Some of us are lucky enough to find our calling during childhood. For Courtney McCrone, that moment happened at age 11. As a grade schooler she had already clocked hundreds of hours making patterns and sewing her own creations -- purses, aprons, slippers, dresses, doll clothes and more. Then someone called her a "fashion designer" and that was it.
She pursued her passion. From high school internships with local designers to attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles to returning to her native Cleveland to start her own clothing line, 23 Skidoo. "I wanted to bring everything I learned about the industry to this booming city," Courtney says.
Lately she's been plenty busy prepping for the launch of her Summer 2015 Collection. Debuting on July 10, the new collection will feature vintage-inspired pieces with patterns harkening back to childhood summer camp memories (how cute!). But when she isn't running 23 Skidoo out of a basement-turned-Skadette-Headquarters, you will find Courtney trying to make spectacular use of her free time honing her woodworking skills, painting or reading under her favorite tree.
Jennifer Cho Salaff (JCS): Does fashion matter? Why or why not?
Courtney McCrone (CM): What a person chooses to wear says a lot about her. Sometimes when I'm in a place with lots of strangers I like to guess personality types by the shoes people wear. Fashion also points to the status of one's culture: the economy, religious beliefs, social norms and health, to name a few. Take a look at Western culture in 2015. Thrifting has never been hotter, which probably says something about our economy. Most anything is acceptable to wear these days, which points to our view of religion: a hodgepodge is best. Social media dominates our time and gives us the ability to spot trends from around the world instantly. "Fast fashion" (when trends get produced quickly and cheaply i.e. Forever 21) was birthed as a result of the immediate sharing of images. "America is fat, so bring on the jeggings." Fashion is the expression of what is current, whether the event takes place inside or outside our culture. Fashion matters because it reveals what's inside.
JCS: What is one item of clothing or accessory you carry with you or wear every day?
CM: Lately I've been wearing my dad's loafers almost every day (yeah yeah yeah, I have kinda big feet). But my current favorite accessory is a very fragile necklace made by my friend Meg. The necklace is a leather-studded band with a mink skull hanging from it. Last February I asked Meg to do an art trade with me. So she made me the necklace and I made her a limited edition Party Crownz sold in my shop.
JCS: Worst fashion trend (current or past)?
CM: Bringing back the 90s.
JCS: Favorite fashion trend (current or past)?
CM: Bringing back the 90s.
JCS: Your fashion muse?
CM: Oh gosh, how do I choose only one? At the end of the day, it's Tavi Gevinson. It's always Tavi. She just does it. She somehow always looks like an effortless wind of magic. Her style has no relevance to age or time. Her outfits are unpredictable. As a lover of odd ball items and accessories, Tavi is my Queen Awk. When you see Tavi you think, "Where's the party?" and "Take me with you!" She is so perfectly retro, I just can't.
JCS: Can you remember the first time you were conscious of a thing called "fashion?"
CM: I started sewing at age eight when I saw that my oldest sister's friend made her own purse. I was captured by the idea that I could make my own things. My mom took me to the fabric store that very day and I started to sew. I taught myself how to make patterns of clothes through years of trial and error. I made purses, aprons (with oven mitts), slippers, backpacks, dresses, doll clothes, skirts, pajamas, raincoats, swimsuits and more. I remember the first time I heard the term "fashion design." I was about 11 years old and somebody referred to me as a fashion designer. That moment felt right.
JCS: How has your background (where you grew up, your heritage, etc.) influenced your sense of style?
CM: When I started sewing I got so much joy from making whatever my spirit led me to create. I began to express my personality through my clothes. At age 10 I started taking hip hop dance classes which influenced my punk-street style (baggy boy pants, layered graphic shirts and high top sneakers). At age 15 I discovered Greater Cleveland. One Saturday afternoon at a small flea market, I stumbled upon a patio full of the most dreamy vintage. I had never seen clothes like that before and I quickly became a regular. There is a special place in my heart for vintage and its nostalgia. It continues to be my go-to for inspiration and influence. Vintage will always be my fashion first-love.
CM: Yes. It was 11pm on a Saturday, halfway through college. I was thrilled to have a quiet night and hit the sack before midnight. But then inspiration struck! I stayed up til 4am writing and sketching out every detail to launch my dream brand. Back in high school I had taken a class on building your own brand and found the term "23 skidoo" in my research. It means, "To be of high spirits." That resonated with me and it is a big part of my company's branding -- being of high spirits.
JCS: What kind of woman embodies the 23 Skidoo vibe?
CM: The 23 Skidoo woman has an adventurous soul and she desires to look and feel feminine on the journey. This woman is not familiar with boredom and finds adventure in the mundane. She carries herself in loveliness and confidence, knowing that she was created with purpose.
