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A former deb from a Highland Park family, Mattie Caldwell is obsessive about success. She now teaches yoga and fitness to some of the hottest stars in New York.
By Glenna Whitley |

Lucy Sykes, the fashtion editor of Town & Country magazine, remembers vividly when she first laid eyes on yoga and fitness guru Mattie Caldwell. It was February 1998. They were at a party given for Mattie by entertainment lawyer Lloyd Nathan, then Mattie’s boyfriend, in the VIP room of Moomba, one of the New York clubs of the moment.

“She was wearing very tight black leather trousers and a tight white shirt,” says Lucy Sykes in a very English accent, “and every single man in the room was staring at her.” Five foot eight, with a lean but voluptuous figure and dark auburn lair, the Dallas native exuded an air of self-confidence. She appeared to be the kind of woman that makes others want to slit their wrists. “But she couldn’t have been nicer,” say Lucy.

The two women -Lucy, an Englishwoman and a member of the “Brit Pack” that occupies an influential niche in New York’s world of journalism, media, and fashion, and Mattie, the Texan with deep roots in Dallas society-became friends. Mattie introduced Lucy to the Mattie Method, a hybrid of exercise, yoga, and nutrition she had developed while working as a personal trainer in Dallas. And Lucy introduced Mattie to New York. For Mattie Caldwell, the celebrity dominoes were starting to fall.

First, there was Lucy’s twin sister Plum Sykes, a writer for Vogue, They met over dinner at Indochine. Plum also loved The Mattie Method and Mattie’s aesthetic: the “extraordinarily feminine, toned, slender and elegant body that looked thin without being stick-like.” the Louis Vuitton file case, the Mont Blanc pen. her penchant for Manolo Blahnik shoes and Dolce & Gabbana corsets. Other members of New York’s influential crowd were soon smitten: fashion writers, journalists, merchant bankers, lawyers, actors, and models.

Then Lucy Sykes picked up her formidable Rolodex and dialed the number for star hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai’s public relations firm. Mattie went to the Park Avenue home of Frédéric and his wife, Elisabeth. Like almost everyone before them, they promptly and predictably fell in love with the beautiful Texan. And her program. The Fekkais introduced Mattie first to supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who was looking for a yoga teacher, and later, one day in early 1998, Frédéric passed along an invitation not to be missed: He and Plum and Lucy were going down to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Did she want to go? Soon Mattie was aboard The Donald’s 727, talking with the man himself about why he needed yoga.

On April 1, exactly one year after Mattie moved to New York, the Work In/Work Out with Mattie video was released. That same month, Plum wrote a story in Vogue calling the trainer a “perfectly-toned goddess girl” and crediting her yoga-and-weights workout and nutritional advice with getting her in shape. Soon, editors from Mirabella, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Bazaar were calling for interviews.

Mattie Caldwell had arrived.

If mere’s a moment when a star is bom, when a nova bursts fully formed into the celestial heavens of celebrity, that party at Moomba was Mattie’s moment. In that instant, Mattie Caldwell was destined to become, as Plum Sykes now says, “the Martha Stewart of fitness.”

So what does a Martha Stewart of Fitness sell, exactly? To add a little sizzle to the basics-yoga, exercise, nutrition-she sells sex appeal and palatable self-improvement. Mattie Caldwell wants you to be healthy-and she knows how to make you feel sexy getting there.

Sure, yoga has been around for centuries, and it has been widely used in the United States for years. But it’s always been taught by touchy-feely granola types who eschewed eye-shadow and cleavage and would not know a Blahnik from a Birkenstock. Mattie Caldwell is something entirely different. How many yoga therapists have the sex appeal of a runway model? How many self-improvement gurus made their debut?

Come on, a nutritionist who rides Harleys and has breast implants?

Is Mattie Caldwell for real?

At 9 a.m. on a perfect spring day in New York, I walk up the flight of stairs to Mattie Caldwell’s studio on East 58th Street for my personal Mattie Method workout, which she describes as “a highly effective blend of yoga, body sculpting, and cardiovascular conditioning in small classes for maximum personal attention “The motto: “For people who want to be peaceful and look good.” Classes. with no more than six people, cost $25 per session. Personal sessions are $125.

Today. I’m getting the one-on-one.

The smell of curry from the Chola Indian restaurant on the first floor lingers, not unpleasantly, in the stairwell. The door to the studio opens to a large room with soft pink walls and a high ceiling. Flowers and candles adorn an antique white mantle over a fireplace in the middle of the long wall. Feminine, not like a gym at all. The only exercise equipment in sight: two mats and two sets of small weights.

