favourite Christmas carol?
I guess Rudolph.
Real tree or artificial?
How about a potted tree?
Eggnogg or Mulled wine?
Grinch or Abominable Snowmonster?
I’d have to say Grinch. He’s a complex character.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Well I don’t think anyone’s nuts should be on a fire.
When is the last time anyone roasted nuts? Who has an open fire anyway?
Okay, I’ll stop now. Got any hot plans for New Years?
Maybe New York City. Or maybe sleep. I haven’t figured it out yet. I haven’t even thought about tomorrow.
This interview has been condensed and edited.