There is no way we could’ve done a series of our favourite Creative Women without including the ingenious Crystal Birch. Crystal is one half of fashion label Birch & Elm with her friend Elme Bekker, is the current fashion editor at FHM, and is an exceptional milliner and stylist (represented by Gloss artist management). Most recently she styled and made the incredible head pieces for Lalesso’s show at Mercedes Benz Cape Town Fashion Week.
We caught up with the very busy Miss Birch to find out about some of her zanier jobs, how it all began and what she loves about working in SA.
Between 10and5: You graduated from fashion school in 2006. What’s the most important thing you learnt while there?
Crystal Birch: How to survive without sleep, and my sewing skills.
10and5: Where did your fascination with millinery begin?
Crystal: While roadtripping through Ireland I bought little, old, pink, motel paisley lampshades with tassles. We wore them to a party as hats and sold them off our heads for extra party cash. It struck me then that when I returned to London, I would like to study Millinery!
10and5: Can you tell us about the making of the Jack Parow signature style caps you made?
Crystal: I was supposed to style Zander on a shoot, I suggested making him a few for the shoot. I’ve been creating random ones for different occasions since. He likes his micro leopard skin one with fake Chanel buttons best, he thinks it’s sexy!
10and5: You’re currently the fashion editor at FHM, what are you enjoying about dressing the boys?
Crystal: I am having a blast with the team, going to events, discovering new brands, dressing AND undressing the boys!
10and5: What would you consider a career highlight so far?
Crystal: I feel like it is happening right now, launching a label and being a fashion editor. I was featured in Wallpaper last year as one of the 20 reasons to visit South Africa, that made me super proud!
10and5: You’ve worked all over the world, what are the good things and the challenges about working creatively in SA?
Crystal: Anything is possible here, people are still shockable and you can be a pioneer of something new here. I wish there were more fabrics available locally and that hat cones could be bought close by and not imported. Spaces to rent are affordable and it’s incredible that Cape Town is World Design Capital 2014.
10and5: What’s the most outrageous project you’ve ever worked on?
Crystal: There are so many mental things I have been part of – working in 40 degrees at Mozambique fashion week, making costumes for Mongolian mouth contortionists. I have styled under water, created springbok skin bikinis for a reality TV show and most of my hats are pretty out there.
10and5: Who is the female creative that is most inspirational to you?
Crystal: It would be my favourite old ladies. Anna Piaggi, who recently passed away, Grace Coddington, Iris Apfel and of course Dame Vivienne Westwood. I was convinced Vivienne Westwood was the Queen of England till I was 14…it was hard for me to believe otherwise.
Lalesso at CTFW, jewellery by Pichulik:
10and5: We’re really excited about Birch&Elm launching later this year, can you tell us about it?
Crystal: I have teamed up with an incredible friend Elme Bekker, who is the yin to my yang, to start our label. We come from the same design background. We co-design, I style, she constructs. I love the process, she prefers the end product. I make hats and fashion films, she figures out the numbers and intricate patterns, it works! We are launching at SAFW in Joburg on the 27th of September as one of the 6 finalists for the Renault Young Talent Search. We are super sleep deprived, but ridiculously excited!!!
The video below, made by Travys Owen, features Crystal’s hat collection:
Some selects from FHM’s September Issue editorial shot by Ross Garrett –
Find more at www.birchandelm.com.