February 12, 2021

Alvin Clayton-Fernandes : Renaissance Man

AMBASSADOR DIGITAL MAGAZINE Editor-In-Chief MUSA JACKSON has an intimate Q.& A. with my longtime friend ALVIN CLAYTON- FERNANDES.

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    Musa Jackson

Follow us from his humble beginnings on the Caribbean island of Trinidad to becoming one of the most successful Black Male models to his success as an award winning restaurateur with the L.A. celebrity favorite Georgia’s in the ‘90s to his current eponymous award winning chic Alvin & Friends Restaurant in New Rochelle. Finally to being an prolific painter with his art work bought by Denzel Washington and Blair Underwood. Find out how the businessman, partner, father and Renaissance man crafted this amazing life.

One of the most successful Black Male models to his success as an award winning restaurateur


MUSA What was it like for you as young boy growing up on the island of Trinidad?
ALVIN Growing up in Harlem was a magical place for me. I learned so much just walking the streets of Harlem, knowing that there were avenues named after great Black leaders and icons to going to school with Black teachers. Everyday going into the classroom that was papered with Black history lessons, not just in February, but every single day. Then of course, the fashion flair of Harlem.

First of all when my Mom came to the U.S. I lived with my grandparents. And my grandmother is like my heart. I love her to death. Even through the sadness of your Mom not being there I had that great love and affection from my grandmother. I didn’t feel like I missed much. It was an amazing childhood, running free. It a bit of country living. Surrounded by lots of family. It was in the northern part of Trinidad called Diego Martin. Playing soccer, hanging with your friends and getting an education. That was the most important thing. (Continued)

MUSA How old were you when you came to the U.S.?
ALVIN I was 15 years old when I came to the U.S. I went to Archbishop John Carroll, which was a Catholic school in Washington D.C. I started my sophomore year there. I played soccer there. I got a scholarship to Mount Saint Mary’s University for soccer and academics. I went there for four years I actually got drafted by San Diego Loyal Soccer. The year that I was drafted to play soccer, was the same year the NSL ( National Soccer League) outdoor soccer league folded. So a friend I had gone to college with had always thought that I could model. I had a degree in secondary education and psychology but I wanted to be a guidance counselor in High School and I wasn’t ready to teach at the time so I called my friend. I asked if the agency would give me a look. He thought they would. I came to New York and signed with Wilhelmina modeling agency.
MUSA How was it when you first started modeling back then?
ALVIN I never put any pressure on myself when it came to modeling. When I first came in there were a lot of other models that I had seen growing up in magazines. A couple of them were at Wilhelmina and I saw that they were at the end of their careers. They were kind of looking around for work and I just didn’t want to be in that situation. Since I have no kids, it’s just me I would give myself two years. After two years if I can’t make a really great living off of modeling I was going to quit. Fortunately I got a great career.

I never put any pressure
on myself when it came to

MUSA What was the big break in modeling?
ALVIN So there are a couple of stories that are really integral. So when I first started modeling I was working at the Manhattan Ocean Club as a waiter. I started working pretty steadily as a model and I couldn’t give them as much time anymore. I was working five days a week at the restaurant. There was an incident one night with a table that already paid. This was a place where you had to wear a jacket and tie. So I took my bow tie off and the maitre d said to me, “Why is your bow tie off?” I explained to him my customers had finished and he said to put my bow tie back on. I said I have no more customers I’m finished. He said he would fire me if I didn’t put it back on. I said then fire me I’m not putting it back on. I went to the manager and told him the maitre d fired me. He said he can’t fire you. I told him you know what, “I am fired.” That was the last time I worked as a waiter for someone else. The very next day I went on a casting for Phillip Morris. I got the campaign it was eight days in New Orleans. That was the last time I did anything else but model for like 25 years. The second one was my first GQ editorial shoot with the legendary Arthur Elgort. When the editorial came out I went from jobs here and there to my chart booked up for like three months. After that I worked for like 15 years where I had at one least one booking a week.