Dark hair pulled back in a pony tail, Mattie greets me with a smile and a handshake, getting me a giant latte cup filled with water. She’s wearing what she sports on the cover of her video: loose black leggings and a pink sports bra. Her body is to-die-for – lean but not skinny, strong but not muscle-ly, with a whittled waist and generous breasts. This is the result of yoga?

She puts on some soft, energetic music. We sit cross-legged on the mats, facing each other, and to my surprise, Mattie first asks my blood type. When I tell her, she says, “Type O-so am I. That’s easy.”

She explains that she follows and recommends nutritional guidelines found in books by Anne Louise Gittleman and Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo, a naturopathic doctor who propounds a diet based on the four blood types in the book Eat Right 4 Your Type. The plan is created around the theory that people with blood types O, A, B, and AB, have different nutritional needs that have evolved over eons.

For me, as a type O, the “no” foods include wheat, pasta, potatoes, com, sugar, coffee, and dairy (including milk and cheese). And unfortunately, the prohibited list sounds a lot like my daily diet-from shredded wheat in the morning to the excellent tortilla soup in the downstairs restaurant at lunch. The “yes” foods aren’t nearly as enticing: fish, lean red meat, lots of salads and most vegetables, eggs, unsweetened soy milk, and the dreaded T word: tofu.

Mattie’s goal: to get women to accept their feminine form. “I’m curvy and I’ve got hips and I’m healthy and I have a ton of energy, and that’s a good place to be,” she says with characteristic confidence. “The way European women can carry a few pounds but make it look sexy. American women feel ashamed.” So Mattie wants women to accept their bodies. But what about those breast implants? “I think that if there’s anything you can’t do with nutrition and exercise, there’s nothing wrong with getting some help to make you feel good about yourself,” she says. “But there are people who want liposuction who’ve never done a crunch in their life-I don’t condone that.”

My personal exercise session continues much like the video: a combination of yoga and stretching combined with gentle aerobics and weight-lifting. It feels tiring but effective, “nothing that wastes your time,” she insists. (It’s so much easier if the road to inner peace is the shortest distance between two points.) Even I feel jazzed, energized.

Then Mattie turns counselor. She explains that as a “yoga therapist,” she supports her client’s body in various yoga positions, then leads her through talking about her problems, stresses, inner demons. She pushes my right leg into a position that is almost but not quite painful and talks softly, encouraging me to bring up whatever’s on my mind.

What’s on my mind is giving up tortilla soup.

After she graduated from Boston University in 1988, Mattie Caldwell moved back to Dallas-and back into the high-society circles she’d grown up in. Though she now says of her hometown, “There’s a little bit of brainwashing that goes on in Dallas,” it’s easy to see what an aspiring yoga instructor/personal trainer could have learned here. First, despite Eastern philosophy and neo-hippie beliefs to the contrary, outer beauty matters as much as inner beauty. In Dallas, it’s hard for us to recognize one without the other. And second, the wealthy are willing to pay a lot of money to feel beautiful.

Raised in Highland Park, Mattie comes from a family that is old-school Dallas. Her mother, Louise Caldwell, is a fixture in the Park Cities social scene, an erstwhile volunteer, and chair of many charity balls. Born and raised here, Louise made her debut in 1958 before marrying another Highland Park native, Joseph Caldwell, a Congregationalist minister who is now a marriage and family therapist. The firstborn of their four children, Mattie was followed by Jane, then twin boys Beau and Charles. Jane is now an actress living in London. Beau and Charles are now 6 feet 7, dark and handsome, both single businessmen, and in big demand on the social circuit. Beau is president of the Terpsichorean Club; Charles is secretary of Idlewild.

But as deeply embedded as the Caldwell family is in Dallas society, Mattie seemed ready early on to turn her back on it. As a student at Hockaday, she was a bit out of sync. “I’m the black sheep of my family,” she says. “I wasn’t social enough. I didn’t have the right look. I was very bohemian as opposed to preppy.”

Lawyer Amy Castle was in her class at Hockaday. “Mattie had this wonderful air of confidence about her,” says Castle. “At Hockaday there was a lot of conformity and a lot of peer pressure, but she never felt like she had to follow what anybody else was doing” Then, Mattie wasn’t exactly into change-the-world causes: Her rebellion ran to coloring her brown saddle shoes with multi-colored markers, shaving a strip in her hair, shot-drinking a vodka-spiked Slurpee every now and then-nothing like going global with the Mattie Method.

