Ari Seth Cohen is the photographer behind Advanced Style – a blog-turned-fashion documentary that championed stylish women over the age of 60; New Yorker Iris Apfel being the most famous of them. When Cohen visited Australia in 2014 he photographed just a handful of women for his blog. One of them was Sydney’s Lesley Crawford. Crawford’s age has done nothing to cramp her notable style. “You have more confidence as you get older to be true to yourself,” she says. “You don’t have to follow particular trends.”
Raised in Invercargill in New Zealand, Crawford came to Sydney when she was 21. The one-time kindergarten teacher has since worked in film and television as a freelance production designer and art director. “I started as a stylist and then I moved into designing sets and buying props.” For the last decade Crawford has been a stylist at SBS, where she established the wardrobe department. Among her colleagues is newsreader Lee Lin Chin, “a total fashionista in her own right”. While Chin manages her own wardrobe, her relationship with the broadcaster was one of the reasons Crawford thought it would be a good place to work. “She’s bought a lot of Japanese designers, which are edgy and pretty timeless,” says Crawford. “Her wardrobe is extraordinary.”
Extraordinary is a tag that also fits Crawford’s own collection of clothes and accessories, carefully accumulated over 30 years and neatly stored in zipped-up plastic in the bedroom of the Botany warehouse she shares with her husband of 22 years, Dennis Smith. “For a creative person I’m very organised,” she says. “My wardrobe is colour-coded and sorted into frocks, coats, pants, long tops, short tops, skirts. All my accessories are catalogued in a metal filing cabinet that my husband made for me. All my scarves are colour-coded.”
Advanced Style’s Cohen discovered Crawford via her “wonderful” Instagram account, @lesleyhasmanyhats. It is where Crawford has documented her ambitious attempt to spend nothing on apparel for a whole 12 months. At tax time last year she discovered she had spent $10,000 on clothes and accessories. The realisation caused her to take another look at her over-flowing wardrobe, and the “zero budget” project was born.
Zero wardrobe budget does not mean no new clothes. “I’m also a realist,” says Crawford, who faces daily temptation in her role at SBS where she is constantly exposed to the fabulous clothes for the presenters. If she buys something, she must sell an item of clothing, so far in designer consignment stores, to friends, or at her stall at Rozelle Markets.
While Crawford is ambivalent about being the subject of photographs (“I’ve accepted that it’s part of my job,” she concedes), she is much less conflicted about finding creative inspiration on Instagram. “I’m a very visual person. I love the stimulation of Instagram. I follow a lot of architects, interior designers, not just fashion,” she says. Her wide-ranging interests are reflected in the @lesleyhasmanyhats handle. It’s not just a literal truth, she explains, but a metaphorical one. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed,” she says. “I like to think that there’s many things that I could do.”
Crawford is an unabashed champion of Australian designers. One local label to regularly appear in her Instagram posts is Easton Pearson, run by her friends Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson. Crawford loves the timelessness of the label’s clothes. “They’re like pieces of art you can hang on the wall,” she says. Other Australian designers she favours include Josh Goot, Gary Bigeni and Kym Ellery. On the international stage, Crawford loves Dries Van Noten, Isimiaki, and Marni for its, “incredible shoes, necklaces and prints”.
Print and pattern feature heavily in Crawford’s wardrobe. A quick flick through @lesleyhasmanyhats reveals such gems as a palm-print pantsuit by Good Day Girl, a Marimekko Australia polka dot coat and another by Easton Pearson covered in pink and green roses. Among her substantial kimono collection is a pair of silk pajamas featuring a tropical fish print, one of her favourite pieces. “They feel great every time I wear them,” she says. “I’m into the feel of clothes. They need to feel good on your skin.”
For Crawford, dressing is a creative outlet. Comfort is paramount and inspiration comes from life – art, books, film – rather than other people. “I dress for myself but I also appreciate other women who have put some effort and energy into their own personal style,” she says. “I love Tilda Swinton, I think she’s incredible. I’m incredibly jealous of Iris Apfel’s accessory collection.”
Now women like 55-year-old Swinton, Apfel, who is 94 and members of the Advanced Style set are among a new crop of style icons. “Women are suddenly relevant. Maybe their experience matters,” says Crawford. “The media couldn’t put women over 50 in a pile and ignore them any longer.”