Mark and Barb Kroenig never thought the walls at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store could be so interesting. Forget the jeans and flannel shirts on the racks. In the spring of 2001, they wanted to see the poster of the blond young man wearing a suit jacket and tie riding a bicycle.
"The first time we saw it, we started taking pictures of the wall," Belleville native Mark said. The poster featured their younger son Brad.
Like his dad, Mark, who was a standout athlete at Belleville Township High School West, Brad was a soccer standout at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Now he's turning heads in the modeling world.
"I wanted to play for a Division I school, so I transferred to Florida International University," said the 22-year-old who has shoulder-length, golden, wavy locks. "A couple of girls from school said, `You should model.'"
His brother Matt, 24, and sister Julie, 21, had modeled in St. Louis, but back then Brad wasn't interested.
"I thought it was kinda girlish."
But the athletic guy changed his mind when some of his male friends decided to apply at a Florida-based branch of the Ford Modeling Agency.
"I heard that it was working for some guys and they went right into a job, so I decided to try it."
He had some professional photos taken, which generated a few local modeling jobs that provided extra cash while going to school and playing soccer.
Soon the photos were getting noticed and Brad was told he had "the look" for modeling --- a toned, lean physique and killer smile. He quickly decided to pursue modeling full time which meant quitting school and moving to Miami's South Beach.
Then came the trickiest part --- telling his parents back home in south St. Louis County.
"At first we were shocked," said mom, Barb. "I said `Brad, you're on a soccer scholarship. Why do you want to give that up?'"
Brad explained he had to be flexible enough to go to impromptu photo shoots and couldn't do that on his school schedule.
"It's a day-by day thing, when you get that call from the agency, you have to be ready to do anything and go anywhere."
The Kroenigs had a family chat and reached a compromise.
"There are a lot of scams. We talked about everything for a few days. I said I would finish out the semester."
Mark didn't want to discourage his son but wanted him to be realistic.
"We told him he could try it for a year and see what happened," Mark said. "We reminded him this could disappear as quickly as it came on."
Within days of making his decision, Brad got the call for the Abercrombie shoot in San Francisco.
"I was at the airport waiting for my connecting flight and a guy was scouting for models, and he said, `You should model for Abercrombie' and I said, `That's where I'm going.'"
Clean-shaven at the time, with short, blond hair, the ad features Brad dressed conservatively --- dark suit jacket, tie and khakis.
By June 2001, posters were up in stores nationwide, including the one at St. Clair Square. His career was taking off and he decided to move to the Big Apple so he could work with well-known photographers. He moved to a small apartment 14 blocks from the World Trade Center eight days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I was supposed to go for a fitting at 9 that morning and then I heard all these sirens. That was cancelled. After Sept. 11, Ford cut a lot of their models, but I was still able to get jobs."
Early this year, Brad got another break advertising for Maxim's men's hair color.
A few months later, he got his big break.
"I got $35,000 total that day for the shoot."
Brad's check was so high because the company decided almost immediately to use his photo on all boxes of the bleach blond color and market them extensively.
Since then, Brad has let his hair grow and has grown a light beard --- it's the current look.
"The long hair is more my style, but I like casual clothes," Brad said of his lightweight short-sleeve shirt and jeans. "But you have to switch it up a little and be willing to look edgier. I'd be willing to shave my head to try a new look."
He's also made numerous trips to Paris, Milan and Germany.
"When I was in Miami, I went back and forth to Germany three times in 16 days."
So, how does Brad keep his 6-foot 1-inch frame lean?
"I eat lots of chicken, fruits and vegetables --- high protein and low carbs."
When he comes home home, Brad admits, he has a weakness for the apple streudel frozen custard from Ted Drewes.
He also runs 3 to 5 miles daily and does abdominal crunches and weight lifting.
"They don't want you to bulk up. You have to stay lean to fit in the clothes."
He talks to his parents almost daily, and when he has a new ad coming out, Barb and Mark share it with his grandmother, Eyleen Kroenig of Belleville, and his maternal grandparents Dale and Martha Burns in Tuscola.
So, what does this up-and-coming runway star like most about modeling?
"Traveling, meeting all the interesting people and the ladies."
He's rubbed elbows with Mike Tyson in Miami Beach and has met Daryl Hannah.
Brad said Tyson struck up a conversation with him, and at least for that short time didn't live up to his well-publicized bad-boy image. Hannah was friendly, chatting with him about the business during another photo shoot.
Brad doesn't have trouble getting dates, but said he doesn't have a steady girlfriend right now.
He plans to stay in the business for as long as he can.
"It's very competitive and there really are a lot more jobs for women. For men, if you stay fit and looking young, you can keep it up."
Source: Belleville News-Democrat, September 22, 2002