An islander who has forged a career in one of the most “gruelling” and competitive industries in the world said he never considered chasing his ambitious goal to be risky.
A decade on from what most people would have considered an unlikely success story, Cristo Stuart reflects on how his arguable naivety allowed him to shape a life with a level of happiness he “never allowed” himself to imagine was possible
Now a buyer for Harrods, Cristo said the last ten years have reflected “an unbelievable amount of hard work”.
“I moved to London when I was 21 because I have always known I wanted a career in the fashion industry. I had no job lined up, I didn’t know anyone in London and I had no experience in the industry,” he said.
Pictured: Cristo has embraced living in London, one of the "Big Four" fashion capitals of the world.
Cristo continued: “It is only looking back on that decision now that I realise that it was quite a considerable risk but, at the time, I was fearless and just hoped for the best.
“The fact that I didn’t overthink the decision played a huge role in not recognising that risk at the time; I was just set on knowing what I wanted and where I needed to be to make it happen.”
Cristo spent the first 18 months in London in unpaid internships, starting with a role at fashion company Roksanda.
“I had worked for nine months in insurance in Guernsey to save money for the move. I was also incredibly fortunate to have generous parents and grandparents who helped make it possible for me to have unpaid roles,” he said.
“My grandparents had put £5 in a saving account for me every week since I was four, so I was able to use that and my savings to support myself.
“I consider that time as my retraining period in fashion, almost as if it were a master’s degree that I was self-funding. I had studied Chinese and business at university, so my education in fashion came from that lived experience.”
Pictured: Cristo met his now husband in London "by chance".
As Cristo “ran out of money” he had to decide whether to return to Guernsey or stay in London and continue to pursue his dream.
“I was applying for jobs in both Guernsey and London trying to see what would come up. Eventually I found my first paid role in fashion as a sales associate on the shop floor of Harrods,” he said.
“After two years, I was promoted to the clothing department on Bond Street as a junior buyer for Bottega Veneta. I stayed with Bottega Veneta for seven years and ended up the buyer for 20 stores across the UK and France.”
Cristo changed roles during the covid pandemic.
“The next step with Bottega Veneta meant moving to Italy and I was not in a position to do that because I wanted to stay in London with my now husband,” he said.
“I was ready for a change and saw a position as a buyer for handbags at Harrods, which I did for one year, then, in August last year, I moved to become a womenswear buyer with my remit as international designers.”
Pictured: Cristo and Gustavo were married in August 2019.
Cristo has been with his husband, Gustavo Bussman, for seven years.
“I was incredibly lucky to meet Gustavo because he was only in London for a short time on secondment from Brazil while studying for his doctorate. We were together three months in London, then apart for three months when he moved, and haven’t been apart again since,” he said.
“It was a completely random and chance encounter, but we just clicked instantly.”
Cristo said that he never imagined he would find the love he now shares with his husband.
“I came out at 21, which was relatively late. Things have come a long way in Guernsey and I could not be more proud of the island for that, but when I was growing up it wasn’t necessarily easy to be gay,” he said.
“When you’re growing up gay you write off certain experiences; I never even allowed myself to imagine that I could have the kind or love or level of happiness that I have with Gustavo; I am so lucky to have found that in life.”
Pictured: Cristo credits his decision to move to London to "not overthinking" the risk.
Cristo has never experienced problems in the fashion industry because of his sexuality.
“I am so fortunate that being gay is never questioned in the industry I work in; I have never had to justify myself and I can be authentically me,” he said.
“I know people who have to hide parts of themselves in their workplaces, particularly in environments which are male dominated. I think the opportunity to be your authentic self is something which should be championed in all areas of life and we all have a part to play in creating a culture where people’s lives aren’t questioned.”
Despite his personal and professional success, Cristo’s journey has not always been plain sailing.
“Fashion is a gruelling industry; behind the glossy exterior of the finished product is a huge amount of hard graft,” he said.
“I worked seven days a week, every hour that was available. It took a long time to establish what to do and what a career in fashion would look like. I started in an editorial role and was a styling assistance for magazines and, while that satisfied me creatively, it did not satisfy my aptitude for business."
Pictured: Cristo feels "privileged" to work in luxury fashion and appreciates the "craftsmanship" involved.
Cristo continued: “I decided I wanted a career as a buyer because that was the best balance between the creative and business roles that I was looking for.”
Cristo said that he does feel a weight of responsibility in his role at Harrods.
“I am responsible for 70 brands and three to five rooms in the building. There is a sense of responsibility because you are using Harrods’ money and you need to make sure that everything works,” he said.
“Working with luxury brands can be surreal at times. I have gone from an unpaid intern to a role where I am saying silly things like “£2,500 is a real bargain” and you do tend to become desensitised to the figures you’re working with.”
It is evident when speaking to Cristo that he has remained grounded.
“I completely understand that there are a lot of people who consider fashion to be frivolous and unimportant. I’m not a doctor, I’m not going to work every day and saving lives, but we can’t all be doctors,” he said.
Pictured: Cristo said he is proud to be from Guernsey.
“If I thought about the fact that I’m not saving lives or saving the planet then I think I would be bad at my job. I have thrown myself into fashion whole heartedly and, while luxury fashion is admittedly elitist, it also caters to an incredibly diverse demographic and represents the work of the very best across the industry," continued Cristo.
“The thing I love most about luxury fashion is that the finished product is the result of true craftsmanship; everyone involved in the months and months of work it takes to produce something luxury are the best at what they do. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to go to work every day and be a part of that.
“Fast fashion has diluted that craftsmanship and encourages a mentality that fashion can be thrown away and pieces can be made quickly and cheaply and that’s not what fashion means to me.”
Cristo said it was hard to pinpoint what he loves most about the industry.
“Fashion is for everyone; even if you aren’t interested in the trends or luxury brands, everything you wear is a choice and it reflects something about you. Even if what you want to reflect is that you don’t care about fashion, that is still saying something,” he said.
Pictured: Cristo said that "growing up gay" meant he didn't allow himself to imagine the love he would later find with Gustavo.
“Fashion is also about diversity; to work as a buyer you need to be an expert on who your customer is because, particularly with luxury brands, you are catering to the world and I love that. You are buying to cater to all ages, races, sexualities, genders and that’s something important to me," said Cristo.
“One of the things I love about living in London is the diversity. I often count how many languages I hear between my home and the tube and it is often six or more and that’s wonderful. You can learn so much from other cultures and I truly believe that, as long as no one is doing harm, that everyone should be creating an environment where we all just crack on with our lives and allow others to do the same.”
Whilst Cristo has immersed himself in the London culture, his connection to and love for his island home is apparent.
“Even though I moved away, Guernsey will always be my home and I am so proud of that. Whenever anyone asks where I’m from I always explain about Guernsey because there is so much to be proud of,” he said.
“All my family are in Guernsey and I come back regularly, which is an absolute joy. I don’t know what the future will hold, it’s entirely possible that I will end up living back in Guernsey."
Pictured: Cristo believes people should champion a world where people "crack on" and allow others to do the same.
Cristo continued: “I have always been very open and honest about the fact that there have been many times where I’ve wanted to drop out; times where everything has been too much and pushed my mental health to the limit, but in those moments I chose to dig deep and push through.
“If there are any younger people who are considering leaving the island I would encourage them to go for it, but you also have to really try. It’s through the failures that you truly learn and, as long as you’ve tried, you will never regret it.
“There are opportunities out there for you to explore; Guernsey is an incredible place and it will always be there waiting for you to come home to.”
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