Fashion designer Crystal Paris, 27, describes her aesthetic as wearable art — “fashion artistry.” After feeling like she’d maxed out her potential in the small town of Augusta, Georgia, Paris made the move to Atlanta in 2012 to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she is currently a junior working toward a B.F.A. in fashion. After years spent honing her skills (and nearly a lifetime of developing her personal style), Paris was named a recipient of the 2017 National Black Arts Festival Emerging Talent Award, presented by Neiman Marcus, this past March. As part of the win, she was awarded a $3,000 scholarship and had her design showcased as part of a window display at the store’s Atlanta location.
Throughout starting her own fashion business at 22 years old, becoming a young mom and experiencing a bout of homelessness, Paris never lost her resolve to make her dreams of fashion design into a reality. Her story is one of perseverance, innate talent and drive to succeed despite obstacles. Moreover, her aim in designing is to empower women across the globe.
ArtsATL: What first sparked your interest in fashion?
Crystal Paris: At a very young age I can remember always being into fashion — from dressing up when I was 3 and being particular about what I wanted to wear. I was sparked at a very young age. And I was raised by a lot of stylish women: my aunts and my mom, my grandmother, they definitely sparked my fashion interest.
ArtsATL: Early on in your fashion career, you experienced homelessness. What can you tell me about that time?
Paris: After having a child at a very young age and getting out here in the real world, I really didn’t know how to be out on my own and take care of responsibilities. So, when starting my business, I was going from job to job. I realized that I really loved fashion and I wanted to go forth in pursuing a fashion career. In doing that, I took a leap of faith — I took a risk and quit my job. I lost everything — my house, my car, everything. Then I became homeless and had to start from the bottom up, growing my brand and getting myself back on the right track. For about a year I was homeless and moving from place to place until I was able to get back on my feet.
ArtsATL: It seems like inspiring others, especially young people, is an important part of what you hope to accomplish now.
Paris: Yes, that is correct. I want to empower young people because I am a young person and come from very humble beginnings. I’ve been through a lot of challenges and struggles growing up, but I’ve also been able to turn those struggles and life-challenging situations into something very positive.
Sometimes young people don’t have an influence in their life that can guide them to the right direction. I look to fashion and art to speak to those young people who are looking to get out of their situation and to follow their dreams and become a more positive person. I want to use my platform to help young people battling those situations in their lives.
ArtsATL: You started your own fashion company, Crystal Paris Designs, when you were just 22. Was there a moment when fashion went from being a passion to something that you wanted to pursue as a career?
Paris: Yes, definitely. Growing up I always dressed very well, I always loved putting clothes together. My friends and family who were around me definitely suggested things to me, like, “You have an eye for color and an artistic style, you should look into starting a career in fashion.” People were pushing me and telling me all of these great things about myself that I quite couldn’t see at first. Those things pushed me to start my own business in 2012.
ArtsATL: What was the inspiration behind the designs you presented for the National Black Arts Festival?
Paris: I wanted to create a garment that expresses a woman’s abundant beauty. The piece was named “Opulent.” I wanted to create a garment that made a woman feel rich and beautiful despite the many insecurities we as women battle, due to what society describes as beautiful or acceptable. “Opulent” was designed with several mesh exposed cut-outs throughout the garment that expose various art forms of the body. These cut-outs were placed onto the garment to expose those insecurities on women’s bodies. When [a woman] puts on the piece of art, I want her to feel beautiful. I want her to feel like she’s a walking piece of art.
ArtsATL: What do you think about Atlanta’s current fashion scene?
Paris: Atlanta has one of the most energetic fashion scenes in the nation. It’s definitely growing, with the opening of lucrative shopping venues, from the big-name retailers to malls to upscale independent boutiques. I really think Atlanta has what it takes to be on that [national] fashion scene.
ArtsATL: You attended NBAF’s Fine Art + Fashion event and had your piece displayed. What was that like?
Paris: The Fine Art + Fashion event was the most incredible experience. I was awarded, along with two other nominees, for the 2017 National Black Arts Festival Emerging Talent Award. The event was at Neiman Marcus — there was a fabulous fashion show directed by Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ fashion director. To top it off, my own design “Opulent” was showcased in the Peachtree window of the store. It was a spectacular night, not just to be honored, but for a great cause, the National Black Arts Festival. It was a night I will never forget.
ArtsATL: What’s on the horizon for you?
Paris: I’m finishing my studies at SCAD Atlanta, and I’m looking forward to studying abroad either at our Lacoste or Hong Kong campus this summer. I’m also working on several upcoming projects. One, in particular, coming up is called Art, Beats, and Eats. I’ll be auctioning off one of my exclusive designs to help fund research for the cure of breast cancer. For post-graduation, I plan to further my career, keep doing Crystal Paris Designs, and open my own art gallery.
ArtsATL: What is your ultimate goal as a designer?
Paris: At this point, my goal is to become one of the first fashion artistry designers, to build a platform for my one-of-a-kind artistry pieces of art, and to embrace both fashion and art for empowerment.
ArtsATL: Any last words for us?
Paris: If you have a dream, go after it. I’m a young girl from a small town, but I decided to go for it. Anything is possible. Dreams really do come true — never give up on your dreams. Be determined. Be persistent. Never take no for an answer.