“God gives that insight and desire to get to a better place and not be complacent and live a life of ‘going to work everyday.’ That was never my course….it just never would never be me. I knew that as a child, I must do the things in my heart and my dreams.” — Kithe Brewster
The picture above features one of the most recognizable faces on Earth. She has her head comfortably resting on a man who has fashioned the mega-watt star- and many like her- such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Iman, Celine Dion, Julianne Moore, Usher, Outkast, Eva Mendes, Drew Barrymore, and Heidi Klum.
Stylist and fashion editor Kithe Brewster’s career is as prominent as they come. He has done editorials for magazines such as Vanity Fair and has styled red-carpet affairs for Hollywood’s elite- and the occasional chart-topping chanteuse. During his reign he’s helped a few achieve “fashion icon” status along the way; Camilla Morton of British Vogue famously wrote, “Kithe Brewster is to the best dressed list, what Henry Ford was to the automobile.”
With a versatile resume too extensive to include in an already robust interview, one would expect a trembling experience if one would ever meet him. One would be surprised that he is exceptionally warm…truly an anomaly in the fashion industry. I had the privilege to meet Kithe and discuss his incredible story, his highly publicized weight-loss journey, and his mission to connect with people’s hearts and aspirations through his career.
MisterLevius.com: When did it all start? When did your passion for fashion begin?
Kithe Brewster: I was obsessed with vintage clothing; as a little kid I liked going “thrifting” and finding old things. I’d buy stuff for a dollar and I was changing it and cutting it all off. Mom would be shopping at a department store or mall and you can’t really go chop up the clothes. But when you go to vintage stores and you buy something for $2 you can whack off the sleeves, so I was doing kooky, deconstructing things as a kid.
ML: You had other interests as a child before jumping into your fashion career, correct?
KB: I had a career as a child actor- and dancer…I studied under Katherine Dunham directly in East St. Louis. I moved to New York when I was 16 to pursue my career as an actor, dancer, singer, “Broadway”… I auditioned a lot but I also had a part-time job working in my uncle’s fashion showroom. After a year I decided I wanted to be in the fashion industry- specifically a fashion editor. I had met all of the top ones who worked at Vogue, [Harper’s] Bazaar and all because they frequented my uncle’s showroom. I’d put clothes together for them in the showrooms- I’d be like “Oh, these shoes would look great with this” and then I’d see it come out in Vogue or [Harper’s] Bazaar. They would listen and place exactly how I recommended.
ML: How old were you at the time?
KB: I was 17.
ML: What was your initial reaction from your family about your direction to styling?
KB: My entire family was opposed to it. My father and uncle cut me off when I moved to Paris, but I learned everything I needed to know.
ML: That had to have been hard. When did you move to Paris?
KB: I moved to Paris at 19 with $500 in my pocket. I’d stayed with a girl model friend I knew who just got a model permit to live in Paris. She was not supposed to have guests but she said I can stay for a week- but would have to find my own place. I didn’t toot French, I had very little money, I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t have anything set-up because I had dropped out of school and quit my uncle’s company, so he wouldn’t help me…so I had to do it all on my own.
It wasn’t easy getting an agent since I didn’t have published work, only tests, but I finally found an incredible agent who fast-tracked me to success. Also, the agent’s husband was an entertainment lawyer with many top fashion designers as his clients, so the couple basically introduced me to society. I was able to connect and meet with powerful people, which was a great way to move upward. I got the opportunities through the social connections I’d made and I had learned that that is a really great way to get around any city.
READ THE REST OF KITHE’S AMAZING STORY AFTER THE JUMP:
ML: That’s incredible. It takes a lot of guts for someone to relocate to a foreign country the way you did [and at such a young age]. What drove your desire to do something so risky?
KB: I knew that I had to go to Europe. I was obsessed with fashion magazines- the European ones- especially because of the freedom and how much more artistic they were than the American publications. I knew that if I wanted to be secure in that world of fashion, I had to learn the source.
ML: Tell us more about your experience in Europe.
