Rules To Live By Art Fashion

Artist Issy Wood Would Pull a ‘Bling Ring’ for Miranda Hobbes’s Gay-Coded Closet

Artwork by Issy Wood. All images courtesy of Issy Wood.

Clothes—and their capacity to signal status and dress up our feelings—appear regularly in Issy Wood’s paintings.

Cinched trenches, a bum-grazing mini, creased cowboy boots—these sartorial fixations speak to the London-based artist’s scrutiny of how we accessorize our lives to project power, self-possession, or availability. Wood haunts websites like Vogue Runway and e-commerce platforms like SSENSE or Farfetch to source the hermetic snapshots she interprets. “The way they photograph this clothing, there's a neediness to it,” she tells CULTURED over the phone. “There's a seduction already built in because they are trying to get you to own these items. They've already taken care of half the lighting for me, and I meet it halfway and either make it uglier than it appears on the website or just lean into how distressingly seductive it is.”

Wood sees this digital scavenging as “a kind of tourism": She has been living with an eating disorder for over a decade, to which she attributes a late arrival to femininity, so the quest is also about “shopping for different kinds of women that I could be.” Clothing’s role as a container and canvas for reinvention is news to no one, but what Wood’s attired paintings provoke is the uneasy feeling of being caught in the act of lusting over what someone else has.

As London Fashion Week takes over her hometown, Wood sat down with CULTURED to unpack her sartorial DNA and what the art world makes of fashion.

Artwork by Issy Wood.

Who taught you how to dress?

Firstly the school I went to, because it's very, very rare that you don't have a uniform in U.K. schools. As a result, maybe we arrived to dressing ourselves a bit later because it's already kind of decided for us, at least in the daytime.

What was your uniform like? 

When I was really little, it was a Scottish kilt that had mainly red tones in it, and then a forest green blazer with grey trim, and a cream blouse. Then the summer version was these dresses with a really intense, almost Pop art type pattern. It was a private school, but also I don't think you have to go to a private school to have a weird uniform. 

How did you develop your personal style?

For a long time outside of school, I really liked to dress in costumes. I had a couple of years where I just dressed as a dog, then a couple of years where I just dressed as a fireman. As a child, I’d decide on something and then refuse to take it off, whether I was sleeping or bathing or whatever. [That was] the ongoing argument with my mom: She wanted me to be comfortable and run around, and I wanted to wear something more irresponsible like a higher heel, or something that was really cheap and would fall apart after, like, one wash. I wanted to wear fast fashion, and my mom understood the value of things that are slightly less trendy but built to last.

What were the fast fashion items that you were really into?

There was a store called Next, and there was a British store called New Look. I don't know if either of them exist anymore, but they were pillars of High Street. I had a strange thing where the girls that I wanted to be friends with the most were from working class families, and so they bought really cheap stuff. They had sequins all over, and [the garment] would come apart but it would look really good for, like, 12 hours. Because I wasn't allowed that, I glamorized it.

Is ephemeral clothing still appealing to you?

No. Now it has to last. I want something that I can wear and not think about having to trade it out for a long time. Or I want to buy four of exactly the same thing.

Is there something that you have four of exactly the same thing right now?

I have a lot of pairs of Hoka trainers. I have three different North Face down jackets. There's this brand called Pangaia, and for a while they made these athleisure flares that I was obsessed with, and suddenly they just discontinued them. I was in a big email fight with them about the possibility of bringing them back. They were just like, “We're not interested at all in bringing those back.” And I was like, “You're crazy. You would make a profit from my sales alone.”

Artwork by Issy Wood.

How do you get dressed in the morning? 

[It takes me] 90 seconds, because I've already laid the clothes out that I'm going to wear the night before. I go to the studio every day, so it will always be studio clothes, which is jogging bottoms and t-shirts that I found on eBay from medical companies. Both my parents are doctors, so I grew up surrounded by medical paraphernalia. All my pens and pencil cases and everything that I took to school always had an epilepsy drug logo on it or something.

What’s your take on the artist uniform?

I guess we have two uniforms. When you’re a painter, you have a uniform that has to be durable. You can't be too attached to it, and it can't be quite so expensive because it is going to get paint and God knows what else all over it. Then there's the wardrobe for when you're not at risk of stains. My alternate one when I’m not in the studio is just slightly more feminine, with things that maybe cost a little bit more and things that are white.

In your rules to live by (see below), you mention that fashion houses need artists more than artists need fashion houses. Can you expand on that thought?

