“I’m feeling like I want to go rogue, start over, and do my own thing on my own terms,” Kristen Noel Crawley says, wearing a silver, knee-length Gucci skirt and nude Alix bodysuit. She’s hoisting her eight-month-old son, Luc, into the air over and over again. “He weighs 30 pounds already, that’s twice as much as my six-year-old,” she says laughing and out of breath from baby press reps. A large, neon Warhol depicting Marilyn Monroe hangs above the fireplace behind her, flanked by figures of Mickey Mouse and Goofy. Almost every inch of her Los Angeles, Calif., home is filled with pop art, stacks of Taschen and Rizzoli books, rare BAPE Bearbrick figures, and some regular, kid-friendly toys, too.
“I have all of these ideas and I just want to put them out, and not have to wait for a season or for anyone’s validation.”
At 30, Crawley is a successful business owner and mother of two—Luc and her first born, Baby Don. She co-owns Chicago’s high-concept clothing and art gallery RSVP with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh and her husband, Don C, who is the founder of Just Don and a close friend and long-time collaborator of Kanye West. After leaving Chicago’s frigid winters for Los Angeles, Crawley launched her jewelry line KDIA three years ago and partnered with retailers like Colette, Browns, and Maison de Mode. Her pieces are luxury, with price points ranging from $1,000 to upwards of $20,000 depending on the stones. Her first piece is her best known, a ruby-encrusted “100” emoji necklace. This season, she plans to take a few appointments during fashion week to show her new collection “Squiggles,”—themed around abstract takes on standard pieces like hoop earrings—but she is focused on breaking out of the fashion week cycle to gain more creative freedom.
“The jewelry market has a lot of rules that clothing or accessories don’t have,” she explains. Precious gem trades are also notorious for their dark corners where corruption and slave labor run rampant. Ensuring that her gems are sourced ethically drives the price point up, but it’s a non-negotiable cornerstone of Crawley’s business and personal philosophy. Her factory is in Los Angeles, so that she can visit the manufacturers in person and stay involved in every step of the process.
Finding the sweet spot between making whatever she wants—like the 18k gold, ruby, sapphire, emerald, and amethyst Dots necklace she gifted Rihanna recently—and what her fans and followers can afford has been a learning process. Introducing costume pieces under $1,000 is part of her new business plan. “I’m trying to transition into being an e-commerce store on my own,” she explains. “I’m thinking I want to take the Melody Ehsani route,” nodding to the Los Angeles designer’s namesake brand that has become a Fairfax staple. Ehsani was the first woman to have a brick and mortar on the iconic block where streetwear, high fashion, and hip-hop converge.
That’s a comfortable and familiar space for Crawley now. Her husband and many of her close friends are entrepreneurs in creative industries, and surrounding herself with like-minded people was a deliberate choice. “Where I grew up, there’s not that many people who think the way that I do,” she said. Crawley opted to leave Springfield, Ill., and make the move to Chicago, where she still has a house to visit her stepdaughter and family often.
“If you don’t have friends who are trying to grow, or trying to do anything positive, or supporting you, you need to get new friends,” she advises. “And don’t think that you’re selling out just because you’re moving on. You’re either going to stay stagnant, or you’re going to grow. Growth is important. If we’re not growing, we’re dying.” Both Crawley and her husband are self-invested in each of their businesses, and like to use one another to take a temperature check of their creative choices and preferences.
When Jordan Brand approached Don to come up with a custom Just Don x Air Jordan 2 Quilted sneaker last year, the couple started the process in the same room where they begin most creative projects: their closet. “We collect clothes,” she explains. He zoned in on a classic blue Chanel purse of Crawley’s as the inspiration for the shoe. “There’s always a story. As with clothing, art, jewelry, accessories, it should always mean something. I can look back on anything in my closet and think about where I’ve worn it. Like, ‘We went to meet Mr. Alaïa in this.’ They are things I hope to pass on to my daughter or granddaughter someday.”
Born less than a year ago on Dec. 11, 2015, Luc is still breastfeeding. We take a break so the youngest of the house can eat. The day he was born, Los Angeles’ infamous traffic prevented Crawley from getting to the UCLA hospital where she planned to deliver the baby. She ended up delivering Luc at California Hospital, closer to the downtown gridlock they were stuck in without issue. She shared the birth story in detail on Elle, and often updates her hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and Snapchat with personal takes on motherhood. “No one told me the realness,” she offers as the motivation for sharing her experience. “Everyone is like, ‘Oh it’s angel kisses and butterflies.’ I didn’t realize that it sucks. Pregnancy sucks. Childbirth sucks. Breastfeeding sucks.” Accepting that it’s impossible to be a perfect mom 100 percent of the time helped Crawley move forward. “You see people like Chrissy Teigen stepping out six days after she gives birth and she looks amazing, and I’m over here like, ‘What the hell, why do I still have a gut seven months later?’ I try to be upfront about that on my Snap, because I want girls to know that it’s not easy and you’re not alone—the majority of us struggle with it.”
This week, rather than parenting advice, Crawley’s feeds are filled with photos and videos of her latest venture, KNC Beauty. After traveling to Tokyo, she fell in love with a product she couldn’t find in America—sheet masks specially made for your lips. For now, it’s the only beauty product she’s focused on, and it took her around two years to take to market. “I hired a chemist and we worked for a few months and came out with an all-natural formula,” she explains. In a fashion so specific to the Internet era of entrepreneurialism, Crawley demonstrates her role as the one-woman-show. She shows me how to use the mask, later posting a before and after photo of her own personal product trial, then driving her followers from her feed to the Instagram handle dedicated to KNC Beauty. She jumps from creator, to model, to brand ambassador, to marketer in 15 seconds flat. Later she’ll shop for food to replace the items she threw away after watching two documentaries that inspired her and her husband to transition into veganism—another example of the closed circuit loop from Internet surfing, to information absorption, to real life action that seems to play a key role in her success. Of course, she documents the trial-and-error diet project on her social feeds.
Before we part ways, I ask how she decides what is okay to share and what to keep for herself. Crawley smiles. “I think it’s important—this is real life. I’m not always out doing these glamorous things. I go to fashion week twice a year, but 95 percent of the time I’m sitting on the couch with my baby and my kid playing video games or reading. That’s my real life. Don’t hold in knowledge and be greedy about it. Share what you know.”