Original collage made for Lela by Phoebe Barrett.
Meet Phoebe Barrett, aka. Phoebsalot. Sydney based collage artist, stylist and all-round creative. She shares her unique sources of inspiration and invites us all to think outside the box with our personal style.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Phoebe Barrett. I’m a paper collage artist and I also run a small freelance styling project, ‘Phoebsalot’.
What led you to art and styling?
I’ve always been super creative. After a few years in a course that wasn’t really up my alley, I switched to a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications which I absolutely loved. There I was exposed to design ideas and mediums that I really connected with. My friend Rachel Tse, an incredible photographer, had a shoot coming up and needed a stylist. I volunteered myself - I had a few really cool pieces lying around from working in retail and being an op shop addict and just thought why not! The shoot went really well, and that’s when I decided this could be a thing.
With my art, I started playing around with paper as a fabric alternative for a major project in high school - I made clutch bags from upcycled magazines. From there I became addicted to cutting up magazines and playing with all the colours and textures I found. Putting together collages became a way for me to express myself as a designer quickly in a way that didn’t require illustration or the use of technology – it’s a medium with old-school charm. Cutting out intricate shapes helps me forget whatever it is that’s on my mind. It’s super hands-on and also really therapeutic. I recommend collage to any creatives dealing with anxiety or looking to get more ideas flowing. Collage is just as much about the process as it is about the finished product.
How would you describe your style?
I like to think outside the box, and I get the most joy from wearing something that’s thrifted, handmade or super original and quirky in design. Clothes like this make great conversation pieces. Texture and colour are big elements of my wardrobe, from bright platform heels to sculptural earrings to chunky vintage jumpers. I love to fuse different styles, eras and patterns. Eclectic or maximalist is a good word to describe my style.
Talk us through your creative aesthetic and what inspires you when you create your work.
I don’t follow trends or movements closely, but it’s interesting to be aware of the meanings behind high fashion collections and the cultural commentary that goes on in design.
I seek inspiration from magazines, newspapers and socials. But just generally my mind feels deeper and freer if I’ve been spending time outdoors, spending quality time with loved ones and using tools for reflection to consolidate my thoughts and make plans for the future.
Can you give us some insight into your creative process when you’re styling for an editorial or a personal client?
When organising an editorial the first thing I do is familiarise myself with the team and their strengths. I’ll usually create a few Pinterest boards for overall mood, hair and makeup. I try to make sure every contributing artist has creative licence and feels that the end product reflects them well. When working with multiple models I’ll take note of height and colouring so that the looks are styled cohesively and the outfits are flattering. It’s also really important to communicate that if a model feels uncomfortable with any garment then we can veto it – always have backup options!
Wardrobe styling for a client is a bit different. It’s more functional and budget and lifestyle need to be considered. When a booking is made I send the client a detailed questionnaire so that I can best understand what it is that they’re looking to get out of the experience. It’s crucial to have empathy for the client’s personal style, as the client will be the one purchasing and wearing the selected pieces. I am there to facilitate a better shopping and home wardrobe editing experience so that they can get the most out of their closet for years to come.
What do you find challenging about art and styling?
Apart from them being highly subjective, art and styling are also inherently very personal and require vulnerability from both the maker and the observer. For me, having a certain level of vulnerability can be challenging as I’m actually quite a private person, but I am also someone who really thrives on establishing new connections with others. Doing what I do has given me the opportunity to express myself and to connect with so many amazing and inspiring people.
Do you have any styling tips for people who might need a wardrobe refresh?
- It sounds obvious, and Marie Kondo has already created an entire empire on this - get rid of any items that don’t make you feel good. This can be things that are unflattering, OR this can be things that just make you feel drab and bring up undesirable emotions. Perhaps you’ve held onto something sentimental, but if it doesn’t “spark joy” then donate it!
- You don’t have to spend a lot of money to feel better about your clothes. If you shop at op shops you will be making donations to charity with your new purchases. Or take what you already have and alter or upcycle it if you’re the crafty kind. One of my tricks to elevate your wardrobe is to invest in some quality essential pieces (e.g. woollen layers, denim jeans, leather or leather-alternative boots) and then spend a bit less on the seasonal add-ons. Steer clear of fast-fashion. Second-hand clothes are better quality for less, plus you might even find some vintage gems.
- Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone just a little. It’s important to experiment to truly discover what you like, and don’t be a slave to body shape or colour palette rules. Trends change and so does personal style over time. If you need help with this I am always here for style services!
As a stylist, what pieces do you think make for a great, versatile underwear drawer?
Firstly I would say nude seamless undies, and every bra-wearing woman should own a nude convertible bra.
For off-duty days I would recommend investing in underwear made from natural fibres (such as those at Lela!). Bras should be comfortable and breathable enough that you forget you’re wearing one.
I also really love a granny panty! I think they are so comfortable and cute, and there is a certain nostalgia that comes with wearing a pair. People should stop putting them down so much! For a bit of romance pair with a balconette bra. Check out my Pinterest for some lacy/frilly/floral granny panty inspo. Undies should make you feel comfortable, supported and gorgeous in your own skin.
Ps. Sparkly socks!
What would be your dream creative project?
It’s a bit of a dream of mine to work as a stylist for artists producing music in my favourite genre, Hyperpop. The Hyperpop genre fuses mainstream pop with more off-kilter/experimental elements. These artists and their music are a constant source of inspiration for me... Grimes, Caroline Polachek, Charli XCX… Charli XCX has sound-to-colour synaesthesia, meaning she sees music in colours. I just think this is so fascinating because her musical personality really shines through in her fashion choices.
Where do you find fashion inspiration when you’re working on a styling project?
For the past year or so I have been making it a habit to post three inspo pics a day on my Instagram story. It doesn’t take much effort, but as I save each image I now have a huge archive of over 1,000 images that I love, making it super easy to scroll through and create mood boards, or just peruse when I need new ideas.
Who are your favourite artists at the moment?
Too many to choose from! But I will narrow it down to a list of my current faves:
Musician – Nasty Cherry, which is a new and totally badass girl band put together by my favourite artist Charli XCX. I love their tunes, but really I just love their whole chaotic vibe. Four completely individual female artists assemble to generate one divine creative cocktail.
Artist – Jess Chen, a Toronto-based tattoo artist, which is weird because I’m not really a ‘tattoo person’ and live nowhere near Toronto. But I just love her style of art, it’s so dreamy and serene, and I have nearly convinced myself to fly over and claim a custom design myself.
Designer – Susan Alexandra, an amazing accessory designer, and I just completely froth over her entire Instagram feed – the content creation for the brand is out of this world energetic and fun. Susan Alexandra has married novelty and luxury, and was the designer who started that whole ‘beaded bags’ trend. Her designs are colourful, playful, tactile and whimsical… ahh!