My second attempt at interviewing stylist and milliner Crystal Birch almost resulted in yet another night out on the town, when she called me as I was about to bundle into my car with my laptop and camera. “We’re just quickly going to this launch thingy in Green Point and then I promise we’ll go back to my place and do the interview oh and I’ll cook you dinner and please bring all the gold necklaces you own for a shoot that I have tomorrow. Okay? Okay. See you in fifteen minutes.”
This exchange pretty much sums Crystal up – a flighty, fabulous, million-miles-a-minute, whirr of a girl. If she hadn’t such a talent for creating the extraordinary out of nothing with her hands alone, she’d make an excellent actress or story-teller. She literally fizzes over with anecdotes, snippets of history, people, bright twists of fabric and irrepressible feistiness.
Represented by Cape Town agency One League, Crystal is currently working on an array of cool projects. Since she returned from London a few months ago she has styled shoots for clients like Errol Arendz, Mango Airlines and Ray Ban and is currently in the process of making a hat for the March issue of ELLE Deco. Next up is a trip to Mozambique fashion week, working as a wardrobe manager and stylist for designers from Venezuela, Egypt, Britain and the Pan-African showcase. Thereafter, she plans to focus on ideas for both Design Indaba and the J&B Met 2011, and after that? She wants to move to New York and intern under famous South African-born milliner, Albertus Swanepoel. Having been completely and naturally absorbed into the kaleidoscopic festival that is Crystal’s world myself, I have no doubt that she’ll do it, and teach Albertus a thing or two while she’s at it.
How did you get into millinery?
I’ve always loved hats – they are the exclamation mark of any outfit. If you want to get ahead, get a hat! It all started when I went to Ireland and bought cheap motel paisley lampshades that somehow turned into hats. People bought them right off our heads on the street.
Best fashion advice from your parents?
Use eye cream. My mother lives by it and she hasn’t got a single wrinkle around her eyes. And never wear white jeans with dark shoes. That’s her worst. Comfort over fashion, always. ‘Dit was net stupid, jy het seker kak gevoel did hele aand – mense sou sien!’ * Totally!
* Translation: Thats was just stupid, you surely felt shit the entire night – and people would’ve been able to see it!
Li Edelkoort – the fucking best. Susie Bubble – I met her at London Fashion Week and she was so Bri’ish I couldn’t believe it. And so articulate, with such a girl-next-door sense of humour. Cute, silly and approachable. She’s spot on with things, too. New York stylist, Patti Wilson. In the 90’s it was Gwen Stefani! Oh, and the Harajuku girls of Japan!
Describe your personal style.
A moerby resep*! My clothes are found at weird places, on strange occasions, given to me because people don’t know what to do with them. No particular influence or reference. Found, given, discovered, eclectic, loved forever, inherited through the generations, all mish-mashed together. It’s a surprise!
* Translation: A mish mash recipe, all different things thrown together.
Favorite designers locally and internationally?
Stiaan Louw. And Maya Prass. Her printmaking and work ethic are just so incredible. I really respect her. Vivienne Westwood, of course, it has to be. Stephen Jones and Albertus Swanepoel – milliners I love! I’m gonna work for him in New York. Morne will work for IMG, you will work for Vogue, and we will all do lunch together, all the time!
Most cherished item?
My ten-past-ten vintage belt from Spain, given to me by Morne for my birthday. It’s the time that I was born and it’s the first thing I pack whenever I go anywhere. If anybody borrows it I am so pedantic. And the first block hat I ever made, a black bowler that I still have.
I feel best wearing…
Lately, high-waisted skinnies for elongating my body. An amazing bra, and a good perfume!
I’d sell my soul for…
A studio space in Brooklyn to create things in over and over again.
Never caught wearing?
I don’t like slip-on mules – I’d never wear them. I think they’re kitsch. A very short cocktail dress in a bright colour, or anything to do with a diamante! An up-do with tendrils, or a mini princess tiara! Never, ever, ever.
Most stylish city?
To me, it’s London. I lived there for years, and the close-knit friends I had from all over the world, were just so stylish. The most stylish of them though, were the girls from Korea and Japan. Mad, mad , mad! And the Italians.
When I was high school I wore?
A bad school uniform and anything that would shock my square friends!
My favourite secret spot is…
A Thai restaurant in Shoreditch that we used to go to when we were so tired and we just missed each other – just to catch up. I also love The Kitchen in Woodstock. San Julio Tacos & Tequila in Lower Rose St, Cape Town for the best non-greasy, authentic Mexican and salsa verde, served by the entire family.
Most underrated trend or style?
Confidence. You can wear a black bag – if that girl is confident, she will look great. So many people lack the confidence to pull something off.
My favourite band / artist when it comes to all things fashion…
LCD Soundsystem for Yves Saint Laurent menswear collection – epic. And the Colette Compilation from Saint Honore Drive in Paris – best fashion music collection, the store is phenomenal. Shit hot. And the Bloody Beetroots.
Bloody Mary and the classics. Or a Jamaican Mule!
The next big thing is…
Some shoots that Crystal has styled: