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Porter
Art of Style

The SS21 trend report, starring Cosima

London-based singer-songwriter COSIMA is making waves with her soulful, raw sound and garnering adoration from some of fashion’s biggest names. Modeling SS21’s most exciting trends, she talks to MEGAN LOGUE about deeply personal songwriting, her magical performance at Valentino’s latest show and how she has fun with fashion

Photography Olivia LifungulaStyling Sabina Khan
Fashion

Cosima Ehni, known simply as Cosima, might be pegged as an up-and-coming artist, but the London-based singer-songwriter is an old soul at heart. In fact, the first piece of music she remembers feeling truly moved by was an a cappella recording by Tracy Chapman – a suitably anachronistic choice for the 26-year-old. It was the raw nature of this record that made a lasting impression on Cosima. “I was forced to listen to the voice [and] what that voice was saying; from then on, it was always voices and lyrics that I was really into. Over time, I started to appreciate everything else that goes with it.” By her own admission, this fascination with texture, tone and truth has significantly shaped Cosima’s own distinct sound. “It goes back to how I discovered music; it’s very much defined by my voice. That, plus the fact I am very honest – for better or for worse!”

Soul-baring is a phrase often used to describe autobiographical music, but Cosima can’t help but laugh when she explains that, for her, the process of writing is almost more revelatory than cathartic. “I figure out a lot of stuff that way. There can be situations that I am completely confused by, but as soon as I go about putting it into a song, I start to understand. By the end, I’m like, ‘Oh, so that’s how you really feel…’” It’s because Cosima pours so much of herself into her work that she’s so protective of it. In 2016, she parted ways with her record label and launched her own, South of Heaven, ensuring she would retain complete ownership and creative control of her oeuvre. “My life has been changed by so many B-sides. We’re living in a time when those lesser-known records are seen as weak songs, but they can move people in a different way. I wanted to create an environment where I could explore and experiment in that way. I think when you rob artists of that process, you rob them of the ability to grow, and I don’t want anyone to be able to do that to me.”

I’ve always thought of fashion as a form of escapism; to me, clothes represent everything from armor and disguise to fantasy

At the age of 18, when Cosima came to the realization that singing, as opposed to styling, was her vocation, she upped sticks and left south London for the suburbs of Hamburg, where she moved in with her grandparents, worked on her voice and found the headspace to write. “I feel like, if you’re 17 in London and want to make music, within a year, you could be a commercially viable product. My experience was very lonely, but also exactly what I needed. You sometimes have to sit with yourself to really understand yourself.” Of course, this self-sufficiency took on a whole new meaning in 2020. “I didn’t really stop working last year. My work has always been very DIY; I found ways to carry on.”

In fact, this month, Cosima ticked off one of her all-time career goals – providing the soundscape to Pier Paolo Piccioli’s FW21 Valentino collection, presented in Milan’s Piccolo Teatro. For Cosima, the thrill came not just from collaborating with one of her favorite brands, but working alongside other musicians to bring Piccioli’s collection to life. “I was quarantining for two weeks beforehand, just in my hotel room, listening to string parts and arrangements” – fitting for an artist who compulsively listened to Billie Holiday’s The Complete Decca Recordings at just 12 years of age. “After a year of having such minimal interaction with other musicians, it felt especially magical that we got to put on such a performance.”

Fresh from that emotive show and the release of her career-defining debut album, The Fun Is Here?, the pioneering artist and fearless dresser spoke to PORTER about SS21’s biggest trends and how she’ll be styling them this season…

This image, and opening image: Cosima wears jacket, dress, bag, and sandals, all Bottega Veneta

Joyful dressing

“I’ve always thought of fashion as a form of escapism; to me, clothes represent everything from armor and disguise to fantasy. I remember learning to make a pillbox hat when I was a kid because I was obsessed with Jackie Kennedy, and I just felt like I was transported from Peckham [south-east London] the moment I put it on. This gorgeous Bottega Veneta two-piece suit really reminds me of Edith Head’s amazing costumes. I feel like this level of coordination is quite old world in a way – it’s so sharp it makes you feel ready for anything. When it comes to uplifting design, another label I love is Christopher John Rogers. His pieces are so playful, they’re pure joy – that sense of fun is so refreshing.”

