Claire Sinclair on Pin-Up Modeling, Sinful Treats and Vintage Vegas Shopping

Claire Sinclair knew she would one day become a pin-up model. When she was a child, she became enamored of the pin-up art her father collected, and told him, "I'm going to do that when I grow up." The pieces had one thing in common—they were all painted by Olivia De Beradinis, who contributed regularly to Playboy magazine. Just after Claire turned 18, Beradinis agreed to paint her, and invited her to the Playboy mansion to meet Hugh Hefner. Sinclair then did a test-shoot for the magazine and became one of the youngest playmates in history to be crowned Playmate of the Year (2011). She now calls Vegas home, and as the star of Stratosphere's PIN UP, takes audiences month by month through a live pin-up calendar. 

What first fascinated you about pin-up art?

My dad collected pin-up art from Olivia De Beranidis. She’s painted everyone from Bettie Page from Marilyn Monroe to different Playmates. Olivia's '80s work was all throughout our house. What they all had in common was that all of the girls were dressed up as characters—either a genie or a maid or a cop—and when I was five years old, I asked my dad if there were real ladies who modeled for it. He said they were all models and that was their job, they dressed up and she paints a painting from the photo they pose for. I said, “I’m going to do that when I grow up, that would be so fun.” I used to always say that. 

Did any models in particular provide inspiration?

In high school, I had nothing but Bettie Page photos in my binder—I'd walk around with my Bettie Page binder everywhere. She was my idol. I cut my bangs like Bettie Page, I dyed my hair black—I wanted to look as much like her as possible. I started dressing vintage inspired by her look. 

Now it’s changed for me a lot. I love Bettie Page, she'll always be the No. 1 pinnacle pin-up girl for me. But for personal style when I’m not working, because I’ve been so exposed to the ‘50s, which is a very niche look, I’ve gone up a decade, I like the ‘60s now. My new ideal is Francoise Hardy, I think she’s the queen babe.

How did you feel being the face of the Bettie Page line?

It was surreal, because I was dirt broke at the point. I had just become a Playmate but my checks hadn’t come in yet. I went into the store—I scrimped to buy one dress, it was my prized possession. Two weeks later, the owners approached me and said “we want you to be our spokesmodel” and they sent me a box with everything they had in the store. It was this massive box with every dress—I felt like I won the lottery! It was very special and a dream come true.

When did you get bitten by the performing bug?

I'd always be in short films for my friends who were in film class or festivals. I liked working on camera. I didn’t know that I’d ever be on stage, I had no training whatsoever to sing or dance. Crazy Horse Paris, which was at the MGM Grand, asked me to guest-star for a week—right after Dita Von Teese, which was the most intimidating offer I’d ever gotten in my whole life! I was 18 years old and an infant in the stage world. They had to train me for three weeks. It was intense. I cried after my stint was done and asked them to have me back. I got the bug really hard-core after that. They had me back one more time, and then, unfortunately, the show closed.

This show came right after Playmate of the Year. Drew DiConstanzo, our director, had me in mind when he was building the concept of PIN UP. He and his wife had seen me in Playboy and they thought that I would be a good star to back a show that was featured around 1950s themes. I was very excited. My friend Holly [Madison] was in Peepshow, when we were filming her reality show, I would watch her every single night, and I’d dream for my own show. It’s very cool that it actually ended up going down, I didn’t see that happening. I’m happy.

When did you meet Olivia De Bernidis?

When I was 18. My dad was doing a deal with her husband, who was her manager. He said I should come with him to see if she’d be interested in painting me, because he knew I always wanted to do it. I had been modeling at this point and had always gotten cast in things that were pin-up themed. At that point, I had filled out, and I went to her house dressed to the nines—I wore my prom dress, which wasn’t a super-fancy dress, it was just a gold dress I wore to prom. I did my hair and makeup, but when we get there, she and her husband are in their PJs. I was so humiliated, I had to sit and watch my dad and her husband negotiate a deal for two hours while I was sitting their looking ridiculous. No one mentioned me. At the end, my dad asked if Olivia would be interested in painting me. She asked me how old I was. I said 18; she said I looked like I was 12. I brought out my phone and had all these photos of my modeling, and said I’d done a lot of pin-up work. She said she’d think about it, and called the next day to say we could do a test shoot, but wasn’t guaranteeing that she’d paint me.

