Brandon Frein: A Fashion Stylist Taking Control Of Her Own Destiny
Updated: Jun 18
I would consider myself a passionate person, but nothing like most of the creative people I have met. Once I engaged in a conversation with Brandon, I knew we were going to become friends. Brandon was also starting as an adjunct faculty member in the Fashion Studies program at Columbia at the same time I was. Not sure how we initially got to talking, but so glad we did because I consider her one of, if not the coolest and stylish people in Chicago. Her knowledge of trends, of thinking outside the box, and being passionate for what she does makes her a success story in my book. We meet at Steingold's Deli, (that I might add has some of the best organic homemade bagels I have ever had, second to New York). We chat over an amazing bagel and lox as she describes her love of travel, which gets her most inspired when she is styling for clients, and how she finds a way to give back and learn in her role as a stylist.
Tell me something simple about you.
I grew up in Charlotte, went to college in Boston, lived in Colorado, and spent a summer in the Netherlands and New York, but Chicago seems like the most livable city. I was adopted, and I have this theory about my birth parents. My theory is that my mother at the time of the Vietnam war had a fling with my father who was in the navy stationed in North Carolina. My other theory is that I was conceived at sea, and that my dad was from New York.
Tell me about your business and anything new you are working on.
I am a stylist, and my business partner Arlene and I have a business called KitThis. I have spent the last 11 years styling, and before that was in retail, acting and modeling. I love what I do, but I recently discovered a new opportunity. As you may have already figured out, I am a hustler, so I found a way to pursue a passion and possibly add to my income. The idea of being a 50+ model stemmed from my business partner Arlene and I trying to cast women like us and not being able to find them. I very much enjoy acting and hiding behind the character, but now it is time to embrace who I am, and show my confidence at this age.
What does the word hustle mean to you?
Even though the word has negative connotation, to me is a positive word. I evokes, energy and passion. It’s about getting things done and making things happen for yourself. I unofficially call myself a fashion hustler, but I work with a lot of corporate people so I have to be careful how I throw that word around because people react to it in different ways.
What part of the job makes it meaningful to you? Do you have a project that was your favorite?
I think I am just now coming into my own as a stylist. I trust my instincts, I study a lot, I look at fashion, I read about fashion, and I pay attention to how people wear things.
I have come to realize that I do my own thing as a person, and my style is not like anyone else’s. I don't follow trends, so I just recently learned how to do that in my job, and I'm going to go with my instinct and do what I feel is right.
We styled an Aids activist for Essence magazine once. A woman who was diagnosed with HIV in 1983 and had AIDS four years later. We did a 20 year follow-up and she was still alive. Dressing her was incredible. The medication she was taking had impacted her body so much so that her skin actually moved, and she felt self-conscious about how we were going to make her feel beautiful and attractive. Listening to her story was so inspiring, and to be able to give something back to her makes my job so much better because personal styling is honestly my least favorite thing to do.
What is your favorite type of styling?
I love working on editorial, photography and creating a narrative that has a story that is fantastical. Commercial is great because it pays the bills, but we are lucky to have finally gotten to a place where we are getting more interesting campaigns to work on. For instance, we did a styling shoot for Wahl Clippers. They were doing a 100 year video and flew in five ambassadors from around the world to recreate five hairstyles. There was a style from the 20s, 40s, 50s, 70s and modern. It was so much fun.
How do people break into this industry?
When a stylist starts out, it typically means they are doing personal styling. I think the best way to break into styling is working in luxury retail so that you can develop a client base and start to understand different ways to wear things. You have to get creative with how you interpret a trend on a real person…so it's great training. I always ask my students what they think a stylist is, and they say that it is putting outfits together, and creating an image. I tell them that it's actually a hustle, and so much more. It is such a broad category that there are so many things that fall under that umbrella.
How did you get into teaching?
I started teaching at Columbia College in their Fashion program after a friend of mine recommended me to teach a styling class. I guest spoke in his class and really enjoyed it. It is a good lesson to really take opportunities when they come to you and not worry about where its going to lead you. Follow your passion. So many kids have these lofty goals, but there are steps to get there and they can't just jump right in without making choices. Always be aware of the opportunities around, and don’t ignore them.
What do you think your students think of you?
I bet they think I'm a bit flaky, a little cooky. I do know that they feel a connection to me because I think they get my sincerity. So many people are posers who are tying to be something and when someone sees you and your are goofy, you have sincerity. That's why I like you, Flora.
Me: Thanks Brandon, you are so sweet!
What do you look for in human beings..good energy or good conversation?
I like the idea of the combination of those two things. There is this give and take, where the most important part is listening because that is what propels the conversation forward. Even though my husband is not a good conversationalist with me as he is with others, he has great energy and really gives me good advice and listens to me while helping me with my problems. Also, can I mention that my husband has best laugh I have ever heard. It's that kind of Santa Clause belly laugh.
Your best conversation?
My best conversations were always with my mother. One doesn't particularly stand out to me, but I can always see her kind of leaning back and being very engaged in the conversation. I always learned so much from her.
What types of things did your mother teach you?
Everything doesn't revolve around me.. It took me a long time to understand what she meant by that but then figured out that oh yea not everyone is looking at me all the time. She and my father really taught me that people are equal and to treat everyone with respect. Simple things like honesty, compassion, humor, kindness, and generosity.
What do you like about Chicago?
I like that it is livable city. You get the combination of big city with a small town feel, where the people are nice and there are many opportunities. I know I could get just as many opportunities in a bigger city, but I can actually own a house here and I don't feel as much pressure as I would in let's say, New York.
What does the future look like for you?
It involves a beach, a city, some culture, passion, happiness and my husband. I am also always eager to learn and hope to continue to learn new things… once I stop then I’m done. If that means it’s polka or riding a unicycle, then so be it.
I’m going to retire in Spain for sure. I love the culture, architecture and juxtaposition of the water in the city. People seem to be active and happy, out and about doing things, so that whole combination and of course the weather. My husband is an artist, so I already envision him creating some beautiful pieces and selling it on the streets of Barcelona, and maybe dance with the locals.
Biggest lesson of life?
I learned that happiness is a choice. You really do have control over your own destiny.