Gold bracelet, Bottega Veneta; dress, Christopher John Rogers; bag, Chloé; silver necklace, Bottega Veneta
You could be wearing the ‘sexiest’ dress on the planet, but if it doesn’t make you feel good, it just won’t work
Dress, and earrings, both Versace; bra top (just seen), Jason Wu

Hot tropics

“This sleek Versace dress just feels like summer – and is the perfect party piece. I find this dress really sexy, but I think what’s interesting about that concept is how subjective it is. You could be wearing the ‘sexiest’ dress on the planet, but if it doesn’t make you feel good, it just won’t work. Sexy dressing is about finding pieces that really complement you – for some people that means a piece that’s totally backless, while for others it’s just a flash of the collarbone. For some women, patterns and prints can be a bit daunting – especially if, like me, you have big boobs or curves. But, most of the time, I’ll try a piece on and just realize it looks great – and that all that drama was for nothing. Black clothes used to dominate my closet but, I think, as you get older, you become a bit less self-conscious and want to have more fun with your style.”

Star and shell earrings, both Versace; pink bag, Jacquemus
I like to make my outfit feel special… the only person you should be making an effort for is yourself
Pants, and top, both Stella McCartney; sneakers, Adidas Originals
Bag, Loewe

Low-key luxe

“I have always been a bit of a ‘drama dresser’; even if I’m just hanging out at home, I like to make my outfit feel special. I think that’s something a lot of people can sympathize with after a year of lockdown. It also makes you realize that the only person you should be making an effort for is yourself. As a musician, I spend a lot of time in the studio, so comfort has always been key for me; but, when I’m recording vocals, I want to feel snazzy, so there’s always some high-octane element.”

Ultimately, you have to speak to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love
Top, and pants, both Valentino

Spot on

“Polka dots are playful and elegant, all at once. I love that they feel beautiful in a classic way, but also have a sense of humor – when I want to do some sartorial time traveling, I always opt for polka dots. To me, they’re reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s costumes in The Seven Year Itch, or those of other icons of the cinema like Sophia Loren. This silky look is amazing because it feels put-together and special, but not restrictive. It’s also super-versatile; depending on how you style it, this outfit works for everything from meetings to parties and vacations – when all those things are allowed. For now, I’ll have to settle for wearing it for a walk!”

Sandals, Valentino
When I want to do some sartorial time traveling, I always opt for polka dots
Dress, Loewe; sandals, Khaite; necklace, Alessandra Rich

The feminine mystique

“I love the contrasts of this Loewe gown – the silhouette is so sleek, but the sleeves bring a period-drama style element. It’s so elegant, like something Greta Garbo would wear. To keep this piece feeling youthful and fresh, I’d style it with really natural makeup and a low-key bun. It took me a while to embrace my looks but, at some point, you just realize that you can waste a lot of time and happiness by living that way. It’s hard to talk about self-acceptance, because we all have different levels of privilege in terms of how we fit into conventional standards of beauty. Ultimately, you have to speak to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love.”

All jewelry, Alessandra Rich; dress, Loewe
Constant consumption just isn’t in my nature. I’d rather buy one amazing piece and wear it forever

The forever piece

“Growing up, it wasn’t possible for me to go shopping every weekend, so that kind of constant consumption just isn’t in my nature. I’d rather buy one amazing piece and wear it forever. This gorgeous leather dress by Salvatore Ferragamo is the kind of statement piece that you know will always make you look and feel great, every time you wear it. It would have been considered sexy 30, 20, 10 and even five years ago, and if you flash forward five or 10 years it still will be – it’s timeless. Pairing it with chunky sandals is perfect for me – I love a sturdy shoe. I don’t do well in stilettos!”

Bag, Loewe; bracelet, and earrings, both Bottega Veneta
Leather dress, Salvatore Ferragamo; flip flops, Alaïa