JCS: Before you start sketching ideas for a new line, where (or from whom) do you get inspiration?
CM: Finding inspiration can be difficult. Fast fashion and social media platforms have over-saturated our minds that anything is good, which often makes us feel like we're left with nothing. So when I am in desperate need of inspiration for fresh designs I look to the past. I will forever love exploring my grandma's high school yearbook, and vintage LIFE Magazines from the 60s make me feel like a unicorn. Inspiration also tends to hit me out of nowhere, like when I'm watching documentaries about sushi or talking to someone who brings new perspectives to my little brain. Surround yourself with people who possess a wide variety of interests. It'll do ya good!
JCS: What are three things every woman should have in her closet?
CM: A hat, functional statement shoes and a dressy casual cress that is comfortable for any situation. The hat and statement shoes provide the opportunity to make any boring outfit a statement outfit. And the dress is your exciting fallback for any day you want to feel wonderful and comfortable simultaneously.
JCS: Describe your figure.
CM: It is a truth universally acknowledged that after a successfully completed game of Apples to Apples, the green cards in one's possession end up describing her. The first time I played Apples to Apples, I won three green cards: Misunderstood, Mystical and Fluffy. I'll just leave it at that.
JCS: When do you feel most sexy?
CM: When I eat Skittles for breakfast.
JCS: What outfit makes you the most happy?
CM: I feel most happy in my favorite dress. It is my favorite because it makes me feel most happy, and it looks like this:
JCS: What are you trying to do or achieve when you dress?
CM: When it comes to fashion, my goal is to be my true self. I feel most myself in happy dresses with my hair in a bun and an oddball accessory like my skull necklace or one of my handmade metallic Party Crownz that says "mom jeans." If I feel like the real me then I present myself accurately. The same thing is true of the days when I represent 23 Skidoo. As Head Skadette, I best be on my game.
JCS: What would you say is "you" and what would you say is "not you?"
CM: This is a great question that I find myself pondering often. I feel most myself in adorable dresses but there is a part of me that is a total goth. And then there is another part of me that loves street style. However I never, ever feel myself when I dress goth or street, so I stick with my pretty dresses and add hints of darkness with my accessories (i.e. skull necklace). I have a secret dream that one of my eyes will get poked out of the socket so that I would be forced to wear a pirate eye patch. Then if that happened I would completely change my wardrobe to be all black and velvet and leather. I would spare an eye for that.
JCS: What do you admire about how other women present themselves? Name a few women in the public eye whose fashion you admire.
CM: There is nothing better to me than meeting a woman who is being herself. Women (and men, too -- people in general I suppose) can be incredibly insecure and feel extreme pressure to act a particular way. This goes directly against our nature as there is not a single person in the entire world who is identical to another. When I meet a woman who presents herself well, it is refreshing and encouraging to my little soul. Presenting yourself in true character says gobs more than how you present yourself through fashion. But fashion is a branch of the character/personality vine.
Some gals in the public eye who I dig... Princess Kate Middleton. Not a hair on her body is out of place. She exudes confidence and femininity and grace. Dressed to the nines yet her approachability is almost tangible. She is the ideal real life princess. Everything about Kate shouts "Royalty." I also love seeing pictures of Taylor Swift in public. Check out that 20-something professional! She is youthful yet womanly with her matching outfits and designer dresses and pump high heels. She looks clean and prepared for anything. Kate and Taylor are a bit more on the professional, classy side.
Two women whose fashion I admire on the edgy side are Alexa Chung and Florence Welch. These two... I love. Their outfits are always unpredictable and perfectly put together. Alexa and Florence both wear a lot of vintage. They look like entertainers, which is what they are!
JCS: What advice would you offer someone who wants to launch their own business (namely, a clothing line)?
CM: My advice comes in the form of two questions: 1) Is this really your dream? 2) Are you sure? If the answer to both of those questions isn't a loud and definitive YES, then run far, far away. Haha!! But seriously, owning a business is scary. It can tend to feel like it's you against the world. If 23 Skidoo wasn't my dream I would have to quit too many times to count because sometimes owning a business isn't fun. You have to say "no" to a lot of fun things because you have a deadline and it's up to you (and you alone) to do it. I wouldn't trade it for anything but working solo isn't sunshine and rainbows all day. But owning a clothing line is so worth it if it's your dream. So do it! Or don't. You decide.
Photos courtesy of Courtney McCrone.
Photo of Tavi Gevinson by Angelo Pennetta for British Vogue.
Photos of Kate Middleton, Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung and Florence Welch from Celebsters.com, Bestfashionest.com, Hellomagazine.com and christyle.com.