Hellooooo Crystal! Thanks so much for taking time out of your super busy schedule to let me interview you! Everyone, if you don’t know Crystal Renee Lee, founder and designer of her name sake brand, C.R.Lee, you will soon. This Denver based fashion designer is making moves both locally and internationally. I was so happy to visit her studio to get to know her better!
You were born in San Diego, went to Oklahoma State University on a full scholarship, and then went back to school to learn fashion design at the Art Institute of Colorado. Looking at your design work now, it seems like you must have always had a sense of style. Your fabric, color and silhouette choices are so bold. Have you always had a strong sense of self, even through the self-proclaimed tom-boy years and into your life now?
Ummm the answer to that is NO…. I would say I’ve always had a real appreciation for people with style growing up and I developed my own sense of style when I became a little more comfortable with my womanhood and appreciation for my body type in my late twenties.
As you’ve mentioned before, you got started in fashion design because you felt as though your needs as a consumer weren’t being met. What I love about this is that you aren’t embracing all the different packages that women come in as a trend, but as an inherent core value of your brand. Do you find that this inclusive response to fashion opens up new doors for you as a brand?
Totally! I started designing to cater strictly to women with curves because that’s my body type and I wanted to fill the gap, but at the time when I started designing that wasn’t “the trend” or “look” so often times my models were chosen for me and had a smaller frame and body type than I was designing for at the time. The positive to that was I learned petite or “skinny” women have their own insecurities and it allowed me to learn how to design for ALL fashion forward women. I believe we are all REAL women.
When we were walking through your latest collection, shown at Massif Fashion Week, you mentioned that you were feeling the move towards making pieces that were “exclusives” or at least not over producing certain items so that clients can feel like they have something unique and special. Are you still feeling this move for your brand? Does this also give you more freedom as a designer?
Yes, and not exclusivity from an elitist perspective, but more of a you are unique and special so you should have something unique and special. Maybe if a big brand or angel investor comes along with a licensing deal or investment to allow me to be truly creative on a mass production level I’ll venture down that road but that’s just not where my heart is as a designer at the moment. My goal with the C.R.LEE brand is to get back to the personal connection to our material goods we purchase and for them to have meaning.
I’m so intrigued by anyone to chooses to “pivot” into a new role while their current jobs are steady and secure. When you chose to jump into C.R. Lee as your full-time job, how did you get the courage to make the leap?
WINE… lol no but it just really felt like something in my gut as cliche as that sounds.
A little birdy told me that you were headed back to New York to show your collection in February. Does having a broader audience push you to create more, to make more of a statement?
Definitely; I love standup comedy and you always hear the comedians talk about testing out new material in smaller venues etc… I feel like fashion is the opposite I believe you should try the wild cards in a broader audience so you can gauge just how far you can push it. as scary as that sounds. I believe my job as a designer is to innovate and push the boundaries and New York is the perfect place for that!
I’m obsessed with your instagram! The positive messages that you post and the intentions that you put out into the world inspire me to push for more. How do you stay motivated in what can often be a very competitive and sometimes solitary career?
My family is enough of a motivator to be the best me I can. In addition it’s really an exchange of energy as I get so much positivity in return as well from my followers. I like to think of it as a community and we all just happen to have fashion in common. No one has the opportunity to meet every person who supports or follows them so it’s important to me people understand there is a real human with a real heart just like them behind the beautifully styled shoots and curated content. I have been inspired, so I try to use my platform for good and hopefully inspire someone else.
Crystal, thank you SO much for answering a few questions for me. I’m so inspired by you as a designer and as a person. As always, I like to end the interview with a few rapid fire questions:
Favorite Food/ Dish to order: chips and salsa or corn on the cob
Favorite Apps: YouTube … while I sew
Favorite Podcast: How I Built This
Favorite Swear Word: F$CK
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?: Keep doing what you’re doing girl life is for living!
To become as obsessed with Crystal as I am, check her out on the following platforms: