Pitzer Spotlights

2006-2007 Spotlight Archives

An interview with fashion accessory designer Courtney Crumley '98

Courtney Crumley '98is founder and owner of CC Skye, a company that specializes in fashion accessories. CC Skye has been featured in magazines including ELLE, InStyle, People, In Touch, and Cosmopolitan. Crumley credits her interest in design as coming out of her experience learning to craft dresses and jewelry during a semester abroad with the Pitzer in Nepal program. Visit her website at CCSkye.com

Courtney CrumleyWhat was your major at Pitzer?
I majored in Psychology but much of my educational development came from my Independent Studies I constructed in Eastern Psychology.

How would you describe your Pitzer experience?
Pitzer was the all-time best experience for me. I joke that even though I grew up in Chicago and now live in Malibu, the Pitzer Campus in Claremont feels like going "HOME" to me more than anywhere else in the world. It is such a unique place in that everyone is really encouraged to maintain their individuality. That is one of the most valuable things you can give to a person at that point in her life. The school attracts so many good people, too. My friends and I often wondered if the Admission Office was able to see that in the application process or what exactly it was that attracted such great, unique individuals, or if the nurturing environment brought it out.

Who was your favorite professor(s)?
There are so many. My first-year adviser, Professor David Furman, had an open-door policy to his office that was so welcoming and nurturing when I first got to Pitzer. He made it seem as if he was really there to help me and my education in every way. I was coming from a private school where professors were not our equals or our friends in ways that they were at Pitzer. He showed me from the beginning that Pitzer was MY time, for me. I wasn't there to do anything but foster my own growth which can sometimes be found off the beaten path and not always in your regular curriculum, but perhaps in a study abroad. Attending a school where there were few general education requirements was a life saver to me. My general tendency was not strong in the math and sciences and Pitzer gave me an education that allowed me to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses. It really opened up the world to me. I found what I was great at, rather than spending time struggling with subjects that held no interest for me. Professor Halford Fairchild always said, "Treat the students as if they are an "A" Student and they will be." He was right. It was a profound teaching style that really worked.

In Nepal
With host family during Pitzer in Nepal program (center)
In Nepal
With fellow Pitzer students during Pitzer in Nepal program (in front with sunglasses).

What was your most memorable class and why?
I really liked Ron Rubin's class "Occult Mysticism and Magic," which was always entertaining and profound. It as one of the deeper classes I could ever imagine in a college curriculum.

My all-time most memorable classes, though, were the independent study courses I built myself with professors like Alan Jones and Halford Fairchild. I was really interested in Eastern Psychology such as Jungian theories when I was completing my major in Psychology. I recall signing up for a class on Freud and Jung at Pomona one semester and then saw on the curriculum it was 90% Freud and 10% Jung. But I wasn't interested in Freud and had an inquenchable thirst to learn about Carl Jung. I went to Professor Alan Jones who was also my adviser at the time, with my best friend Alisa Ruby, and we created an independent study on Jung and Transpersonal Psychology that focused on natural healers in other cultures as well as natural healing techniques used by therapists today. We would drive around to various healers and therapists from energy healers and Reiki masters to crystal healers and interview them. We would then apply theories such as those of Carl Jung, various Hopi traditions and other cultures. Embracing a subject I was passionate about, and getting a green light from the College to be my own guide in such an endeavor, really opened the door to my own entrepreneurial side. I saw through these Independent Study courses that I really had my own drive, organization, determination and focus to pick the goal, analyze it, write about, produce it and ultimately give it back to others. It was a unique process of discovery that sometimes happened outside the classroom, an experience that generally was allotted only to students doing their thesis project in their Senior year.

Pitzer to me was all about supporting what is right for the individual. You could say, I think I will really benefit from a course in the astrology of gardening and you could probably find a professor to support you and it would in turn be an unbelievable course. Who else offered courses on the "History of Laughter" and a road trip cross country course on the History of Route 66?

