Irene Wood exudes a quiet confidence, the kind you notice and admire from afar, but also want to be close to. Her warm, observant and focused nature is no doubt an asset to her artistry and designs, which is manifested in her jewelry line History + Industry. We were only introduced to Irene last spring and were instantly intrigued by her style, including the statement making earrings she was sporting, a recent design she was trying on for size. After spending a day with her and subsequently asking her to be part of the Meg pop-up we hosted in Seattle, we could think of no better hometown lady to profile in this series.
Today Irene talks about her artistic journey, where she finds inspiration, how she runs a business with a toddler underfoot and her most treasured wardrobe pieces (she had us at "vintage Levi's"), all while wearing our mutual jumpsuit obsession from Meg. Read on for more from this creative beauty.
Tell us about your jewelry line, History + Industry. What is the inspiration behind your designs and how did it evolve?
The jeweling obsession started from an interest in collecting beads while traveling around the world with my family as a kid. I was totally entranced by the variety of beads and the vastness of their architectural possibilities that were displayed in museums across the world. For how different these cultures were, their artifacts reflected a common thread of jeweling for adornment. I quickly found that tradition clearly had a force that came from within myself. Many years later, wondering what to do with my boxes of beads from every continent, I set out to create large statement pieces reminiscent of these jewels of antiquity. Over time, the materials have grown and evolved and I’ve sought subcategories of inspiration such as textures from the natural world, mysticism and mythology.
You went to school for art, so did you always envision yourself working in the a creative industry?
Yes, I went to school for studio art with a focus on painting. Which I also still do a little of when there is time. Making jewelry was always something I loved to do as a hobby with no expectation of making it a career. I assumed with my art major I would need to go to graduate school for something more hirable like architecture. But my friends kept asking me to make them the jewelry I would make for myself so it just evolved from there. I learned I was self-disciplined, resourceful and had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, which is the backbone of my survival.
What are you most proud of in regards to your professional career thus far?
Like I mentioned earlier, the statement pieces I make are homages to ancient artifact I’ve seen in museums around the world. Never would I imagine that the Met, one of my favorite museums visited in my youth and beyond, would carry my jewels. I’m proud that my vision for History + Industry was true enough that the pieces would find themselves back to the origin of their inspiration.
And less about the professionalism of my career, but possibly the thing I’m most proud of, is that I’ve cultivated a work life that I don’t want a vacation from, literally with my hands. This is the most basic work in a wonderful way. I have my hands, some beads (that can be made out of any found material) and a vision. These are resources accessible to all humans. Not that it is easy, but with work, possible.
How would you describe your personal style?
Car mechanic meets Maude Lebowski. Grown-up Ramona Quimby. Karen Carpenter meets 1993.
What are three fashion pieces that you cannot live without?
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My Hapticlab quilt cloak (ya gotta rip that thing off me I’m so attached to it!).
My old Levi’s.
An old shrunken wool sweater whose elbow holes are getting so big that I will have to soon learn what life will be like without it.
Recently you moved back to Seattle after living in Brooklyn for years. Did your style evolve after returning to the PNW? If so, how?
I feel like my personal style has transcended the coasts. And I might be stuck in my teens a little in that regard since I basically will always incorporate an old t-shirt and wool sweater with holes in it into any outfit I wear. Comfort is clearly a high priority for me and I enjoy the challenge of achieving this while not appearing sloppy. One thing the move has helped me with is editing my closet down to the clothes that truly have showed their specialness to me over time. In this way, I don’t have to think much about what I put on in the morning. I know that the few things I own will make me feel good and I trust that I look good too.
What do you love about this particular jumpsuit? How does it make you feel when you wear it?
This jumpsuit is very special. When I wear it, I can’t help but think about the company itself and feel proud that a manifestation of its goodness is cloaking me! I love that Meg is a woman with a vision who built an ethical slow fashion small business that has withstood the test of time in New York. The piece itself can be styled in many ways so it has a totally new life every time I wear it. By itself, I think it is an artful interpretation of a really classic staple that feels dressed up in a very comfortable, quiet way. But I find myself wearing it most on any given day with a t-shirt and and my docs. Its versatility allows me to make it feel like me, but elevated, which is a total bonus.
What advice would you give to mothers who are also trying to balance a business from home and having a babe at home?
I learned that I cannot have any expectations to work while my child is awake at home. No emails, no texts, no making just that one order or shipping that one thing. Not even the simplest task. If I have that expectation and I can’t get to it, I feel unsettled for the majority of the day. However, being totally present with my kid makes the days I’m with him super light and fun. And it makes me more productive and focused to work at night on those days and my other designated work days. It’s truly different for everyone though — you mamas have to figure out what feels right to you. We all come with such a different bag of tools.
What have you learned to let go of in your life both as it pertains to style and also as it pertains to living in general?
The script! I was raised in a Catholic school with certain cultural and familial expectations to follow a certain life path. Though I’ve done many things on the script like school, marriage, child, I had actually thrown the script away when I was 20. Letting go of expectations opened the doors to a spectrum of weird that felt comfortable and natural. My style happens to be directly reflective of exactly this. I guess letting go of the script has allowed me to celebrate the unexpected in style and in life.