When Chelsea Wolfe stepped onto stage in support of her debut album The Grime and the Glow, the black-cloaked singer often delivered her doom-folk tracks from a behind a webby chain mask or a lace blanket. Two years later, the veil has come off. The L.A. artist now appears only with pitch-dark eye makeup on stage and in the album artwork for her last release Ἀποκάλυψις and this year’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. Similarly, she’s shed much of the industrial static and séance atmospherics of her previous full-lengths and embraces a stripped-down sound on her most recent.
That’s not to say her sound or style have lost their haunting effect; both are at the intersection of horror and high art. When Wolfe wears white — as she did at her recent show in Chicago — it’s in the form of a floor-length gown with a black panel backing that looks like it came from a hospital utility room. This dark and light duality is stitched into her aesthetic. She explains the eerie cover of her last record, which contains a headshot of her with whited-out eyes, as positive: “It’s supposed to be an epiphany like seeing the light.” Her black-and-white palette works well conceptually and also serves a purpose on stage. “I have everyone wear all black usually, not to distract from the music so it’s kind of a blank slate,” she says while combing through her tour wardrobe in the venue Lincoln Hall’s greenroom. Hive talked to Wolfe about her collection of chains and harnesses, taking inspiration from both Marilyn Manson and Maison Martin Margiela, and her own designs (though we might not be seeing those anytime soon).
Her vespine leather-piped cuff:
It was a gift from an amazing designer called Aoi Kotsuhiroi and it’s sort of like my good luck charm now. I wear it on stage a lot. I can’t remember what kind of horn it is but it’s real horn and leather. It seems alive to me. I almost feel like it’s a little creature.
On finding inspiration in equestrian style:
I really love horses so I like things that remind me of them. When I was growing up, my friend worked at a horse ranch called Gibson Ranch, so he would let us come over and ride horses for free.
Appreciating the details:
I’ve always worn a lot of black but I’m interested in things that have some sort of detail that makes them stand out. This dress is black, but it has a mermaid feel with this fishtail and mesh ‘90s fabric.
Her lace-up peep-toe boots:
These are Weekday, a Swedish brand that I adore and have been really drawn to. They have really minimal, simple basics, but they that really stick out, like this one. I’m kind of picky about what I wear. When designers understand what I like and give me something that really resonates with me, it means a lot — even more so if I’m already a fan of theirs.
How she packs for tour:
It has to be something that won’t wrinkle too much. I actually bought a little steamer on this tour and I lost it at the second show because it’s so hard to remember everything at the end of the night. [You need] things that you can mix and match; pretty much everything that I’m bringing goes with one another. The most color I wear is nude or grey or white. It’s also simpler that way because all of those colors go together. I love layering everything.
What’s inside of her green travel chest:
I try to bring as many treasures as possible so I have some options on the road. I have a suitcase full of makeup and glasses from a porn shop in Seattle. I’m drawn to body chains and dog collars so I went in there looking for that actually and ended up just getting sunglasses. I’m also drawn to cheesy ‘90s stuff.
On the chains in her closet:
I’m obsessed with body jewelry. I found one at ASOS — it’s one of the more affordable places to shop — and from a new designer in Los Angeles called Karolyn Pho. She’s also a stylist. This is one of my favorites.
Three things she always brings with her when traveling:
Definitely this cuff, my Zana Bayne harness because it’s so versatile and can turn a really boring outfit into something special — it cinches everything together — and a pair of platforms. I really like things that make me feel even longer than I am. I love shoes that are really tall: The bigger the platform, the better.
On her white trash-minimal style:
I think some of my main inspirations are people like Marilyn Manson and Macaulay Culkin in Party Monster, but I also really love minimalism and designers like Damir Doma and Maison Martin Margiela — I wish I could wear more of that. I’ve gotten a chance to wear Margiela a few times. My style is a mix between white trash and minimal. I’m drawn to a really minimal aesthetic and I’m also drawn to really flamboyant things. I think that reflects my taste in everything, from music to clothes to film. I love Werner Herzog and Ingmar Bergman and really minimal, simple clothes. And then I also love John Waters. I think it’s the same for my personal style. I really love the contrast between them and that’s why I bring everything together.
On her own designs:
I actually sew and make things at home but it’s not something that I would want to do on a massive scale. The last thing I made was kind of a tunic. It’s a bunch of stretchy white fabric sewn together. It started out being a vest and then it turned into a dress/tunic. It kind of looks medical. I like things that look like they could have come out of an insane asylum, and have lots of straps and strange layering.
On expressing herself through her clothes:
I’m a moody person, so sometimes I’ll wake up and just want to go casual and wear sneakers and tight jeans. Other times I’ll put on a flowy dress. I hope it doesn’t really matter what I look like and dress like but I really enjoy fashion. I used to not dress up so much but I think that you can really get a lot out of it and be the person that you want to be through clothes. So I just sort of ran with that at some point.