Sarah Cristobal and Natalie meet for the first time at the Prom Night presentation at Bowlmor Lanes in New York City. Two years later, Sarah attends the first Alabama Adventure Weekend to cover the event for Style.com. Over the course of the weekend, the two begin their decades-long friendship. After twenty years in the industry, Sarah is now Executive Editor at InStyle magazine, telling important stories of girls and women around the globe.
The conversation below between the good friends Sarah Cristobal and Kimry Blackwelder was conducted via email on April 17th, 2021.
Kimry Blackwelder: What is your earliest memory of Natalie and/or Alabama Chanin?
SC: My earliest memory of Natalie was when I was invited to attend a Project Alabama weekend in Florence back in 2005. It was a chance to get to know the brand better and experience its origins firsthand. Prior to this, Natalie had thrown a prom-themed fashion show in a bowling alley in New York City, so when this invite came along I jumped on it because I knew it would be a good time. Of course, it turned out to be so much more than a typical press junket. And actually, just thinking about it now nearly 20(!) years later, it still warms the heart. The early aughts were a pretty materialistic time in fashion, and here you had someone whose line and whole way of being was about giving back to her community. It was pretty revelatory. Everything about the weekend was homegrown, homemade, and packed with soul, and Natalie, with her beautiful shock of white hair, was at the center of it all.
KB: How do you think Alabama Chanin has impacted and/or influenced sustainability in the industry over the past 20 years?
SC: Very few designers were talking about slow design or sustainability 20 years ago, so Natalie was pretty influential in that regard. I think what she has done so brilliantly, especially in those early years, is show people how they can be more considerate in their design choices. To really marinate on what you’re buying and how it’s sourced and the ripple effect that all has. It sounds so obvious now, but 20 years ago, while fast-fashion chains like H&M were on the rise, her team was creating couture-like garments by hand that would take weeks to make.
Beyond fashion, her practice of slow design is also a lifestyle choice, and she lives by example. How you choose to consume in all aspects of your life and the impact it can have. And how when you buy things because they are special and of a certain quality, you’re supporting a whole community which is a wonderful thing. As a mama, this is something I think about a lot.
KB: Do you have a favorite Alabama Chanin piece, collection, or collaboration? If so, why does this stand out to you?
SC: It would have to be what I call my “corset top” from that Project Alabama weekend many years ago. The stitching is impeccable, it does wonderful things for my boobs, and amazingly it still fits!
KB: What do you feel is Alabama Chanin’s most enduring quality? We want to know what comes to mind first and what resonates with you?
SC: I think it’s respect. Respect for each other, where we’re from, how we honor our communities. Natalie has this amazing aura, she’s so grounded in herself and who she is. And she’s very deliberate in her decisions, not necessarily because it’s the right thing for her business (although she clearly has a wonderful business acumen), but because it’s generally the right thing to do on a human level. That level of respect for everyone and everything around her is reflected in her brand.
- As our industry evolves, what do you hope to see for the future? Where do you see Alabama Chanin in this vision?
SC: I hope more people follow her lead. She’s truly an inspiration.
KB: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to Natalie or the Alabama Chanin team?
SC: Thank you! I love you! Please keep going!
Slide 1: Sarah Cristobal wearing an Alabama Chanin hand-sewn Corset, photographed by her daughter Alma at their home in Bellport, New York; Corset from Project Alabama’s Spring/Summer 2004 Collection
Slide 2: Billy Reid original flagship store at Picket Place during the 2005 Alabama Adventure Weekend, photograph by Robert Rausch
Slide 3: Sara Cristobal and Erin Dempsey Istanbulluoglu with others inside the original Billy Reid flagship store at Picket Place during the 2005 Alabama Adventure Weekend, photograph by Robert Rausch