MUSA Tell us what it was like in the ‘80s being a sought after top Black model?
On a set
ALVIN For me it was always a job. I never took myself to seriously. I felt really blessed to be working as a model and getting to travel all over. Back in those days there wasn’t any word such as budget ( laughs) We did lots of trips to really great places. I will say the one thing I was a little conscious of back in the ‘80s. On a set I would probably be the only Black person. That was about 98 percent of the time. Unless I was modeling with a Black woman. The whole time I was modeling there must of been about a handful of times I worked with another Black male model on the set. Even the agencies when you went in had like 5 black models. And each of them represented a different look. They had the light skin guy with the eyes, the guy with the dark skin and so on. And when you went to agency they would say we have your type. Even though there would be a hundred white guys that looked exactly alike. I understood it from a marketing point of view. There really wasn’t that much work for us back then. You’d see a catalog with a hundred white models and they’d have the one Black guy. There definitely was a limited amount of opportunities for Black male models back then.
MUSA How did you get into the restaurant industry?
ALVIN I knew that the modeling wasn’t going to last forever. Most models back then has about a five year career. I didn’t know I would work as long as I did. So I always knew what my next step would be. If I made ten dollars I saved five of it. Because I knew after being in the industry for long as I have I’m off of the regular work force. If I’m in a company and I started today in five years I’d be at a level where I’m making sufficient amount of money of being with the company for five years. If I modeled for five years and was just hand to mouth and just making money to survive. After five years I’d now have to go in at entry level just for a job opportunity. That would not be a good place to be after being self employed. I always knew how to cook something I learned from my grandmother. And working as a waiter I really enjoyed that experience of meeting people. I was working with the model Gail O’Neil on a job for Macy’s and she’s says, “Alvin what do you think you’re going to do after modeling.” I said to her I think I’m going to do a restaurant. I like to cook, I like people and I need to do something on my own. Ironically her boyfriend at the time was the hot restauranteur Brad Johnson. Brad was in the process of opening Georgia in LA. with some celebrities Denzel Washington, Debbie Allen, a bunch of people. She introduced me to Brad and he actually took a liking to me and asked me if I wanted to invest with them. And I did and the rest is history. I actually learned back of the house operations from Brad and his late father Howard Johnson.
MUSA What was that like still being a successful model and also running a hip popular restaurant?
ALVIN Modeling was never stressful to me. I never complained. The worse you might have to do is wake up really early. Be on a set where they’re taking great care of you and paying you a lot of money. You’re probably in a great location. That was fun to me. And then learning the restaurant business from somebody like Brad and the quality of restaurant that we had that was celebrity based. It was like living a dream. It almost wasn’t work. So even though it was like long days Brad and I managed the restaurant. The days I wasn’t working as a model I would be at the restaurant. To be honest it was really a fun time for me.
MUSA What was one of celebrity highlights of doing that restaurant? Give us a taste of that.
ALVIN Because of the association with Denzel, Debbie and Brad knowing all of the celebrities we were really the celebrity based restaurant. I remember the year that Denzel was nominated for an Oscar for Malcolm X. Georgia’s had its first Academy Award party. I remember it was 3 o’clock in the morning sitting at a table. It was Forrest Whitaker, Kevin Hooks, Lawrence Fishburne, Julia Robert’s, Denzel, Wesley Snipes, Brad and myself. We were just shooting the breeze. At that moment I had an out of body experience. Here’s this kid from Trinidad. If somebody had told me this was going to be my life I wouldn’t of believed them. I’m not a star struck person. But the reality that being a part of my normal life was kind of surreal to me.
MUSA How did you come to be this amazing painter?
ALVIN I always loved to draw as a child. I love art. But coming from Caribbean parents you couldn’t tell them you wanted to be an artist. They were like you better get an education and get a job. The love of art was always there. I had a French girlfriend Chloe. I knew she loved art so her birthday was coming up and I bought her this complete art set. Canvases, easel, brushes, paint, everything. Gave it to her and she never used it. I fell in love with Matisse. It had a simplicity about it. So for the next six months I took Chloe’s paints and started copying Matisse’s paintings. Teaching myself how to paint. And then I branched off doing family members and friends. I painted for like two years I never showed anyone. Then one of my agents came to my loft on 10th street and 2nd Avenue. The walls by this time were adorned with my artwork I had done over the two years. She was like. “Who did these?” I told her it was me. She said her friend Lee Arthur had an art gallery in Soho. So Lee came over and loved the work. She asked me if she could do a show of my work. We did a show I had 27 pieces and sold 19 pieces during the show. Then Elsa Klench was doing CNN House of Style. She was doing a feature on models. I was one of models. She featured my art show with Lee Archer as part of my story. Then people called me from all over asking where can we buy my art. That’s how it became a career.

