Introducing ‘The Muse’: Hunger’s new weekly interview series spotlighting the emerging cool alt-girls to follow on Instagram now – sharing their thoughts on everything from sexism and social media to fashion and politics. Models who are passionate activists? Pop stars opening up about Gen Selfie? Digi-designers empowering women? Meet your next must-follow. Next up, Elizabeth Ilsley…
[“][I]s this an interview?” Elizabeth asks suddenly on the phone after a few minutes, in her thick Brummie accent, before giggling at the brief confusion. The 22-year-old artist, designer and printmaker should get used to the attention though. Since 2016 she’s been gaining traction fast on the ‘gram with her Insta-worthy leather jackets (the most notable – a bomber emblazoned with “I SHAVE MY LEGS FOR YOU” -referred to “the way I felt towards a boy at the time,” she tells Hunger). Rihanna and Kim Kardashian are huge fans of her customized leathers with a bold feminist message, influenced by everything from images in 70s porn movies and Patti Smith to her own dating life. “98% of my designs are inspired by personal relationships,” she laughs. “Most of what I write has definitely happened to me – I mean it’s either a good thing or it’s a bad thing that I’ve got no other inspiration other than my own selfish views…” She’s also teamed up with House of Holland to produce exclusive ‘Original Pirate Material’ prints for SS18, revealed during London Fashion Week.
Like her tongue-in-cheek slogans, Ilsley has a wicked sense of humour (“If I wasn’t doing this I would love to be a stand-up comedian. I might do it!” From finding the funny in heartache, making it as a female creative and banishing taboos, she has a lot to say…
Hi Elizabeth! What’s been your experience living and working in Birmingham? Is there an emerging arts scene out there RN?
I’m trying to decide whether to buy a flat in Birmingham or move into a little pokey room in London – whenever I start looking at anything it’s like ‘ARGH!’ I’d be happy with either or to be honest. I do my artwork full time and my studio is in Digbeth, which like the creative quarter of Birmingham. There are a lot of creative people around and people doing their own thing. Unlike London, you’re not getting sucked into other people’s ideas – it’s just you with your own world. So I tend to get more inspired fashion wise in London because I have a tale of two halves with my work -it’s like half fashion, half art. But when it comes to art I get inspired anywhere – just at home, with my own thoughts. It’s just me, myself and I usually.
How did you start making hand painted jackets? Did you study art?
I studied fine art at Birmingham City University and at freshers week at my first year I didn’t have anything to give to my first project because I just been absolutely caning it at Fresher’s week. Like any average 18 or 19 year old. My student loan came in and I was just like ‘YEEES!’ I bought an old vintage leather jacket from a charity shop at the Salvation Army and I’d just read Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and I got really inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe and just that whole era and so I painted on the back of the jacket: ‘I SHAVE MY LEGS FOR YOU’. It didn’t fit me but I put it on Instagram and was going to take this jacket into BCU as like ‘this is what I do!’ I woke up and Rihanna had followed me. I was never at university [much] but all my work is very personal and when teachers didn’t like it I’d be like ‘well fuck you!’ I’m selling this shit and people love this.
Romance and modern dating are recurrent themes for you – what would your dream date look like?
I’ve just been on a date recently and it was one of the best dates I’ve ever been on. We drove all the way to Grimsby and broke into an abandoned theme park.
Your artwork often re-appropriates old forgotten pornography images, why is it?
I’m interested in twisting this idea of pornography. I’m not against pornography in any way shape or form. But how modern-day women are supposed to be like – the big boobs…whatever – is just a reflection on how women are represented in porn. I take found images in porn from old ‘70s porno movies – there are differences definitely with appearance but back than women had little to no voice at all. Because I have such a big voice I think it’s quite interesting – I suppose what I’m trying to do is give them a voice they didn’t have in a way. I know a lot of women these days who are so scared of telling people how they feel especially when it comes to relationships. I’m trying to break those taboos.
Your slogans are very funny too – from the outside world the fashion world is perceived as a serious place, full of serious people…
It’s so the opposite. When I did my first ever photoshoot – it was shot by Boo George – and I was absolutely shitting myself. I didn’t eat for like two days before and even then I was like this is ridiculous. But the designers, photographers and stylists I’ve met on shoots are ten times funnier, more approachable and kinder than anyone on my course at university.
You feature quite heavily on your Instagram feed, was that a conscious decision?
Maybe because I’m too vain and I probably shouldn’t but who gives a shit? But I don’t know – I think if it’s just the work I find it so boring and it’s not me.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like to look like a cartoon – Jessica Rabbit is my hero. Ever since I saw her I was like “you’re amazing” and Ingrid in Ghost World. My style just comes from music and films that everyone loves like True Romance or Courtney Love. I’m not really a slave to a trend – I like to just look like I’ve just stepped out of a Tarantino film I think.
Which girls do you love to follow on Instagram and why?
I love @4thandbleaker – her style of shooting and portraits are amazing. I like Tati Compton too; I’m desperate to get a tattoo from her. I’ve got two really crap tattoos. First one was when David Bowie passed away – I had a crisis and got drunk and had a shit lightening bolt on the inside of my arm – it’s visibly wonky but I like it. I’ve got a little heart on my ankle that looks like a Dorito as well!
You posted pictures of you marching against the Tory government – are you interested in making more political artworks?
I’m only 22 and I feel like there’s more shit to come to make art about. But if it’s about spreading a message on social media as a person then yeah I’m more than happy to do that. I’m a Labour supporter and I can’t believe the shit that’s going on and it’s just a fucking shame.
Is having a strong female network important to you?
I love that there’s such a rise of female collectives, like GRL PWR GANG which I’m part of. I like to see women making money man! Like ‘how can you be so bitter and jealous? It’s pointless!’
What’s your #1 tip to making it as a female creative?
Don’t drink after 3AM, because you will be hung-over for a meeting.