The amazing Franklin Headen is making his mark in fashion

When college sophomore Franklin Headen isn’t in class, he’s likely fitting models for a runway or styling them for a fashion spread.

Headen of Charlotte is an image consultant, stylist, designer, modeling scout and agent. He moves freely about the high-end world of fashion, yet he’s still a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

He styles professional models in swimwear and lingerie, but he also enjoys helping women in their 40s and 50s develop a wardrobe that’s right for them. His mother, Becky Headen, 49, says she may be part of the reason why.

“He doesn’t want me to embarrass him by how I dress,” she says.

Headen, 20, has helped his mom refine her look. “I basically had a uniform when I was a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “I wore the easy stuff.”

But her son convinced her to add color to her basic black-and-white wardrobe, experiment with make-up and grow her hair. “I used to think a woman in her 40s had to wear her hair above the shoulder.” Not so, says her son, who is likely to suggest (or insist) she change outfits before going out with him.

He gives the same push to clients who hire him, at $100 an hour, to purge their closets – an experience that can take from two to six hours, depending on the size of the wardrobe.

Headen believes too many middle-aged women think they can’t look as stylish as they once did.

“Women get more insecure with their bodies and style as they get older,” he says. “I love being able to make a woman in her 40s feel as comfortable in her outfit as she did 20 years before.”

Some of Headen’s clients have a distinct fashion sense but lack the time to shop. Catherine Fortin, 49, a Charlotte-based education consultant, trainer and style/travel blogger, met Headen when he was a student at Northwest School of the Arts and she was teaching Spanish there.

Headen has helped stock her closet with everyday items and choose outfits for special events. “Frank understands my aesthetic.” He chose a Rag & Bone leather-and-mesh dress for her to wear to a N.C. Dance Theatre gala in 2011.

“I don’t like a lot of embellishment or bright colors,” she says. “But innovation is important.”

Anne-Scott Hatcher, 45, hired Headen to help tame her out-of-control closet. She works in her family’s commercial real estate business, so she has professional clothes. But she also has a wardrobe for her line dancing hobby and a daytime look she describes as “hippie/bohemian.” Hatcher was confident in her quirky style, but she had too much of everything. She needed to streamline.

The result of her five-hour session with Headen: 31 trash bags filled with clothes she intends to sell or donate. Headen also snapped 44 photos of complete outfits – with jewelry, shoes and scarves – so she has an easy reference for the looks she can create.

“There’s something so peppy about putting on a Franklin-approved outfit,” she says.

“I advise clients to dress for their body type,” Headen says. He may also offer a dose of tough love. “Some women hold on to clothes they haven’t been able to fit in for years,” he says. He encourages them to get rid of things that are wasting space.

A passion for fashion

Fashion is all Headen has wanted to do since he first scribbled his career goal in his Dr. Seuss’ “My Book About Me” when he was about 6: “Dress designer.”

Part of nurturing Headen’s talent meant moving him in 10th grade from Charlotte Country Day to Northwest School of the Arts. It also meant an internship with Charles Mo at The Mint Museum in the Historic Fashion Collection when Headen was 14.

The Mint offered even more opportunities. Headen was involved with the “Art of Style” exhibition in 2011. The Room to Bloom fashion show gave him the chance to meet Jack Alexander, Oscar de la Renta’s fashion show producer and runway stylist. “Uncle Jack,” as Headen calls him, taught the high school student about fittings, backstage management and runway styling.

Seeking inspiration

Charlotte is not a fashion hub, but it had an upside for a determined free spirit raised here. “Growing up in Charlotte gave me reason to dream and rebel,” he says.

“I draw inspiration from beach culture, androgyny, the female form, New York grunge, athletic wear and ’70s disco culture.”

He sees inspiration nearly everywhere. “Franklin is thinking about fashion 24/7,” says Nikki Krecicki, 21, a friend and frequent collaborator. Krecicki is a Charlotte native and a SCAD student studying fashion photography.

Krecicki and Headen have styled and shot three magazine covers, and they don’t have their degrees yet. Such early professional success is not unusual for SCAD students, they say.

Charlotte photographer Deborah Triplett has worked both sides of the camera. The former Los Angeles model doesn’t know Headen, but says his work doesn’t look like that of a student. “It’s obvious Franklin has an innate sense of style,” she says. “If I had a fashion shoot, I would not hesitate to try to get him on my team.”

‘A keen, talented eye’

“His styling, to my eyes, is fresh and modern,” Triplett says. “He appears to know the secret to great styling, which is … when to quit. He walks the fine line between showcasing the clothing and the woman wearing the fashion. Neither fights with the other. His styling makes it all appear effortless, but the reality is: It takes a keen, talented eye to do this. He’s a great editor.”

Being professional, but a little outrageous, is just one of Headen’s contradictions. His website and online persona, Frankly Headenistic, may seem at odds with the Eagle Scout badge he earned. And while the industry he loves is marked by superficiality, there’s a spiritual side to Headen.

“I have a relationship with a higher power, whom I choose to call God,” he says. “I wake up every day and try to live in God’s will. Being haughty, negative or judgmental is not who I am.”

Trusting in a higher power has been helpful, as being single-mindedly focused on a career goal since age 6 hasn’t ensured an easy path. Becky Headen says the family has endured its share of tragedy. She and her husband divorced when their boys were young, and her ex-husband, Mark Headen, died unexpectedly about four months ago.

Headen heads back to school in the fall, but he’s making a few stops before getting back to class. One was the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (where designers debut their swimwear collections) in Miami. That’s heady stuff for a college kid, but it’s nothing new for Headen.

“Franklin Headen is getting the work he deserves,” Triplett says. “(His is) definitely a name to watch in the fashion business.”