Words by Emma-Louise Tovey
Always at least a bit ahead of her time, Haley Wollens blazes
bright and leaves a trail of space dust.
There aren’t many people who consider a career as a stylist and director in New York City to be an escape to a quieter life, but that’s Haley Wollens for you. After working for M.I.A. for eight years in a variety of roles all over the world—including video, graphic design, styling, and documenting—she realized it was time to return to the stable chaos of her hometown.
Wollens, a 26-year-old cool beauty, grew up two blocks from St. Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side. She now lives in Williamsburg and shares a second-floor workspace above a boxing gym in TriBeCa. In her corner of the L-shaped studio there’s a stark computer desk directly adjacent to jumbled samples from obscure designers Wollens has discovered on the Internet. There’s just enough space for her to push her chair back from the desk and sprawl her Timberland-clad feet out in front of her without crashing into the abyss of orange, black, and pink behind her.
She began working in fashion at age 18 on semester breaks from the Savannah College of Art and Design, during which she worked for a who’s who in a variety of what’s what, from creative styling for nightlife and food aficionado Simonez Wolf (aka Chef Sez), to assisting Rihanna’s stylist Mel Ottenberg. Throughout it all she also had all that time with M.I.A. While the rest of us were still getting our heads around our liberal arts classes, Wollens moved to Los Angeles to work on the launch of M.I.A.’s record label. When she stopped working for the artist and moved back home in 2010, Wollens says, “I was completely drained emotionally, physically, and mentally. I did not feel particularly inspired to do anything. So I started DJing.”
There could’ve been a fourth attempt at graduating college, after the previous three design majors in fashion, motion media, and, later, graphics fell short of culmination due to continual job offers from M.I.A. But Wollens needed to DJ to regroup her creative energy. Even though she hadn’t previously tried her hand at the turntables, she argues, she did have quite a bit of experience dancing at parties. “I feel like that’s all you need,” she says. “We’ll see if anyone asks for the degree.”
After a year, Wollens decided producing records wasn’t really in her immediate future, so she started shooting editorials again with her friend, photographer Julia Burlingham. The styling work began rolling in again, for V Magazine, Dazed & Confused, AnOther magazine, The Fader, DIS magazine, and The Journal, among others. And she just finished doing the costume design for the film IRL, to be released late this spring, starring Sky Ferreira.
Now, her oddly compelling Second Life collage-vibe video for Blood Orange’s track “Champagne Coast” has her pinned as a director. Here, she takes the audience on a virtual tour through the private residences of some badass girls jamming to their boom boxes and TVs before a night out with their crew. “I have a thing for sexy, strong, cool girls,” Wollens says. “It’s always been really important to me. NYC is so about promoting these rich girls, and I’ve always felt very strongly about promoting my own girl, what I think an ‘It girl’ is—the girls I think are incredible, stylish, beautiful, smart, funny, interesting. So I cast a bunch of dancers and artists who do their own thing.”
She was thrilled with the end result and has since decided video is where it’s at for her, at least for now.
“I really get to have the full picture,” she says, noting that directing combines bits of all the mediums she’s been fascinated with for so long. “But I always say that I’m saving painting for when I’m 40, ’cause I want to have something then,” she says. “I feel like I’m going to need it.”
Conjuring The World: Get Pulled into Jo Ratcliffe’s Elegant Atmosphere.
Words by Jessica Holland | Illustration by Jo Ratcliffe | Photo by Ben Toms
When you interview someone, you’re not supposed to interrupt every five minutes with “ME TOO! YES! I FEEL THE EXACT SAME WAY!” but Jo Ratcliffe—a fashion illustrator who looks like a hybrid of model and rock star in black clothing and multi-colored sneakers, with pixie-ish features including long, pale-pink hair—makes it impossible to resist. She’s soft-spoken and petite, and when I switch on a voice recorder
at her Dalston studio she says she feels awkward being taped. But as soon as she starts talking about the things she’s passionate about, like the way art can conjure up intense feelings and whole imaginative worlds, she lights up, and I start enthusiastically chipping in about my writing ambitions as though we’re friends from way back.
It’s almost two hours later that the tape runs out, but by then she’s on a roll, and
I scribble notes on scraps of paper as she tells me about the way it feels cycling along an abandoned railway line at twilight in the mist, with no one else around. She says her favorite way of clearing her mind after a deadline is wandering around a gigantic shopping mall to soak up the “euphoric” atmosphere. “It sounds bizarre,” she says of the mall fixation. “I’m slightly obsessed.”
As a kid from a working-class family, Jo would draw constantly, and ended up going to the iconic Camden art school Central Saint Martins. She never imagined she could make a living from her talent, until a flatmate, then art director at Dazed & Confused, persuaded her to add some illustrations to a fashion spread. She took out a loan to buy a computer, taught herself Photoshop and Illustrator, got offered more magazine work, and was snapped up by an agency.
Since then, she’s worked with some of the most famous names in fashion and pop. Remember the shimmering, neon-glowing cover for Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”? That was Jo, and her Twitter account got a boost last summer when the pop star tweeted in caps-lock about how “INCREDIBLE” she is. Now, Jo says with a smile, “I’ve got a lot of followers who like One Direction.”
For that project, Jo drew inspiration from the “trippy” Alice in Wonderland cartoon movie and the hyperreal photos of David LaChappelle, but her style mutates with each new piece of work. On a windowsill in her studio there’s a witchy record cover she drew for a metal band; nearby are gorgeous collages of models and flowers that she made for a Nina Ricci ad campaign. She’s turned Lily Cole into a wild, mythological creature for the cover of Dazed, added animated creepy-crawlies to a video of Kate Moss for the French fashion house Balmain, and painted a dead mouse into the mouth of Sofia Coppola for the ultra-exclusive magazine Visionaire. (You can buy the issue online for a mere $195.) More recently, she came up with a strange, funny video for Jimmy Choo called “Angel Panda, Devil Panda,” a kind of mash-up of fashion promo, 1980s video game, and surreal Japanese cartoon.
It’s a portfolio as vibrant and contradictory as the artist herself, but what ties it all together is Jo’s swooping, elegant drawing style and her tendency to subvert prettiness with a dash of something unsettling. It makes sense that she’d “kill to work on a Tim Burton movie,” and that she’s a huge fan of the graphic novelist Chris Ware, who mixes crisp, beautiful art with pitch-black humor. She’d like to follow them, one day, into a more narrative art form. “I’m interested in creating characters at the moment,” she says. “I’d really love to make art that touches people emotionally, to tell a story. Hopefully that’s what all this will get me to.”