“Sometimes I just want to make everyone in the world sit down in a room and give them a good talk!” The world could do worse than listen to Crystal Renn. If the first word that comes to mind when you think of the 27-year-old supermodel is still “weight” instead of “wow”, you may need to get into that room and pay attention. Who knows, you might even walk out with your very own astrological chart: Karl Lagerfeld got his (Virgo – Gemini – Moon, if you must know) during a Chanel campaign shoot.
Astrology is vital to Renn – “What’s your sign?” swiftly follows “Hi, I’m Crystal!” – the compass by which she navigates everything and everyone. “I got into astrology not knowing my sign about three years ago,” she explains, while photographer Scott Schuman sets up the next shot. “I use it in all aspects of my life: trying to discover something about myself or wanting to understand people. Essentially I’m looking at a chart full of mathematical points and deciphering how the mix goes together. It’s like a recipe: what’s this going to taste like?” We’re basking in the sunshine outside our location in Brooklyn – which is part mechanic’s lair, part flea-market treasure trove – and Renn is talking in long, expressive sentences. In high school in Mississippi, where she’d moved at the age of 12, she was teased for speaking too “proper”. “I cannot blend in no matter what I do. In Mississippi I picked up the accent to be left alone. When I got scouted and knew I was moving to New York, the very next day it was gone!”
Gemini may be just about the only label you can stick on Crystal Renn. She has played havoc with the industry’s concept of what makes a supermodel; her presence seems to transcend the still image of a magazine cover, and her first book, Hungry, made headlines: Renn could easily move on to other things. “In my future I hope very much to design a line for fuller-figured women. No matter what size I am, I want to design for that woman because I like looking at that woman. And what comes along with that is the campaign and taking it in a different direction and, oh, just making the clothes that I always wanted to see on that woman. Cool and chic and…”
Still, a “model slash whatever” she is not. “I believe there is a time to tell and a time to learn and I am most certainly in that learning phase right now. I have many ideas for fiction and I’m reeeeally into short stories. I wish I had the patience for painting but I don’t. And I’m amused by actors – I’ve been told I should do it but I don’t know if that’s my outlet. Beingan actor is all about truth-telling, being a model is all about being fake – but you can’t do either if you’re afraid of feeling stupid. It’s a real art and it would be offensive of me to not look at it as such. But if David Lynch or Terrence Malick came calling, sure!” Steven Klein’s “Strict Institution” shoot is the closest she has come to acting. “I was able to be a mental patient for 15 hours. Some of those shots were in-between shots, just walking to set – it was like method modelling! It’s almost like having a dissociative personality disorder. That’s the animal inside me that can just go ‘there’, and to allow that in a safe space where it’s appreciated is everything. That’s why Steven is such a genius, he allows people to go anywhere they need to go.”
Renn is passionate about creating a stunning image – so often the quality that separates the great models from the accidental ones – and will stop at nothing to achieve it. Sure, she’ll strike a yoga pose in knee-highs and not much else while puffing out perfect swirls of smoke, and, yes, she’ll strip naked and hang off that not-so-stable-looking swing (“My happiest moment was on a swing!”). She can curve her shoulder blade just so to create a perfect line with her body without so much as a glance in the mirror. “Oh, I have an idea,” she says to Schuman, “just to be kooky and weird…” She licks the knife intended for the lemon in her hand.
Her passion for the perfect shot is not confined to one side of the lens – travelling with her camera keeps her centred, whether she’s in Cambodia, Vietnam or Iceland. “ I go to all these places and get really serious about my photography. I thought I got my kicks out of modelling but then you get to the point when you realise you have too much to say. Patagonia was probably what turned me on to photography. I remember choosing that location from this American Vogue shoot with Caroline Trentini and Patrick Demarchelier. I never took vacations until that point, but I said to myself, whenever I get time, I’m taking this trip. I went for three weeks, I was hiking for 15 hours a day, I saw ice lakes and I felt like I was on the moon!” She also finds inspiration closer to home. “I have 13,000 pictures on my iPhone – of myself!” she says, laughing. Don’t expect any “look at me in my bikini” selfies, though. “My favourite artist is Cindy Sherman. I’ll set up on my balcony and do all sorts of stuff. I like to paint with light, and somehow I got really good at using the technology of the camera to destroy what appears to be film. I break my phone, I fuck it up on purpose because it will do the same to my photos and I want that!”
Renn is so intense and full of energy, it’s hard to imagine her ever relaxing. What does she do if she has a three-day weekend off? “I’m not a morning person but I love those weird days when I’m up at 5am, the sun’s coming up soon, I know I have the entire day to myself with no one calling me. I’ll wake up and have the leftover red wine – I’m not a big drinker but the best glass of wine is at seven in the morning on a day off – and I’ll play my piano. I’ll go to brunch on my own and bring a great book.” She’s reading Dan Brown’s Inferno right now (“any reference to Dante is a dream!”); her favourites include Wuthering Heights and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet?, which she’s read eight times, “because I fell in love with one of the characters and I even wrote the author and pleaded with her to write another book! To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever veered away from this type of man because I loved that character so much!”
You can tell a weekend to herself must be a rare luxury for Renn. “I love eggs benedict on a hash followed by a walk around Williamsburg, my neighbourhood, and taking pictures. I might go to Vinyasa yoga, the park, a flea market or a weird gallery – I love discovering things. And I’ll go to dinner by myself and have the 10-course tasting!” She recalls a recent solo adventure in Paris: “I thought, I’m going to have a really weird night and do something different. There was this one awesome African restaurant in the neighbourhood and the atmosphere… it was alive! I sit down to read my new book and next thing I know a man grabs me out of my chair, picks me up and starts throwing me around the room ballroom-style! He was throwing me over his shoulder, spinning me in the air… I lasted seven minutes! He was a ballroom dance teacher from Ghana. And so we bow to each other and the whole restaurant is cheering!”
With that, she turns to Schuman and says: “Do you wanna do, like, five more takes, because why not?” Why not?