Fashion and Flow: Crystal Emerson

I believe that there are things that need to be created in this world,” says local fashion designer Crystal Emerson, as her green eyes dance in her sunlit studio. “It’s almost as if the ideas are floating around the universe, waiting for a human to make them exist; sometimes I don’t feel ownership of the ideas because they’re coming from somewhere else, but it’s my duty to bring them to life.

Emerson’s presence mirrors the style of her pieces - quirky and warm with just the right amount of edge. From printed palazzo pants to tailored urban wear, Emerson is not afraid to delve into unusual designs.  Here, we chat with the designer about the soundtracks behind her designs, her love for thrifting, and what to expect from her future collections.

How did you become a designer?

Different things propel you toward your dream- sometimes those things are bad and painful, and sometimes it can be out of sheer boredom. For me, there were some personal things that happened, and I just knew I had to do something to keep myself creative and distracted. Things get thrown at you and you have to have some kind of way to be creative or you’ll implode, and that’s exactly what fashion design was for me. It’s good to have that vision because it helps you navigate through the crummy stuff. Everyone has these personal terrible crises that happen and you either let it destroy you or you pull up your bootstraps and do something with it - and that’s what I chose to do.

Have you always had a love for fashion?

When I was younger, I would go into my grandmother’s closet and dress up in her clothes from the 50’s and 60’s and I’d wear them to school. By the time seventh grade came around, the movie, “Pretty in Pink” came out, which was a big influence on me. I remember my friend and I wore my grandmother’s old hats and brooches to the movie (I’ve always played dress up for any opportunity I could find). When the main character is sewing her dress in the movie, I had a moment where I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. That really lead me to thrifting and recreating pieces into how I had envisioned them to be.

Tell me about your journey to this point.

I learned how to sew from my friend’s mother and aunt.  We all sewed together every Monday, and that was such a pivotal point for me. It was so beautiful sewing with these two women who were strong, independent, funny and creative. We would listen to The Beatles while we worked and it was one of my warmest memories. After the Monday sewing sessions ended, I realized I had the passion, and I had the taste of starting a piece and finishing it from beginning to end. I wanted to learn more about draping, so I decided to enroll in OSU’s apparel design program. I started school four years ago and I thought I would be done after draping, but more design classes started catching my attention. I’m just riding the canoe on a river, floating and seeing where it leads me. It’s beautiful and new and fresh and I don’t know what the plan is, honestly. But that’s okay - that’s the best part to me.

Tell me about your most recent collection.

My junior collection was all inspired by a song, Mucha Muchacha by Esquivel. When I first heard the melody, my mind was filled with camp, joyful clothes floating around and I needed to bring them to life. I listened to this song throughout the entire process of creating this collection - it guided me through each piece.

Future collections?

My senior collection is inspired by the song, Anytime Cowboy by Country Teasers. The collection is going to be full of beautiful gowns with Western influences to embrace my Texan/Oklahoman roots, but also with a bit of a punk rock twist - it’s a bit of a testament to who I am. OSU also inspired this collection - I can’t tell you how many silver belt buckles I see walking to class and it’s just so kitschy and cool.

I’m also creating a side collection for OSU, which was inspired by the soundtrack from the movie, Little Miss Sunshine. I was listening to it and I started crying and got visions in my head of white garments across a woman’s life cycle- starting with maternity, then toddler, child, tween, teenager, twenties, wedding day, middle age, and old age. The models will all be different ages to represent each phase of life.

Future goals?

There’s a class called functional design at OSU that I can’t wait to take. What I really want to do with that is create some clothes for people with disabilities like Bell’s palsy, epilepsy, or dementia. My grandmother has dementia and she takes her clothes off all the time! So as a designer, you have to make a piece that ties all the way in the back so they can’t get it off. I’ve thought about putting a functional design piece in the elderly stage of the life span collection. I would love for my grandmother to be the final woman in the Life Cycle fashion show.

You’ve mentioned your love for thrifting. Tell me more about that.

I love having garments that confuse people.  I want people to walk away feeling inspired to incorporate something old and vintage into their look. I remember being a teenager looking through fashion magazines and thinking, “I can totally recreate this look by going to Goodwill,” and I’ve been doing exactly that ever since.  

How do you see the future of Oklahoma fashion?

I think Oklahoma is ripe because we’re right in the middle of it all, and we don’t have outside influences bombarding us all the time. In cities like New York City or Los Angeles, things are constantly coming at you, and there’s no time to be still. That stillness is when you can be quiet and the idea can come to you. I feel like in Oklahoma, we have the advantage of quiet stillness, and we need to listen to that and embrace it.

photos: Ryan Magnani