The creative energy at Pitzer was always inspiring. From art shows at the Grove House and McConnell to Kahoutek, there was always a strong energy in the community that really put creativity as one of the main focus of all the students. Even if you weren't enrolled in art classes, you got to paint on the walls and were encouraged to be creative with who you were at a really important time of self- discovery in our lives.

How has your Pitzer education shaped the path you have taken in life and the endeavors you have pursued?
Pitzer gave me a lot of independence and fostered my entrepreneurial spirit. Not that the school ever focused on business or economics but it gave me a sense of individualism that fostered an entrepreneurial spirit that comes from following your passion. In the Independent Study courses I designed, I noticed that I worked really well delving into my passions and letting that guide me. Starting up your own business can be daunting but I had a lot of experience at Pitzer through these independent study projects that strengthened not only my self-starting initiative, but my inner drive for following my passion as well. I look back on my Independent Study while abroad in Nepal where I lived alone with a Nepali Jhankri (Shaman) in the hills of the Himalayas, a 2-day walk from any roads, communicating only in the Napali language skills that I learned during the Pitzer program, and think, well if I can do that, I think I can go into a meeting with Nicole Miller in New York and design a line of jewelry for her company! It really gave me an inner strength and a connection to myself that is really difficult to teach a student, but somehow Pitzer did. It is something that is extremely rare at most schools that are usually less nurturing and naturally competitive, choosing to straighten a student's regurgitation of a learned topic, rather than strengthen the individuals themselves.

A jacket Crumley had made and hand embroidered in Nepal. It has over one million hand embroidered stitches.
Nepalese Dress
A native-inspired dress Crumley and tailors made in Nepal with mirrors, various fabric and antique fabric.

The semester abroad I spent with Pitzer in Nepal was one of the most beneficial, life- changing experiences I will ever have. At one life-changing moment during my study abroad, I was at my adopted family's house in Kathmandu and was craving wearing something pretty, aside from the long underwear and Gortex hiking boots the program itinerary told me to pack. I taught myself to sew while sitting by the fire with my family. Later that day, I bought silk from the silk stalls in Thamel that is used by Tibetans to make their traditional Sherpa clothing or the traditional Indian Punjabi, or Lungi. I chose colors that would likely be in the Spring Versace runway from bright yellow paired with moss green and sketched Western-style dresses that they and I began to sew together. We took a gorgeous handwoven gold and yellow dragon print that was used to upholster temple walls and made a skirt out of it for me.

The tailors did not understand the Western ways of dress so it took some pushing on my part in my Nepali language skills to show them. After a few drafts and revisions, I was amazed that they had sewn me a dress right out of the pages of Vogue magazine. They had a confused look on their face and were shocked to see someone wear something with such enthusiasm other than a Nepali Punjabi dress. The fact was that I was away from Western Consumerist Cultural mentality of "go out and buy something that you need." I actually used my hands for the first time in crafting anything. I didn't think I was patient enough to sew or string some beads together; in fact I "knew" I was far too impatient.In my first year with my jewelry business, I made over 1,000 handmade items for production before I had hired staff.

In Nepal people around me weaved baskets, used bamboo for stirring food, used ash for washing dishes and brushing their teeth (!) and crafted life from their hands. It is so foreign to us in our day-to-day culture to stop and make something. We are always catching the next best product with our eyes only. My experience showed me I could actually make something. I taught myself to sew at that moment out of sheer desperation, knowing I couldn't just buy something. It not only showed me an inner talent but it taught me a sense of self-reliance that only the Nepalese in their self-sustaining environment could.

Five years after the Nepalese Semester Abroad, I found my jewelry calling, in the Jewelry District of downtown LA and met what turned out to be a mentor of mine, a man from Armenia. He proceeded to teach me everything about jewelry making from metals to gold plating and inbetween. Between the language barrier and his patient manner, I spent a summer by his side in his downtown facility and flashed back daily to being in Nepal and sitting with the tailors.

What makes you most proud to be a Pitzer College alumna?
It makes me most proud that I can talk about the school and my many years there with a huge smile on my face and say I miss it so much. I dream about it some nights and often times still miss that nurturing environment.

—Susan Andrews