We test-shot for eight hours, she said it was the longest shoot she ever did. That night, she told me show was going to paint me, and asked me to come with her to the Playboy mansion to met Hef. That’s how it went down. It was just kind of odd. 

What was it like meeting Hugh Hefner?

I was extremely nervous—I’ve never been more nervous in my whole life. I new about Playmates, but was not well versed in the world of Playboy. I thought you had to be 21 to shoot, because there’s advertisements in there for alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t know what was going to go down, but I knew that Olivia did an installment for Playboy every month and I wanted him to like me enough to make me a painting in Playboy. So I was sweating bullets, and I see him staring at me; he’s in the hallway socializing with everyone, and he keeps staring at me. I couldn’t read the stare at all, it was just a stare. It was movie night, and after the movie, one of his friends said I looked like Barbie Benton, Hef’s girlfriend in the ‘70s. They showed me a bust of her in the library, a brunette girl with bangs. I guess that’s why he was staring at me so much, I guess that was nostalgic for him, I looked a lot like her at the time.

So he came up to me after the night of painful staring, he says “honey, what’s your name and number?” I give it to him—it was my first time using Claire Sinclair. I came up with it that night, I wanted a different name in case it was published or anything. I wanted it to be a little more catchy. The next day I got a call from Playboy headquarters, to test as a Playmate. A week later, I get a voicemail from Hef that said, “Darling, I wanted to let you know that we’ve decided to have you become a Playmate.” He invited me to come up on more Sundays to movie night, then I moved into the Bunny house across the street from the mansion, where a lot of the Playmates lived while they were working and shooting, because it was next to the studios and they gave tours of the mansion. That was my whole life for three years, I was working at the mansion doing Playboy things as an ambassador. My boyfriend was there, everything happened in the Mansion or the Bunny house. 

Do you get any type of creative input in PIN UP?

I was so pleasantly surprised with this concept. I didn’t have any input, except for costumes. At the beginning of the show, we had a different wardrobe lady and the costumes were not sleek. I told the director, "I’m going to buy something and show it to you—you don’t have to say yes to it, but I think you should consider it." I went to Bad Attitude Boutique and spent too much on a bunch of corsets—I got them embellished with Swarovski—and he ended up using everything I bought. 

What are some of your favorite things to do in Vegas?

I love to go downtown. I like Artifice in the Arts District, Commonwealth, Park [on Fremont], La Comida and Le Thai. I like shopping down there—Coutier is a bomb store that has really interesting pieces. Hannibal is the stylist there and he puts together awesome stuff. You have to know about it, because on the outside it says "Cash Checks" upside down. It's a hidden gem. 

Do you find there’s a lot of good places for vintage shopping here?

Yes, it’s amazing. There’s the Charleston Outlet Mall—it’s huge. I love Glam Factory—Stephanie pulls really cool stuff. There’s a whole bunch of great places on Main Street—Retro Vegas, Patina Décor, One Man’s Trash. Retro Vegas is a furniture store, but now also has a clothing store on the top, really good vintage clothing. I feel like Vegas knows that people like the Rat Pack and there’s a lot of old history from the '50s and '60s and they really hone in on that. 

Vegas is awesome. I thought when I first came here that it was a lot smaller than it is, and that there was a lot less to do than there is. I used to go back to L.A. every Tuesday and Wedsneday, which is my weekend. Now, I don’t. I try and stay in Vegas as much as possible and when I’m there, I miss Vegas. I’m so linked to everything here now, so dialed into this world, and I love it.

What is your favorite guilty indulgence?

Art of Flavors, which is right next to us. Arepas, which is right next to Art of Flavors. At Art of Flavors I always go for the funkiest flavors—like sweet corn or something. They make it into a good concoction, even though it sounds freaky as hell. I like Luv-It, which is right across the street from that. They’re both good. When I’m deciding what sweet treat I want, wherever the wind blows I’ll turn the wheel, I don’t think about it.