Susie Crippen doesn’t like anything to be too perfect. When she started making ceramics, she created a couple of pieces where she pulled too much or pushed too hard — “technically mistakes,” she says. So she “just squished them” then glazed and fired them anyway. Now she displays these favorite pieces on her dining room table in her home in upper Ojai, often filling them with olive branches from her yard.
It’s kind of what she has done with all her creative projects; Crippen’s love of wabi-sabi, the Japanese term for creative imperfection, creeps into every aspect of her life. She renovated her hacienda-style house to be lived in by her and her dogs, importing French floors meant to take the dirt and leaving the landscape wild, not manicured. She created Crippen, her high-end clothing collection, to look better wrinkled than pressed. And in 2005, when she cofounded J Brand, the first American company to popularize the skinny jean, she “dissembled the paradigm of jeans so that any woman could make that jean her own,” she says — instead of the other way around.
Crippen has recently launched a line of dresses, called 4, based on the name of the women’s collective in Uganda that is sewing them, Ride 4 a Woman, and her birthday, Jan. 4. These dresses are not about the perfection of the sewing, but instead “the opportunity that’s sewn into the dress.” Crippen is about to move to Africa to turn 4 into a business that will help the local community.
But before that move, she spent a day with us in Ojai, shopping for ceramics and giving us insight into what to look for — including the perfect ceramic coffee cup.
What drew you to Ojai?
There’s something about the light here, the way the ground felt, I knew I was supposed to be here. The second time I visited I had a feeling it would be good for me here; I bought my house a month later.
Why shop for ceramics here?
Ojai attracts really creative people. Some of them live here full time; some come for the weekend. It’s a very nurturing place to tap into your creative self-expression.
Tell us about the ceramics in your home.
I have both my own ceramics and others. I collect them when I travel around the world. I love Japanese wabi-sabi ceramics. A lot of the stuff I buy when I travel instantly reminds me of wherever I was.
When I look at those cups I got in Sweden, I remember that woman who sold them to me and how she wore her hair and where my friend and I had lunch that day. When I see that rice drying bowl from India, I remember the sounds and the traffic in the street and how my feet felt in my shoes, I remember being hungry and the way India smells. I bought some 18th century wine vessels in Spain. I went into a ceramics store in Seville, and I almost had a heart attack. I said to my guide, “I can’t be in this store with you. I have to be here alone.”
Why should the rest of us buy ceramics?
They beautify your life; they heighten the experience of your morning coffee. Buying flowers at the farmers market and putting them in a beautiful ceramic vase instead of a glass tube puts you in the moment. There’s something about the handmade that is thrilling to me.
You keep mentioning coffee cups. What makes a good ceramic coffee cup?
To me, a good coffee cup has to be thick enough to not burn your hands when you hold it, because I always think about a good cup of coffee not only as the most perfect part of your day, but as a hand warmer. It’s freeeeezing in Ojai! My toes have been cold for five months. And then there’s the handle. I have to put all four of my fingers through the handle. How am I supposed to hold a giant coffee cup with only two fingers?
Do you have any advice for navigating Ojai on a day trip?
Veer off the beaten path. There’s so much to see off the main drag. Ojai is in such an interesting space of growth right now. People who really want to be here all the time are opening little shops. There’s a lot of meaning and intention behind them. Go see Meiners Oaks; go to the bookstore there.
If you love it so much here, why are you moving to Africa?
I’m leaving for the exact same reason I came here. I went to a place I had never been before, and I was moved so deeply by it that I have to go back. The ultimate expression of wabi-sabi is to live a life true to you. As beautiful and wonderful as Ojai is, continually exploring who I am in this world is an intricate part of my experience. And that’s why I’m moving to Africa — because I’m not finished, and I never will be.
THE SHOPPING LIST
209 W. Ojai Ave.
A community-based store and workshop where people can gather, get inspired and create things, like knitting and sewing. Cattywampus means slightly off-kilter or imperfect. “The owners have a great eye,” says Crippen.
105 S. Montgomery St.
An eclectic mix of vintage and new furniture featuring pottery, beauty products, rugs, home accessories and international textiles. “The owner is really good at mixing contemporary and modern furniture; you can’t tell what’s what,” says Crippen.
Treasures of Ojai
110 North Signal Street
This antique mart has numerous vendors with stalls packed with jewelry, furniture, and tabletop and vintage ceramics. The hunt is real. “I love a flea market; I love an antique store,” says Crippen. “I just love looking at a ceramic pot and knowing it had a whole history and wondering how did it end up here?”