A key figure in body positivity, Crystal Renn is one of the most famous models in America. At 22, she was already on the covers of the most important magazines, photographed by Steven Meisel, Ellen Von Unwerth, Ruvén Afanador, and Patrick Demarchelier. The face of Dolce & Gabbana's advertising campaigns, she walked the catwalk for Chanel and Jean-Paul Gaultier. In the book Hungry, she talks about her struggles to accept herself beyond the canons imposed by risky diets and emotional stress. She has since gone vegan and this philosophy of life inspired the realization of this photoshoot.
L'OFFICIEL: How did you conceive this photoshoot for L'OFFICIEL Italia?
CRYSTAL RENN: It all started with a question: how can we approach a vegan photoshoot from a high fashion perspective? What does it mean, what will it look like, and how will we do it? The team was thrilled by the challenge of creating a responsible shoot. I became vegan at 30, and I am "married" to what I consider my lifestyle. And since then I have always wondered how to imprint every part of my life with this philosophy. It was certainly a learning experience, full of trial and error. Now more than ever, I play an important role in the photoshoots I participate in which requires a lot of research and attention to detail. It has truly become my aim to shift the industry's focus in this direction, so by default, I end up being a bit of a guide in every shoot. It is about informing and teaching, and at the same time learning while doing it. This is truly uncharted territory.
L'O: How have veganism and sustainability been considered in this photoshoot?
CR: From the stylist who approached the fashion houses explaining that we didn't want to include leather, feathers, fur, wool, and even silk; up to the make-up artist who used no harmful or chemical products. The location, the 1 Hotel South Beach Miami, is built with sustainable principles and materials, and the catering was also handled by a vegan restaurant: the Love Life Cafe. Obviously, without the vision of photographer Paul Empson, we wouldn't have made it! The designers sent in their “conscientious” interpretation of our brief, while Victoria Bartlett (the stylist) and I dedicated ourselves to the search for emerging designers such as Tiziano Guardini, Benedetti Life, ACBC, and we mixed them in the various looks. The fabrics used for the headgear are also themed because we ordered them online on SwatchOn—the sourcing platform that partnered with the CFDA in 2020—, which offers sustainable fabrics starting from a minimum of three meters, great for reducing waste and it is very advantageous for designers who cannot order the same quantities as the big brands.
L'O: We know you grew up in Miami, what was it like going back to your hometown to shoot for L'OFFICIEL?
CR: The city has changed dramatically over the years and has become even more special thanks to the influx of people into the art and design community. The Arts District where we shot is my favorite neighborhood and, in my opinion, offers the best of Miami. It is known for graffitied walls and for the fact that wherever you turn you can find an art form; a perfect place to create images. Interesting cafes, galleries, and things to see and do. The atmosphere of these places fully represents me.
L'O: What significant changes have you noticed over the course of your career?
CR: The discussion on diversity in fashion and in the world, and my part in it. From a very young age, I understood that we are all different for a reason, and rightly so. We need to recognize how important it is to honor each other and abolish those hierarchical preconceptions that ultimately lead only to our collective suffering. Animal rights are a question of diversity as are weight, age, color, ethnicity. We must give a voice to those who do not have it, so that there is an end to suffering. A world that can be said to be healed is a world that does not judge. I was impressed by the designers who went fur-free, like Chanel, Margiela, Tom Ford, Gucci, Prada, and Versace. Change is possible and is already underway.
L'O: What are the possible changes in the future?
CR: The good news is that making fashion 100% vegan is actually easy to do: it's about changing fabrics. Today, eliminating fabrics that have animal origin or that involve animals in production is possible. There are many alternatives, such as silk made with roses, skins made with vegetables and fruits such as pineapple. It's not a big sacrifice and, frankly, I find it more luxurious to wear garments created with new and experimental materials. It depends on the designer's choices and their approach to the buyer. A consumer who actually buys vegan clothing does not do a meaningless act, it will in fact encourage more vegan consumers in the future. Designers want to please them, so it's up to them to help them and do it through purchases. Of course, at the same time, there must be vegan and sustainable items to choose from. Adding "conscientious" options to a collection every season is a great start, offering answers to the growing demand from the conscious consumer.
L'O: You are the author of the book Hungry, which discusses your perspective on diversity, more specifically on the body. How has your mindset about life and diet changed since then?
CR: Even when the book was delivered and published, I already felt transformed into something else and it has happened to me many times since. I adopted a yoga and meditation practice right after my book came out which helped me with my inner growth. In response to this, my physicality has also changed dramatically, the environment around me. My soul got rich, I traveled and explored life in other countries. I felt one illumination after another, and it still is now. My spiritual life is my top priority and always has been, and a disciplined practice of yoga and meditation is how I continue to deepen it. In my teens and twenties, I had experimented with many diets out of curiosity, but it was a time of exploration and healing. When socializing or out and about, I'm not ashamed of my love of vegan junk food and allow myself to succumb to temptation from time to time. This way of eating is a priority for my daily balance, overall it is the gentlest diet for the planet and for my body. It is very much in line with my values and who I am with today.
L'O: How do you keep your balance? And on a personal note, what do you do in your spare time?
CR: I am a Gemini and I'm always on the go. Lifestyle plays the biggest role in my balance, mainly hot yoga, meditation, and diet. Trips where I hike for long periods of time in solitude help me clear my mind. My most notable recent trips have been flying a helicopter with my grandmother to Everest Base Camp, and also maximizing my visa time by temporarily living in Israel as a base. It is my favorite place to stay. Apart from that, I write a lot, make art projects with images, and I love photography. I also play the piano!
L'O: Is there anything the world might or might not know about you?
CR: After 12 years of astrology practice, I am everyone's unofficial astrologer, and after 3 minutes of learning, I will be yours too. I'm not kidding.
L'O: How to save the world in one sentence?
CR: Society teaches us to assume that everything but ourselves is not sentient until proven otherwise and that we should act accordingly. I think the opposite and I advise you to start from the assumption that everything is to be considered alive. Only by thinking in this way did I find myself.