Considering that Brad Kroenig's closest competition for top male model is a 20-year-old androgynous eastern European who is so waifish and pretty that he got in trouble for posing topless, the demeanor of the St. Louis native is surprising.
Kroenig exudes a gallant masculine maturity and charm. Still modeling at 32, Kroenig is often modeling with men and women nearly half his age. But he knows his niche, and he's fiercely disciplined. He's not boyish, and in an industry plagued by a youth fetish, he's turned that into an asset.
Kroenig seems to relish the competition.
He's not exactly self-effacing, but it would be hard to imagine anyone describing him as arrogant. Although, no one would blame him.
Kroenig is widely regarded as the world's only male supermodel, and he was once ranked as the highest paid. If there were a modeling hall of fame, he'd be in it.
And after 12 years in the business, he's still getting coveted jobs like his current advertisements for Fendi and True Religion.
His parents, still living in Oakville, often keep track of his career highlights through friends who snap pictures of Kroenig on billboards or banners in store windows and send them messages.
Typically male models come and go unnoticed. A handsome, young face in a Gucci ad one season is replaced with another the next. Modeling is one of the only job markets in which women have the upperhand financially. Women make more, often double, triple or more than their male counterparts, and women of equal caliber will outlast men in similar ratios.
But Kroenig landed in a sweet spot. He's lauded for his Midwest charm, thank-you notes and tokens of appreciation, and, of course, his abs and rugged good looks don't hurt.
"I started 12 years ago, which is like about 100 years in other industries. Most models last 12 days or a little longer," Kroenig said by phone from New York. "I'm joking ... a little."
Kroenig said he doesn't take anything for granted. After all, he's a family man. He lives with his partner, Nicole, the mother of his two sons — Jamieson, 4 months, and Hudson, 3 years — in their apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan.
"It's harder to travel so much with a family, but I know it won't last forever," Kroenig said. But for now, it's a full-time job, and he's thankful.
"Sometimes, it's nonstop for two months — two days in Germany, two days in New York, two days in Dallas, two days to Paris. Things are always very last minute with fashion, and you always have to be ready and have to be prepared at all times."
He said that whenever anyone asks him for his secret, he tells them that it's discipline. He said the top people in the industry aren't wild and unpredictable.
"You really have to treat this like a business. You should have fun, but if it's too much fun you might be getting yourself into trouble," Kroenig said. "You're competing with people who are all good-looking with great bodies, so you have to set yourself apart."
His mother calls him a natural salesman. When he called to tell his parents that he was dropping out of Florida International University and giving up his full soccer scholarship to start a modeling career, she said that she and her husband weren't worried.
"We knew he wasn't going to end up sitting behind a desk somewhere, because he could never sit still," said Barb Kroenig. "He loved soccer, but he has this way of diving completely into something if it interests him, so we knew he'd be OK. He seemed so determined."
She said her only fear was that he'd be swayed by bad influences and end up partying too hard. In that regard, Kroenig's athletic discipline served him well.
Kroenig said that he met with three modeling agencies in Miami. The first two said, "no, thanks," and the third told him that he could make good spending money by modeling on the side, but he'd never work as a model full time.
"They said don't drop out of school, but I knew that I couldn't do it halfway," said Kroenig, who eventually settled into the Ford Modeling Agency.
His mom sums up his unparalleled success best, "I guess it turned out all right."
From Oakville homecoming king to vacationing with Karl Lagerfeld, yeah, it turned out pretty well.
His first big break was a job for Abercrombie and Fitch. Later, he landed the cover of L'Uomo Vogue, the prestigious men's Vogue in Italy, which propelled him into the international spotlight.
His goal is to model full time for the next decade and then "retire" to an equally competitive and lucrative field like hedge fund management and real estate investing. He's already studying the markets and comparing notes with friends in the industry.
He grows his hair longer, then cuts it short; his beard gets gruff and then disappears; he's seasoned, versatile and enthusiastic, and that makes him intriguing to look at and work with. Where female models typically lose their desirability well before 30, being a male now gives him an edge.
But each year he admits that it gets a little harder. He's already dealing with a young upstart on his heels. This guy was recently in the arms of top models in a splashy ad campaign, and he was one of a handful of males to walk with Kroenig in the Chanel fashion show two years ago. But this year, this guy bumped Kroenig and the other men off the roster altogether.
And to make matters worse, his appearance on the runway was the talk of Paris Fashion Week.
"Brad always knew someone younger and cuter would come along," said Kroenig's mom. But maybe the fact that this particular competitor is Kroenig's 3-year-old son, Hudson, cushions the blow.
For more tidbits from Kroenig and his mom and photos of Hudson on the runway visit stltoday.com/stylefile.