In fact, Mattie’s post-college life at first seemed like that of any other Highland Park girl. In 1989. Mattie made her debut with her sister, Jane, at the Idlewild Presentation Ball, the most prestigious of the debutante season. In their formal photos, in white gowns with puffy sleeves and long white gloves, they look like ravishing versions of light and dark. After the round of parties ended, Mattie did some modeling, then enrolled in SMU law school, but she dropped out after a year. On June 29,1991, her 24th birthday, she married Ray Washburne because, well, it was time to get married. Washburne had been president of Idlewild during her deb season. Now managing partner of The M Crowd Restaurant Group, he was then investing in real estate and restaurants. In many ways, they were a lot alike: ambitious, deeply embedded in Dallas society but unable to resist the urge to tweak it at times. Soon after the wedding, they bought his-and-her Harley-Davidsons. “They were me glamour couple,” says one denizen of the social scene. “He had this great career in restaurants. They went to a lot of openings. They were at restaurants, all over the place.” It wasn’t just what they did, exactly, that made them so sought after. It was the way they looked.

But Mattie wasn’t content simply to be half of a see-and-be-seen couple.

She kept pushing passing interests into lifetime goals-and proving she could succeed at whatever interested her. Whether you call it obses-siveness or just plain dedication, she ran through a suing of activities like a woman out to prove herself to the world. In her freshman year of college, she went behind her mother’s back to try skydiving. In 1993, when Mattie took up Aikido, she earned a black belt. When she got interested in scuba, she became a certified dive master. Deciding she wanted to learn to shoot, she wasn’t satisfied to get just her concealed handgun license. She bought a Glock 9 mm handgun and took workshops from military tactical coaches; she now owns one shotgun, one rifle, and three handguns. Nothing halfway.

For a while, she worked for Piano’s cable TV station, doing a lot of health and fitness coverage. She worked hard on her presentation- and her physical appearance. Already beautiful and slim, she had breast enlargement surgery. By early 1995, Mattie was an anchor for the five o’clock news at the Sherman station. But her marriage was also unraveling. In May 1995, Ray Washburne filed for divorce. Her friends say it was Mattie who wanted out and Ray who was devastated. (Washburne, who has remarried, did not return phone calls.) She calls marriage “a chapter that didn’t have much effect on my life.” Oddly, it seems that the rebel had been sucked into tradition.

Halfway along the traditional road to success, Mattie wanted off.

She abruptly quit her TV job in late 1995. “I was intending to make broadcasting a career, but I was fed up with the negativity,” Mattie says. Already, she was focusing on bigger projects, facing challenges with a confidence that would seem impudent in anyone else. “I wanted to segue into more what Oprah was doing, news you can use, health, spirituality.” In early 19%, Mattie took off by herself on a two-and-a-half month trek to Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and Tibet. As with every other venture in her life, she took the trip as a matter of dead seriousness: “It was a certainty that this was the next thing to do,” she says. This was no backpacking trek, however-very Raj, with nice hotels and stops for shopping and sightseeing. Photos in her scrapbook show her in a flowing dress in front of the Taj Mahal. In front of an ancient Buddhist monastery wearing a cowboy hat. Atop an elephant.

And the most telling photograph of all: a picture of the Bodhi tree, where Buddha became enlightened. Beside the picture, a leaf from the tree that Mattie says fell at her feet as she stood there.

We are seated on a floral sofa in her tiny New York apartment a few blocks from her studio, and Mattie is telling me about the Mattie Method, how she first created the program that she hopes will make her a household name. Scattered around the living room are various antiques and family heirlooms. Atop her TV are two figures of the multi-limbed Hindu god Khali, one angry, one benign. Her kitchen is decorated with Mexican folk art. On a shelf sit two large books, The Secret Language of Relationships and The Secret Language of Birthdays.

Mattie is disingenuously frank about the genesis of the Mattie Method. “The truth of the matter is there’s nothing new under the sun,” she says. “I cobbled together what to me is a healthy, not-too-extreme, effective, safe approach.”

In other words, she took old practices and repackaged them, dressed them up, and made them sexy-and therefore saleable.

After her Eastern travels, Mattie had decided her purpose was to “encourage healing,” to help people become more comfortable with their bodies. She got certification as a personal trainer from the Cooper Aerobics Clinic and began to build up a clientele through word of mouth. “They wanted more than just exercise,” she says. “I found myself taking on the role of therapist, yoga teacher, nutritionist.” Already, she was laying “the groundwork for something much, much bigger.”