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MUSA Your first born son is with Chloe. But you and your wife Gwen have three older children now. How did you two meet?
ALVIN There was a place on 16th street and Six avenue called Rex that a lot of models used to go to. One of our friends Brinton Brewster used to do model parties. Chloe and I had divorced and I wasn’t ready to get into a relationship. I was dating different people here and there. My friend Jack Guy, and model Cynthia Bailey went out to Rex one night. I look across the dance floor and I saw Gwen. In my head I said that’s a beautiful girl. I went back to Rex and Gwen was there again. Jack had seen her as well and pointed her out. So we called Brinton over and asked who she was. Brinton called her over and introduced us. The following week was my birthday and Brinton was going to do a party for me. So I invited Gwen to my party and we’ve been together ever since. She’s my birthday present.
MUSA How has your latest restaurant Alvin & Friends in New Rochelle been doing during this pandemic?
ALVIN My experience at Georgia gave me the restaurant bug. I loved it. The thing I noticed at Georgia was because it was such a celebrity based restaurant the manager and staff had that LA vibe of only taking care of the celebrities. My whole thing was everybody’s money was the same. When you come out to eat you should have a great experience. I take care of everybody as if they were a celebrity. I got so many cards from people saying thank you for making us feel special. Eleven years ago I opened Alvin & Friends in a smaller location it was a forty seater. I went to all my tables greeting my guests. Made them feel like they were in my home. We got four star reviews from The New York Times, 26 across the board from Zagat. The restaurant just blew up. Very diverse clientele, I was there every day and night. I went to all the tables greet all my guests. And they just loved that experience. So eight years ago we bought a building and we transferred the restaurant there. And even though it’s a much bigger space the intimacy, ambiance is still there. I still go to all the tables and greet all my guests. Gwen has been the backbone of that. The things I don’t like doing she does. All the grunt work in the back I could not have survived without her support. We are really a great team with what we do. And during Covid it’s been challenging but one of the blessings is buying the building so we don’t have to deal with a landlord. I closed for two weeks to adjust the menu so that it would be much more conducive to take out. We did a lot of stuff for the first responders. And I think because we do so much for the community they’ve been very helpful in helping us survive. A lot of Black people got woke during the George Floyd protest so they’ve been very supportive of Black owned businesses. So I’ve seen an uptick in a lot of the Black folks that come into our restaurant. There are people coming from the city as well. We’re not making a lot of money but everyday we are getting through it. We are all going through it and we are just thankful to still be in the game.
I was writing for

MUSA You are still in the game. Back on the books with IMG Models doing a cover with Ambassador Digital Magazine. What’s that like for you now after being in the business for almost four decades?
ALVIN I’m very excited to do Ambassador Digital Magazine by the way. I stopped modeling about eight years ago. I had no intentions of getting back into the business. But after four years of the last administration it was affecting me in a certain way. And instead having anger towards people i took it my canvas. I did a series of political pieces dealing with how I felt about certain things. I had a virtual show at Iona College here in New Rochelle of 23 of my political pieces. It was reviewed and got great reviews. It was being passed around and my daughter who works at IMG passed it around and said, “Hey can you guys support my Dad’s art. This is his work.” And the people from IMG liked it and remembered me from my modeling days. I think now it’s about not only being a beautiful face but having a platform. They reached out to me and asked me if I’d be interested in coming on board. I was very honored and humbled and came on board. However it’s a totally new world. You don’t get to see clients face to face which I thought was my selling point back in the old days. If got to meet the client. We shared a moment I was almost guaranteed of booking something. Now it’s about videos, posting on social media all the time. Which is not really my world but I’m getting help from my daughter with that. It’s almost narcissistic in a way but I’ve found ways to actually have a balance where I don’t think it’s always about me but things that are important to me and things that make a difference in the world. And are still relevant with what the agency requires.<br /> Q. What advice would you give someone looking at your journey as inspiration?<br /> A. First thing is don’t let anyone steal your dream. If it’s something you want to do you have to pursue it. Secondly you also have to be realistic. There are a lot of beautiful people who can do the same job that you can do. You’ll see how people respond to you after a certain time. Just be true to yourself. And just know there is more than one thing you can do. If you can find things that you enjoy pursue that. That’s the biggest blessing you can have. Sometimes you are looking for a lot of things and it’s right in front of you. And you got to kind of have that six sense to know what’s right for you. I used to see a lot people they would be modeling making a lot of money doing one thing like catalogs and then they want to do editorial. But your blessing was that one thing that catalog. So stay with that. Stay with your blessing and not be to greedy.
MUSA What would Little Brown Bevy who grew up to be the Queen of Harlem tell the next generation of young women entertainers?
ALVIN Oh wow! For one, it gets greater later! Dare to dream big. Dare to dream your biggest dream and do not put any restrictions on your dreams. I would tell young women that you and you alone are in charge of your happiness. Do not give that power away to anyone. Not your mother, not your father, not your husband, not your boss. The art of getting to happy is a solo project. Only you and you alone can do it. Now you can share in that happiness and people can add to that happiness, but to truly get to happy, that’s the work you have to do for yourself on yourself.

Talent: @alvinclaytonofficial
Photographer: @franklouisphoto
Grooming: @stevenricestyle
Wardrobe: Courtesy of Rothman’s Men’s Store in NYC @rothmansnyc and in Scarsdale
Coat: Bourbon & Bulldog
Shot on Location at Alvin & Friends Restaurant @alvinandfriends
Founder & Editor-In-Chief:
Musa Jackson @iammusajackson
Creative Director: Paul Morejon