Three Fashionable Chicago Duos That Bring Style to New Heights

By Tara Gardner and Lisa Skolnik, photography by Sam Grant | September 20, 2018 | Style & Beauty Feature


With out-of-this-world élan and superlative style, these Chicago duos show that when it comes to looking fabulous, two can be so much better than one.

Mark Gill and Tina Kourasis

Powerhouse fashion team Mark Gill and Tina Kourasis are giving Oak Street a playful jolt with an eye-popping new home for VMR.

A friendship forged in fashion and cemented in their woke showroom-meets-store approach, owner Tina Kourasis and creative director Mark Gill are disrupting the retail space with their decisive edit of emerging designers and elevated basics at VMR. Moving to a chic Oak Street location earlier this year, adding shoes to the mix, and launching new labels for fall ’18, the directional duo have tailored a powerful formula. 49 E. Oak St., 312.330.3778

“Tina has opened my eyes to street couture like Virgil Abloh,” says Gill, “and we’re both loving Balmain and Raf Simons at Calvin Klein at the moment.”

Tina on Mark
“I met Mark over 20 years ago when he was in Chicago working retail and I was in law school. We always knew we wanted to work together. Five years ago, the timing was right, so we launched VMR. Mark’s style has gone from being super preppy to now, when he’s usually head-to-toe monochromatic. He influences my style every day. He actually puts my looks together more often than not!”

Merch galore at VMR

Mark on Tina
“When we met, Tina was all about oversize white blouses with big sleeves and black Comme des Garçons pants. Now she’s urban but with a preppy edge: Always in cropped pants, white shirts and a great loafer, she’s branched out but stays true to her look. She still likes her silhouette to be oversize, paired with a six-inch heel, a badass bag and messy hair. Feeling comfortable is key for Tina.”

Brandon Frein and Arlene Matthews

Brandon Frein and Arlene Matthews at Bucktown luxury boutique Robin Richman, one of their go-to haunts for sourcing the latest must-wear styles.

Styling shoots for the likes of Vogue Italia online and Paper magazine, talking trends on national TV or working their magic for luxury retailers such as Robin Richman—pairings don’t come more sartorially solid than that of Brandon Frein and Arlene Matthews, the pros behind Chicago-based style agency Kit This. With their indomitable energy and refreshingly authentic vision, these business partners and BFFs blur the lines between work and play.

“For us, fashion is in the day-to-day,” says Arlene Matthews of her Kit This partner Brandon Frein. “We’re not about dressing for meetings or occasions. We say, ‘If you love it, wear the damn thing everywhere.’”

Brandon on Arlene
“I met Arlene when she interviewed me for a job. I immediately noticed her shoes—they were Chloé. We clicked instantly. She’s influenced me so much. She has that kind of style that everyone envies and wants to emulate because she always looks so cool, so effortless. Once, we showed up to an important meeting wearing the exact same dress, just styled differently. That pretty much sums us up.”


Arlene on Brandon
“When I worked in retail, I needed a ‘shoe dog’ [shoe expert]. Brandon came from Louis Vuitton. It was the perfect fit. Her style is maximal to my minimal: sophisticated and inspirational in her bold silhouettes, striking color choices and patterns. It’s so funny to hear her say I’ve given her confidence. I look to her for that!”

Sharon and Peter Exley

Photographed at Neiman Marcus, husband-and-wife architects Peter and Sharon Exley make a fierce fashion statement. (On Peter, velvet jacket by Etro, shirt by Tom Ford, tuxedo pants by Ralph Lauren, loafers by Gucci and crystal bow tie by Stefano Ricci; on Sharon, blazer by Alexander McQueen, leggings by Tom Ford, camisole by Josie Natori and boots by Jimmy Choo.)

Play is always top of mind for Sharon and Peter Exley, cofounders of multidisciplinary design firm Architecture Is Fun, the current AIA Chicago Firm of the Year. Their work—public spaces such as museums, schools and cultural venues—is innovative, adventurous and often visionary. They apply the same tactics to their sartorial style and keep it playful and plucky, just to remind us that it’s important to have fun.

Bomber jacket by Ovadia & Sons and jeans by J Brand

Sharon on Peter
“The first time I noticed Peter, he was walking through the Loop in a long, bright yellow slicker with a jazzy bow tie. He blew my eyes out. Then we met in a dance club, and the rest was history. I love that he loves color, out-of-the-box suits and T-shirts—especially all together. He’ll wear a Moschino or Paul Smith suit with a colorful tee, or wild shirts with his Pharrell Williams G-Star jeans. I feel like we have to look good together, so I become the background and wear black.”

Bag by Givenchy

Peter on Sharon
“Sharon is irrepressibly cute and impossibly petite (5 feet), so she dresses very precisely to have a powerful presence. But she’s playful and sexy thanks to the details. She amps up her subdued looks with embellished shoes and bags—anything that sparkles—or vintage pieces of jewelry that are mini works of art.”