KB: I stayed in Paris for eight years and I became on top of fashion before moving to London for several years back and forth. I started doing a lot of music imaging in London; I responsible for doing a post-Spice Girls group called B*Witched (“C’est la Vie”). Then I started contributing to British Elle- my first assignment was doing a 20-page fairy tale themed spread with Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer– huge models like that, and really super-launched me in London.
ML: Now you’re based back in the United States. How did you fare upon returning?
KB: I was still in Europe when I would travel for work in the States in L.A. and New York (i.e. Vanity Fair) and go back and was started to get torn from being “yo-yoed” back and forth so I moved to New York in 2000. When I moved back, my very first client was Julianne Moore, and at the same time took Eve the rapper as a client and I had those careers for 3 years, and that pretty much cemented me for versatility in America.
ML: You look different from a lot of very successful stylists in the high fashion industry, so how did you get to where you are without the stigma of you being a black man in the fashion world?
KB: I still have that stigma [giggles], it hasn’t gone anywhere. But when people see my work, they don’t think I’m black, and that’s been an advantage really. My name is very European- you don’t read my name and instantly think that’s a black man, and it’s been a plus. They can’t really discern- they choose me based on my work, and that’s been the best thing for me.
ML: You’re also known as being very kind and nurturing in a rather cut-throat industry.
KB: I’ve always tried to give to everyone I come in contact with. Helping models- feed them, keep them away from drugs, get them away from guys that would take advantage of them sexually, etc. Now I want to be able to go into people’s homes and help those who’d never get to New York unless I tell them that they can… I was destined to do something where I touch people.
ML: You recently had a reality mini-series with Duke Diet Health, publicly documenting your journey from long-term obesity and overcoming it. Many people with busy lifestyles don’t take much account to their health, so it was refreshing for you to be an example of success with well-being.
KB: I’m one of those people that are consumed by their world- you have to work and sometimes you can’t sleep because you’re travelling or working odd hours. I had unhealthy eating habits for years. I got a check up and my blood pressure was high, and I knew I had to make a change. I started making healthier decisions even before the Duke Diet so in total I’ve lost over 100 pounds.
Americans, and African-Americans specifically, deal with high rates of obesity, high blood pressure, strokes and poor eating habits eating fried foods. You can cook healthily and you can cook without all of the sodium. Sodium and sugar kills. Americans are realizing that they can do better, and if anyone needs help they should go to DukeDiet.com. They put you on track. I still use that site everyday and that’s why I’ve kept the weight off.
ML: Now you’re stepping into an even larger reality show. What can you tell us about it?
KB: It’s a documentary covering what I do, which is consulting on fashion lines. I do a lot of styling and consulting for collections during Fashion Week in New York every season (i.e. Ralph Lauren). I have three young designers I’ve been grooming; one of them just got picked up by Neiman Marcus nationwide. I want the show to reach people and kids with dreams that need to know there’s someone at the top of his game.
ML: Let’s discuss “opportunities given”- people who are talented but they’re afraid and the run from a great opportunity offered. Were there any opportunities offered to you that you were intimidated by but you went for it anyway?
KB: Always! When you really do the research and see the kind of things I’ve done- it’s unheard of still today. I did a sitting with Princess Diana in my career- I’ve dressed royalty. I embrace those worlds all the time-it’s just important to take a deep breath before any challenge, and God will always put these things there, to show you the power that you can get these things and you can accomplish it. Each accomplishment is another rung of confidence in your ladder of success.
ML: You’ve reached amazingly high levels of success in your career. When you look back at how it all started- that moment you began to chase the fashion world and dart to Europe with no money or resources, just talent and passion- what are your thoughts?
KB: I think my career was definitely supposed to happen the way that it did. I believe in destiny and I know that you’ll get to where you’re supposed to get to, and God gives that insight and desire to get to a better place and not be complacent and live a life of “going to work everyday.” I knew as a child that that would never be me. I watched my family and people around me being miserable and unhappy and never being fulfilled in their lives. That was never my course….it just never would never be me. I knew that as a child, I must do the things in my heart and my dreams.
Check out Kithe Brewster’s reality mini-series on his Duke Diet journey here:
Follow the talented Mr. Brewster on Twitter.com