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Blind fashion designer aims to make TV shows

Mason Ewing, blinded at 15, is successful as a fashion designer in Paris. Now he wants to create a teen comedy and a dramatic series for television.

April 22, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Able to see only vague combinations of light and shadow, fashion designer Mason Ewing has artists sketch the designs he describes.
Able to see only vague combinations of light and shadow, fashion designer… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

He's been blind since age 15. But nobody can say that Mason Ewing lacks vision.

Overcoming a nightmarish childhood, Ewing, 30, has been a successful fashion designer in Paris.

For the last six months, however, his mind has been set on Hollywood, where he hopes to create a teen comedy and a dramatic series for television.

Born in Cameroon to an American father and a Cameroonian mother and raised in France, his own life has been filled with drama.

His mother, a seamstress and dressmaker, was murdered when Ewing was 4, he said. As an older child, Ewing remembers watching fashion shows and seeing glamorous top models like Naomi Campbell on the catwalk.

"I decided to work in fashion and follow in my mother's footsteps," he recalls.

Separated from his father, he lived for a time with a great-grandmother in Cameroon. But, Ewing said, his life took a dark turn at age 6 when he was sent to stay with relatives near Paris.

He remembers being routinely beaten and abused for seven years. He was whipped with belts, his arms were burned by candles, and he was forced to stand with his arms extended as he held heavy books in his hands, he says.

"I lived with my uncle and aunt and they began to fight me. They would awaken me at 4 in the morning to clean the house and wash dishes. When I wet the bed in fear, they took my head and bashed it on the bathtub," he recalled. "They poked my eyes and put pigment in them."

Ewing was bashed and kicked in the head so often that he suffered a seizure that landed him in the hospital, where, he said, he was in a coma for three weeks. When he awoke, he was blind.

The "pigment" Ewing mentioned is actually a peppery African hot sauce, according to a friend and associate, Raffael Becker, who translates for him. He said Ewing is convinced that the spicy hot sauce is to blame "for burning his optic nerves and killing the cells of his eyes."

"I don't know why they did this to me," Ewing said. "It was just wickedness."

French authorities eventually intervened and placed young Ewing in a series of foster homes. He studied physical therapy in college before deciding in 2001 to pursue his childhood dream of fashion design.

His Parisian fashion styling work ranged from evening gowns to Braille-lettered T- shirts.

Translating what Ewing could see only in his mind's eye was a challenge. He was able to recruit artists willing to sketch the designs he described, including an elaborate "Marie Antoinette" gown — a flowing, billowing dress accented with swoops of golden-brocaded fabric.

Able to see only vague combinations of light and shadow, Ewing discovered his blindness had enhanced his ability to distinguish the textures of silks, lace, linen and cotton twill. That feel for material also came into play when doll-size miniatures of his creations were sewn together and he was able to "see" his designs by touch.

Although other fledgling young designers of haute couture voiced skepticism of Ewing's chances of succeeding in the design world, a French organization for the handicapped, Agefiph, decided to finance his first fashion show in 2006, according to print and television reports.

Since then, Ewing has produced a collection of T-shirts that feature Baby Madison, a multi-ethnic cartoon figure, in different settings. The infant has dark skin, blue eyes and a tuft of blond hair that "represents tolerance and love for everyone," he said. The shirts' raised Braille lettering tells him the garment's color and what Madison image is printed on it.

Ewing used the cartoon character to branch out into video animation with "The Adventures of Madison." He hopes to parlay that into two TV series that feature live actors.

Test scenes for the teen drama "Eryna Bella" have been shot in South Los Angeles' Vermont Square neighborhood, where Ewing rents a small house. "It's about high school beauty queens competing for the attention of the campus alpha male," he said.

His proposed teen comedy series is called "Mickey Boom."

Mary E. Fry, a producer and casting director for independent films who is assisting Ewing and his young actors, said what he is planning is doable.

"I grew up in an era of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and I know what they've accomplished," Fry said. "He'll have people at his side that are his eyes and ears. His biggest challenge is getting investors in line."

Ewing is confident he can triumph in another visual arts field.

"There are a lot of people who are handicapped and they're able to do a lot of things that people don't necessarily think they can do," he said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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