Joy Crookes is having a good year. The 23-year-old South London singer, whose debut album, Skin, dropped last autumn and hit the top five in the UK, has been catapulted to new heights. She was nominated in the Best New Artist category at the 2022 Brit Awards, and chosen to perform at the official London Fashion Week opening night party last week, hosted by the British Fashion Council and Irina Shayk, in partnership with Clearpay. “That was a lot of fun,” she tells me. “It was also just great to perform in such an intimate setting.”
We're chatting between LFW shows and says that her highlight so far has been “the excuse to dress up every day of the week.” Her favourite collection has been Fashion East, and the work of designer Maximilian. “Max's shows are my favourite shows,” she says. “As a musician, who explores my culture in my music, I feel I respond to how Max explores his through his designs. There's always a subliminal message to his work, and I'm really, really inspired by that.”
Crookes began writing songs in her early teens and is drawn to the story in everything. Her favourite designers include Vivienne Westwood who, she notes; “Always projects very deep messaging in her work, even if that is just through small details or symbols.” For Crookes, the stories she likes to tell are tied deeply to an exploration of her heritage. This is frequently borne out, not just in her music, but in her style.
Crookes has a clear vision for how she presents herself. It’s what leads her to create many of her own looks, like the stunning lehenga-inspired two-piece she wore to the Brits this year. Brimming with details taken from her South-Asian roots (Crookes is half Bangladeshi, half Irish) and taking its cue from Bollywood outfitting, it was custom-made by her Nigerian stylist Natalie Roar, who collaborated with designer Kate Walker, previously of Alexander McQueen. The result was both show-stopping and deeply personal.
Representation like this is a fundamental building block of her looks. “I think it makes me a stronger person,’ she reflects. “It makes every step I take, every boot on the ground, more intentional. It makes me understand myself more, and when we understand ourselves, we’re stronger.”
“Yet it’s giving to others too,” she says, recognising that she is one of very few South Asian women in her industry. “I think when you are representing yourself, be that in a very casual outfit, or at an award ceremony or whatever, you’re standing your ground. That statement is giving love to other people, appreciating other people, and allowing them to tell their story as well.”
One of the most beautiful examples of Crookes’s conscious dressing, were her looks for her Brixton-shot video for the song ‘When You Were Mine.’ She was draped in South Asian jewellery which she sourced herself with stylist Matthew Joseph – “I took him to really typical Asian stores in London, like on Green Street in Southall and Alperton.” Crookes ends up standing amidst a tower-like dress of resplendent flowers in the video, which Joseph was responsible for. “It was extremely beautiful and symbolises growing after a relationship,’ she remembers. ‘The whole song is quite reminiscent of an old relationship and, as the video goes on, the flowers are growing and growing even more.”
London is a key component of Crookes’ artistry. She was raised in Lambeth for most of her life, and then Ladbroke Grove, in West London. The city has a character all of its own in so many of her songs and she was quoted as saying that one, ‘London Mine,’ was dedicated to a place which “belongs to no one and everyone”. She agrees, when I remind her of this quote: “That’s because London is a city of immigrants. It wouldn’t be the way it is without immigrants.”
Her city is her ultimate muse – for her fashion as well as her lyrics. “I think it’s because you can see everything in this city, and I’m such a sponge. I love West London, because I love the rude boy look, British Caribbean style on men and women, and I've always been interested in Mods too,” she notes. “And obviously there is so much rich culture in South London, all different types of street style and different types of traditional clothing. And it's like, when you're around these cultures your whole life, it's hard to not be inspired or pay homage to that.”
While it started strong, the rest of the year looks similarly bright for Crookes, who will finally be going on tour and playing her album to more live audiences. April will see her hit the states and a trip to Australia is planned, as well as a European tour. “This past year has been quite overwhelming and I haven’t really even had a chance to really sit back and take it all in,” she says. “But taking the music abroad will be so amazing. I’m so excited.”
But for now, she’s in London. And with that, she tells me she’s off to her next fashion show, in the city she loves so much.
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