A singer, songwriter, director and owner of her own record label, it’s hard to believe that Cosima is only 26 years old. Following the release of her first EP, South of Heaven, back in 2016, the Peckham born artist has risen to success with emotive, intimate lyrics and a smooth, neo-soul voice that evokes the dulcet tones of Sade and Nina Simone. A familiar face on the fashion scene as well, Cosima began her career with dreams of becoming a fashion stylist, and has since walked for Marques Almeida and Asai.
In what feels like a different life, I travelled to South London on a cold March morning to meet with Cosima on the set of her shoot for the Flannels summer campaign. We discussed working with Flannels, how South London and a hunger for knowledge and art has shaped such a powerful, creative career, and what we can expect from the young artist this year.
Sabrina Soormally: How old were you when you first started making music?
Cosima: I was eleven when I started singing along to Judy Garland records, which is maybe the beginning? But I was eighteen when I consciously decided that I wanted to make music for a living.
SS: Quite young then?
SS: How has being raised in Peckham influenced you musically?
C: I think that’s really interesting. I’m not sure I think being around Peckham, in the summer specifically; you have so many different people playing different music really loud in your block at the same time. So you’re kind of…
SS: Exposed to everything.
C: Yeah. Someone upstairs is listening to dancehall all summer, the person downstairs is listening to eighties power ballads. It’s really … you kind of listen to everything equally.
SS: Quite an eclectic mix.
SS: How has South London influenced your style?
C: I really like certain types of bracelets from East Street Market. I think again it’s the same thing, because everyone is so different, and you see so many different versions of being you kind of absorb all of them. SO you don’t really have a middle point or the standard point. You just have the reference of everyone else being so different.
SS: A really wide scope of everything.
SS: Tell me about your process when you’re song-writing.
C: Usually I’m someone who writes to process things, or who writes for catharsis. So, usually something happens and I have to sit down and write it down in my notebook, and then I’ll take the notebook to the piano and figure out the chords that go with it. It’s quite an emotional process.
SS: So you’d say the lyrics come first?
C: Lyrics first. I’m trying to do melody first, but that’s the process, lyrics are always first.
SS: Tell me about ‘Who Do You Love’?
C: That’s erm… I wrote that at a time when I was with someone who was really into lots of different versions of perfect women, and it was kind of going crazy a bit because you’re constantly comparing yourself to something that you could never be: like a blonde, and I died my hair blonde, and fried it. It’s this thing where you’re shape shifting to embody whichever version of perfection he’s into at that point, and then the realisation that that’s bullshit.
SS: It’s always going to be something different.
C: Yeah, and you’re always going to be the same person on the inside. And if they’re not cool with that, then fuck them.
SS: Have fashion and music always coincided for you? I know you’ve done quite a bit of modelling for some really cool brands like Asai.
C: I think so, they’ve always been things that I’m discovered in tandem with each other. You discover musical subcultures, and I remember discovering punk and being like oh this is really cool, and discovering The Slits but whatever they’re doing is tied in with what they’re wearing. And I used to go to the library a lot and just get books and books and books on different designers or subcultures just because I really like visual things and I like learning about everything and anything. So, you realise how much everything is tied in with music, even political movements, how much they’re tied in with music, so even in that, there’s always going to be something to do with what people are wearing and what they’re about at the time, what they’re saying and what they’re feeling. You realise how much it’s part of someone’s … even just being a woman and changing from … I was reading this feminist essay from like 1963, just charting small changes in what you wear, and how slowly that also is symbolic of freeing your mind and I think always comes with music too.
SS: I was going to say, you have really great visuals, can you tell me about your visual creative process?
C: I always have hard drives and hard drives of research, I’ll go to picture reference libraries and I’ll compile everything, because then I know at some point, if I have a song that needs this, this and this I know I can just go into the hard drive. So I’ll spend days and days doing that. Then there’ll always be something around the music, how you feel, I feel that always colours what you’re going to work with. So, I’ll just do that and then I’ll make loads of boards, and then I’ll print everything out and put it on the wall. I like doing everything by hand still. You can do it on the computer, but when you actually have the different references in your hand you know what you want to keep.
SS: It’s easier to move things around and edit down.