I feel like art is put on a slightly higher pedestal than fashion, so there's sometimes a trickle down effect. I think a lot of the art world finds the fashion world a little bit gross, because we're all snobs. Just the idea of mass production, or even multiples of an item, goes against everything we believe about there only being one of each artwork. There's a moment where you were maybe at an opening and you meet someone in fashion. They ascertain that you're not ugly, and maybe you're tall and thin and young and a woman, and then suddenly the i-Ds and the Vogues start coming to be like, “Can we dress you in Margiela to take photos of you pretending to paint in your studio?” 

Part of what I love about being an artist is that there's always the option of almost total anonymity like that. There's no one with a gun to our head saying you must physically appear in your work to function. In fact, I think sometimes seeing the artists just kind of muddies the water about these visual things you're putting into the world. Obviously, there are a million different ways to do it. I have had an eating disorder for 17 years—it's not in my favor to be photographed to excess or have people putting makeup on my body or choosing what I wear. I was a model for a minute when I was a teenager, and I had really, really bad experiences with it. I feel really lucky that today Muccia Prada was like, “Can Issy walk in the Miu Miu campaign?” But it's just so delicious to be able to say no. 

Artwork by Issy Wood.

The right to refuse is so essential in your work, but you do paint yourself.

Yes, but it's on my terms. It was me trying to grapple with exactly that. I was about to turn 30. I was like, Do I want to die on the hill of anonymity forever? I’m not sure. If a magazine was like, “We need a picture of her,” I can supply one of these portraits, and they couldn't argue with it because technically it is my likeness.

You also are a musician, and I'm always interested in how musicians decide to dress. You’ve only performed live twice. Did you intensely plan what you were going to wear?

It was tricky. The first time, I wore a dress without a bra. I try to be really diligent about deleting any footage that I'm tagged in after those shows because it never, ever, ever makes me feel good. My right tit was resting on the guitar in a way that I really didn't care for, and so my only rule for [the second performance] was, “Wear trousers and wear a bra, please.” I'm playing a show in New York in April, and I'm already worrying about what the fuck I'm going to [wear]… I might just go with studio clothes.

What are your thoughts about fashion weeks? 

The only reason I knew it was Paris Fashion Week [last fall] is because people were posting pictures of jackets from my Paris show [at Lafayette Anticipations]. A couple of times, brands were like, “Can we license your music for a catwalk?” And I was like, “Fuck, yes.” That's what I want. That's the involvement I want—to not have to appear. I would love to have people walking to my music. That's what I like about making music is it ends up in all these strange places. I notice when it's fashion week in London, mainly because I'm like, Why are there so many incredibly beautiful, very tall, very thin people walking around? I feel like a bridge troll during fashion week.

Whose closet would you pull a Bling Ring for?

Miranda Hobbes gay-coded practical clothing on seasons 1 and 2 of Sex and the City.

What is the most overrated item of clothing in your opinion?

Anything cropped. Like, what if you're bloated, you know? We’ll have to leave it to EmRata. Something's happening with her that none of us can [achieve], you know? There was a really harrowing photo that she took for Le Monde magazine where her whole body is fitting into one giant pant leg. It's horrible.

What would someone have to wear on a first date for you to walk out? 

A newsboy cap.

When you see someone stylish on the street, where do your eyes go first? 

Probably the thigh area. That's always what I'm most paranoid about when I'm wearing something.

What’s next for you?

I have a song and a music video coming out. I’m working with my friend Emily Schubert. She's an incredibly talented makeup and effects maker. She's done a bunch of stuff for Matthew Barney recently, and she did an Oneohtrix Point Never video a long time ago, which was sort of what turned me onto it. She's made these very strange puppets, and the clothing is all made of like my paintings printed on canvas. And I'm gonna put out a record in the spring. I'm not sure when though.

Issy Wood’s Rules to Live By:

  1. Often the happier somebody seems online, the more they’re falling apart inside.

  2. Fashion houses need artists more than artists need fashion houses.

  3. The “hide self view” function on Zoom is a godsend. 

  4. You’re not in love with them; they just have an avoidant attachment style.

  5. Keeping someone’s secrets is 100 times more delicious than the momentary thrill of spilling tea.

  6. From age 30, there will always be something a bit wrong with your body.

  7. Learning to rest properly is a skill that some of us, paradoxically, have to work at.

  8. Don’t look for medical advice on Reddit.