She pursued yoga with a vengeance, so to speak, attending the Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts, which she calls “the metaphysical equivalent of Navy SEAL training,” and became certified as a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist.

“They kind of scoured away at your inner demons,” Mattie says. “The inner demons are the lessons we’re here to learn.”

In Dallas, Mattie quickly found prominent clients, including John and Dorothy Castle and their daughter Amy, lawyer Don Malouf, Karen Alberthal.

She began infusing her yoga instruction with lessons she’d learned from her varied spiritual philosophy-a hybrid of Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism, a smattering of Hindu mythology, a strong influence of Celtic and goddess worship, a bit of nativistic religion. Sounding like a 12-step graduate, she says, “I take what works for me and leave the rest. We’re spiritual beings having a human experience. If you ’re lucky you have about 25,000 days to live. At my age, I’ve used up 11,000 of them. I need to do something with it. I should have a purpose.”

Nutrition she learned from reading and personal experimentation, seeing what worked, and talking to clients and friends who were elite athletes. Like her religious beliefs, the result, which she would eventually dub The Mattie Method, is a homegrown hybrid.

By late 1997, Mattie was raising her prices and still turning people away. “I loved Dallas, but there’s a finite number of people I can influence,” she says. Obviously, she had to move to New York.

She signed a lease for her apartment on April 1, 1998. One of the first things she did was call the Bayview Correctional Facility, offering to come teach yoga. “They were skeptical,” Mattie says. “People had done things like that before, but they hadn’t lasted.” But she has been teaching there once a week for more than a year.

Even before she moved, Mattie had met Lloyd Nathan, a former L.A. entertainment lawyer now developing computer animation and a member of the Brit Pack, at a Halloween party in New York. (She was dressed as Eve, he as Dracula.)

While they dated, Nathan tried Mattie’s Method to rid himself of migraines and experienced dramatic relief. Though no longer romantically involved, they formed a partnership in January 1999 to produce and market the Basic Mattie Method: Work In/Work Out with Mattie.

“She’s become a big name with influential people,” says Nathan. “I want to bring this to a wider audience. I realized there are certainly yoga tapes oui there, there are exercise tapes out there, but nobody has combined those.” They’ve planned a whole series of tapes, focusing on different age groups: kids, teenagers, seniors, yoga-only tapes. “We will eventually do what I refer to as more spiritual, holistic tapes,” Nathan says. “This is the beginning of a 10-year track.” Mattie’s already applied for a trademark for the Mattie Method. An infomercial is likely. A clothing line is possible. Perhaps unspoken dreams of a talk show. She recently signed a deal to do weekly health segments for MSNBC.

Mattie’s goal is to make her workout accessible. To everyone.

“It can work for Frédéric Fekkai, and Claudia, and women in prison,” she says, remembering another potential superstar client she’d met the night before-Prince Andrew. “His hamstrings are tight,” she says. “I told him he needs yoga.”

What he needs, of course, is Mattie.

So, will Mattie Caldwell change the way we think about our bodies? Is she dedicated to a life of true health, or is she just using the cachet of celebrity endorsements in a business plan that has little to do with fitness?

It’s clear that Mattie has succeeded at one thing: giving the ancient art of yoga some sizzle. Brit writer Toby Young, who exercised with her for eight weeks and did a piece for Manhatten File, raved that she helped him lose weight and cut his body fat from 17 percent to 11 percent. But there was something else: “She’s very sexy, and that creates an additional incentive,” Young says. “If you’ve got a bit of a crush on your personal trainer, that helps.”

What could she call it but the “Mattie Method”? More than anything, Mattie Caldwell is selling herself. That’s what Dallas debs are trained to do.

She clearly sees herself as a star and knows that the string of celebrities that followed her introduction to Lucy Sykes is a crucial part of her success. “It’s who you know, absolutely,” she says.

And yet she has a willful sense of self-confidence. When I ask her about her inner demons, she says, without a hint of irony, that she once harbored a sense of insecurity about her abilities. She had been forced to ask herself what was, for her, a humbling question: “Am I good enough to do this on a global level?”

We should all be so insecure.

Maybe, in five years, maybe less, Mattie Caldwell truly will be-better than a household word-a brand name.

To Mattie, at least, the idea makes perfect sense.

’I’m open to the Mattie Empire,” she says, smiling serenely. “My dream is to positively influence every single person on this planet.”

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