By KARI KAMPAKIS
Not many people can say they worked with Lauren Hutton on their 21st birthday.
Or that they sat next to Valentino at a dinner party in his home.
Or, most intriguing of all, that they spent four years as Cindy Crawford’s assistant, planning Cindy’s top-secret wedding and appearing in Self magazine as part of a “celebrity assistant” feature shot by famed photographer Francesco Scavullo.
For Missie Neville Crawford, a Cherokee Bend mom of two, these events are part of a blessed career that began in New York and led her to Birmingham. While Missie says she wouldn’t change one second of the journey, her favorite job is raising a family with her husband, a Mountain Brook native.
Today, Crawford works as a freelance photo stylist. Companies such as Southern Progress, Meredith Corporation (publisher of Traditional Homes and Better Homes and Gardens) and Birmingham Home & Garden hire her to visualize and style photo shoots. Whatever the subject—food, fashion, lifestyle or interiors—Crawford arranges the setting. Her responsibilities range from scouting locations and finding models to setting up tabletops and backgrounds.
“My car is constantly filled with props,” she laughs. “The boys will get in and say, ‘You got a shoot today, Mom, and are we going to be in it?’”
While Crawford’s career officially began in New York at J. Crew, her training began in childhood. Born to two creative parents, she grew up around fashion.
Her father owned a men’s clothing store, and in addition to changing out window displays and wrapping gifts, she’d accompany him to Market in New York at a young age.
“I remember standing in Bloomingdale’s when I was eleven and thinking ‘Wow, can I move here?’” she said.
Crawford’s mom expressed her creativity at home. She was always creating something—using apples to put block print on fabrics, making quilts from old men’s shirts. Several years ago, her parents went through a difficult divorce, and in the wake of that her mom began painting. She reinvented herself as an artist.
Her work—carried locally by Atchison Gallery and by Gallery 119 in Jackson, Miss.—was used to help furnish homes for the cast on the movie set of The Help.
The author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, is a close childhood friend of Crawford’s. They grew up together in Jackson and reunited recently on a photo shoot in their hometown. Besides arranging the shoot, Crawford picked out Stockett’s wardrobe and produced the story.
After graduating from high school in 1988, Crawford enrolled at the University of Alabama. There she met her future husband, and though she never knew him well, she can recall him “riding around campus on a red mountain bike.”
Following a post-graduation trip to Europe, Crawford stopped in New York to visit her sister. She decided to look for a job there and gave herself a few weeks to find one.
With the help of family friend Sidney Mashburn—a national style icon and former creative director for Land’s End—Crawford got an interview with J. Crew. She interviewed on Friday, and by Tuesday she was jet-setting to St. Barths for a photo shoot. She worked as a J. Crew stylist for four years.
It was a wonderful opportunity that taught Crawford the ins and outs of the business. She was just starting to consider something new when a college friend called her. She asked if Crawford was interested in taking her place as Cindy Crawford’s assistant. After one interview, Crawford was hired.
Crawford loved working for Cindy as well. She recalls Cindy’s efficiency and ability to separate herself from her brand, to look at as a businesswoman.
“She had a great team that taught me so much,” she said. “We were all loyal, because she’s an honest person who’s real. She’s very smart but fun, too. When we traveled, she’d allow us to enjoy ourselves, to take advantage of wherever we were. We might visit a museum, go antiquing at a local market in Argentina or run into a Prada store and each pick out a treasure.”
Cindy’s philosophy to “work hard and enjoy where you are” is something Crawford incorporates in her business.
“When I get overwhelmed by work, I have to stop and get on the floor to play with my kids. I learned that from her. You have to remember what’s important.”
The weekend after Cindy’s nuptials, Crawford attended a wedding in Memphis. She went on a blind date with college acquaintance Sims Crawford, and by the end of the weekend they knew they’d be together. Crawford moved to Birmingham the following February and married Sims in November.
“It was a tough transition at first,” she said. “I left my friends, my career and my city. But the tradeoff is beautiful because now I have this family and a wonderful lifestyle. Birmingham has a great publishing and creative outlet, and that allows me to continue doing what I love.”
While Crawford stays busy as a photo stylist, she’s expanding her services into a business called SPRUCE, which she started with friend and colleague Libba Hardwick.
“SPRUCE is a natural extension of what I’ve been doing,” she said. “We simplify lifestyles through home organization, getting your house party-ready or opening up a second home for summer.”
It all sounds glamorous, but once you meet Crawford, you realize how down-to-earth and unaffected she is.
“Through age and life’s journey, I’ve learned to embrace my family and faith above everything,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s important to me to build a hedge around our family, and to keep the kids grounded because they grow up so quick. We jump on the trampoline together. We ride bikes. We get on the floor and play UNO. They keep me and my husband in check, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve been very, very blessed.”
To learn more about Crawford and her work, visit www.missienevillecrawford.com or email her at email@example.com.