C: Exactly I can say, oh this goes together. Otherwise you have to open the file zoom out and save as another version etc. so yeah, I do it like that and then from there I’ll figure out all the other pieces. I just love researching.
SS: I can tell. You’re determined to know your craft, completely inside out.
C: Yeah it’s nice to know everything that’s happened before you, because then you don’t feel … it’s reassuring to know that everything’s been done before, but then also to see how different everyone has done stuff based on their personal experience, because you may do the same thing but your experience will change how you see it.
SS: Have you read Death of the Author, by Roland Barthes, it questions the originality of an idea. It’s about text specifically, but it translates to visuals and art too. How every idea you have, everything you write, is shaped and influenced by something you’ve read before. So who is really the author of your work? It’s very interesting.
C: Yes exactly, sometimes there’ll be an artist and people will say ‘oh you sound like this person’, and you’ll say ‘I’ve never listened to that person’, but then they’ll say ‘oh you like Thin Lizzy, they listen to that.’ It makes sense. That’s the most fun thing, when you go into an Internet hole with one name, and you come out with fifty.
SS: You get a much richer understanding of what you’re listening to or what you’re looking at, in context.
SS: How close do you get to your initial vision when you’re executing an idea?
C: I feel like you never get as close as you thought you were going to get. Sometimes that’s really wonderful; sometimes it’s really frustrating. I think that was one of the biggest things that I had to learn to let go of. You can storyboard something, and you can think, this is what it’s going to sound like in my head when we’re finished producing it. And then if you get too married to that idea, then you just kill the whole thing. Because then somebody may do something amazing, someone may add in a drum sound that you didn’t want, that works, but you’re like that’s not what I wanted, and you have to let it go.
SS: Sometimes compromise can really go a long way.
C: Yeah. Which was really hard for me to do, but I’m ok with it now.
SS: Who have been your biggest influences musically?
C: So many, I think again, everything you discover one group of people you discover the whole group of people behind them. I guess my main ones have always been singers, like Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Wilson, Judy Garland, just anyone who really sings, but doesn’t sing technically well, sings with feeling. I hate technically singing that has no emotion behind it. Those are really great teachers, and then discovering great songwriters like Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, just people who write personally. It took me a really long time to get into her (Joni Mitchell) and then I listened to Little Green at some point and I was like I get it, I understand now.
SS: Who have been your biggest influences in fashion?
C: I like a lot of directors who use fashion really well, like Wong Kar-wai, Fassbender, this German director who uses clothes really well. For me, the beginning was watching films and just wanting to dress like the person in the film. So for example when I discovered Hitchcock I thought that’s cool, but the costume, like Edith Head, that’s really cool. So a lot of films and directors, costume designers. And then obvious ones like when I was growing up like John Galliano at Dior, and Tom Ford, all those kind of legends who really did sometimes, really sexy, really gorgeous and really special.
SS: Who are you excited about who’s new in music at the moment?
C: I’ve been in the studio for months so this is tough. There is someone, he’s not necessarily new, but I’ve been listening to him for a few years, his name is Dijon and his music is really special. I really like him a lot.
SS: Are there any new designers who you’re inspired by or excited about?
C: Obviously I love Asai, again he’s not necessarily new anymore but I just really love him, and I love him as a person. I love Mimi Wade, that was such a hot show, really sexy, I love all the new London guys, and I love Supriya Lele.
SS: How has it been working with Flannels?
C: Really nice. It’s really nice when people build something around you, as opposed to when you usually do a shoot. This is almost a blank canvas, for anything.
SS: Have you been involved with everything creatively?
C: Yeah we just chose the clothes together; it’s been nice and collaborative.
SS: Is styling something you’re interested in as well?
C: I actually wanted to be a stylist and I assisted for a really long time, and I was completely useless.
SS: It’s really hard!
C: The docket check, once I did the skim, and that’s the day something goes missing and you’re in the toilets crying thinking if only I could go back in time! So I wasn’t very good at that but I do style my own stuff.
SS: You know what you like.
C: Yes exactly.
SS: What can we expect from you this year?
C: Lots of music, put together in maybe a more interesting way. Lots of music, lots of very intimate music.
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