C.R. Lee is Unapologetically Changing the Fashion Game

Article by Karysma Hicks @thestylishgambino_

Photography by Blake Jackson @_blackson_

Originally published in Cherry Creek Lifestyle

Samantha Joseph @internationalqueen
Germany Gabrielle @themodelgg
Dacy Luneburg @dacydarlette
Alicia Myers @aliciamyers.model

As we’ve come to find out, 2020 has been filled with many tribulations that have caused us to pivot our lives. Denver Fashion Week’s Designer of the Year, Crystal Lee, is no stranger to this sacrifice. Rather than succumbing to the harsh times that 2020 has had to offer, the designer used her brand, C.R. Lee, to tune in to what her customers needed at that moment.

C.R. Lee, a brand that reflects the women who wear its clothing, is also a brand that reflects its creator. “I am my brand,” Lee says. “I am my customer. I design for women that are strong.” With this in mind, Lee designs her pieces to make women feel as though they can define what and who they are in this world. This is something that sets her apart from her competitors—she doesn’t cater to a specific type of woman; rather she allows her pieces to be fluid in the sense that women can create an array of looks and styles with her clothes yet carry the same meaning of what C.R. Lee is all about—choosing and embracing your own identity.

Since beginning her journey in the fashion industry in 2007, Lee has had to learn how to encapsulate her own identity—especially while operating a Black-owned, woman-owned business. Over time, she would realize that a lot of people wanted her to pigeonhole her brand, but that was something she quickly realized wasn’t on her agenda.

“To be a Black woman entrepreneur has so many layers,” Lee says. “It means putting your strengths and power and your vision of your brand out there in physical form.” Throughout her experience working in fashion, she felt as though the industry wanted her to be a certain way or that she had to fit into a certain box. “I know that I am so much more capable than [sticking to one thing. I know for myself, I have an array of things that I can do, and I see that my customers want that from me.”

While C.R. Lee has been seen on the runway and has been known to be worn for special occasions, it is not anywhere near formal wear or classified as a formal brand. “A lot of [my pieces] are made with fine fabrics but really it is just a lifestyle brand.” When it comes to her designs, Lee aims to think about what it is she needs and then gives exactly that to her customers.

It is no secret that 2020 has been a year that has crippled fashion. Retail hasn’t been as much of a necessity as it has been in the past. People are being selective with what they’re buying and wearing. “I’ve been in my house just like everybody else, for 90% of my day. It isn’t realistic to limit myself to just designing runway,” Lee says. Being forced to spend most of her time home sparked a new concept for a C.R. Lee collection. Tomboi, a love letter to the women who are forced into subcategories—to the women who exhibit the characteristics or behaviors of a man—strong, capable, and driven.

Shot at BLUR, the residence of Kimberly and Ben Gould, Crystal Lee’s designs couldn’t be more fitting to its locale. The Goulds are two art advisors who house an impressive aggregation of contemporary art—allowing the design to integrate and embrace the art to be an open forum.  Their collection is comprised predominately of pieces created by emerging and mid-career artists of color, including Arthur Jafa, Henry Taylor, Vaughn Spann, Simone Leigh, Hank Willis Thomas and Natalie Ball.

On Location 

The Goulds believe that art, architecture, fashion, design and music are all heavily entwined, and like Lee, believe that artists are truly successful when they are able to embrace their own identity within their work. “Artists of color have long been stereotyped with pressure and the expectation that their work needed to portray particular themes of race and culture. It is only recently that artists of historical significance are receiving overdue attention for defying these expectations and are being appreciated for developing their own deeply personal and original visual languages,” says Ben Gould.

When walking through BLUR, it is evident the art was selectively and strategically placed to engage its visitors. “I enjoy when people feel encouraged to think and ask questions when they view the art we have installed,” says Kimberly Gould. “The art is hung for our family to enjoy every day. It is also placed to invoke discussion, challenge our thoughts, and ultimately make our spaces more interesting.”

Juxtaposed to C.R. Lee’s mission to conglomerate a collection that inspires us to be our best selves and in our truest form; Kimberly and Ben Gould admire an artist’s, designer’s, or a creative’s ability to be transcendent and transparent in expressing themselves.

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