Dua Lipa's hairstylist Anna Cofone explores the relationship between natural ingredients, colour therapy and mental health in a new shoot with Dazed Beauty contributing editor Athena Paginton
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
Anna Cofone has always been inspired by the glamour of old school Hollywood and fascinated by the fantasy of fashion. Born in England to southern Italian parents, growing up the hair stylist would watch, in awe, actresses like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale on Italian television, and spend all her pocket money on issues of Vogue Italia. “I was inspired by the way that a fashion story could take you somewhere else and how you could see the same models but in a completely different way depending on who the stylist, hair, and make-up artists were,” she says. “And the idea that the body, face and hair can be the most empowering and transformative canvas.”
After training in hair, Cofone moved to London and began assisting the likes of Sam McKnight and Eugene Souleiman at fashion weeks. Soon after, she was introduced to a young, still unsigned, singer with whom she embarked on a seven year working relationship. The singer was Lana del Rey and the rest, as they say, was history. Cofone was behind the old school glamour of del Rey’s looks in music videos for “Born to Die,” “Ride,” and “National Anthem” with A$AP Rocky. It was Cofone who did the beautiful bouncy hair on the Born to Die album cover and del Rey’s hair in her Dazed cover shoot. Most recently, she has been working with Dua Lipa, giving her the striking bob she’s been sporting of late as well as the dreamy, supersized bouffant the singer rocked at the Met Gala earlier this week.
Beginning to move on from the old Hollywood glamour she creates for Lana, Anna is now experimenting with more graphic textured looks, for example at Bianca Saunders AW19 show where she used different fabrics to add to the shapes and texture. For her recent shoot with Dazed Beauty contributing beauty editor Athena Paginton, the two were inspired by the power of colour therapy and the benefits of whole foods, creating a beauty story using dyes made out of natural ingredients. Here we find out more about the shoot and Cofone’s inspirations and career.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Anna Cofone: Not really but the one memory that springs to mind was when I was about seven years old and a friend of the family gave me a really boyish haircut with a jagged short fridge (not such a great look to wear to school in Maidenhead) and my sisters called me Frankenstein. I think once the shock had worn off I actually loved it. I was really cheeky with it and remember feeling empowered. I guess for seven year old me it meant being different to all the other girls in my school.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Anna Cofone: My dad had impeccable style, my mum too but she was more discerning. I can also remember travelling to Italy every summer and being sat in Roma Termini Station just watching women and men going about their day but just dressed so beautifully. I bought my first Vogue Italia there and just remember falling in love with every page. It’s all I would spend my pocket money on, every new issue I’d be so excited to see what the fashion stories would be like and which models would be in them. My favourite stories were the ones by Paolo Roversi and Peter Lindbergh and I just absolutely loved Linda Cantello and Julien D’Ys aesthetic and how they could transform models like Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Nadja Auermann, Audrey Marnay into such different characters.
I listened to a lot of Madonna. I loved what she represented and how she became the voice for so many people. I appreciated her style, her courage and conviction but found myself drawn to a more understated aesthetic – Comme des Garçons, Hussein Chalayan, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Margiela, Alaia... the simplicity of the cuts, the graphic lines, the fabrics, the colours.
Why are you a hairstylist? What made you want to become one?
Anna Cofone: Probably subconsciously being called Frankenstein. But really it was the power of imagery and, going back to the early Italian Vogues, the way that a fashion story could take you somewhere else and how you could see the same models but in a completely different way depending on who the stylist, hair, and make-up artists were. The idea that the body, face and hair can be the most empowering and transformative canvas.
How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft?
Anna Cofone: While studying performing arts, part of the course covered theatre hair and make-up, which lead me to want to explore it further. Through a series of events, I ended up training under the director Eamonn Borham who was one of the owners of the salon group Harrington’s. I was so lucky to have been trained by him alongside other amazing hair cutters including Esti Carton, Darren Baines, and Louise Maxwell. Through their guidance and support, I qualified within a year and ten months and during that time I got to assist Eamonn and the art team on all the photographic shoots for the salon group.
I worked my way up to art director and within that time won the L’Oreal under 25 hairdresser of the year and it was that really that triggered the interest again in editorial hair. I left Harrington’s and moved to London to pursue a freelance career as a session stylist and got my first opportunity to assist at London Fashion Week with Sam McKnight and then Eugene Souleiman. I assisted them at London, Milan and Paris Fashion Week for three years, whilst also testing with different photographers and stylists. At the beginning of 2011, I got asked to shoot with an artist, a singer called Lana Del Rey. Shortly after, she signed her first record deal and that was the start of a seven-year relationship.
Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Anna Cofone: I can remember feeling so nervous about my skills and if I’d learnt enough, I guess I went through a kind of imposter syndrome. The work we were doing was on such a global scale and I didn’t feel worthy of the opportunity. I have always been so self-critical of my work and at the forefront of my thoughts, wanted to do right by my peers especially to those who had taught me so much. Sam McKnight, Eugene Souleiman, Malcolm Edwards, Julien D’Ys, Samantha Hillerby. It was through them that I learnt the importance of mastering technique and process and I guess over time I’ve developed my own style which is a combination of that and also the things that inspire me.
It’s become instinctual. Like with anything in life, you learn the rules and then you can break them and that’s when it becomes instinctual – when you trust your ability enough to break the boundaries.
Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Anna Cofone: The creative process really depends on what the platform is, for example, the process for the video “National Anthem” involved weeks of planning, research and working out how literal it needed to be. There’s no set way of how I research, sometimes it starts with a thought, other times it will start with referencing a particular photographer, time or political/social movement. I guess at this point in my career I’ve learnt to trust my instincts. I believe in the beauty of being inspired once you’re in the moment because sometimes all the planning can lead to conditioning and a set idea, that isn’t necessarily right when it comes to the day of shooting. And so I always try to hold back and leave some of the creative process to just happen.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to “beauty”?
Anna Cofone: Beauty for me has always been about what is the story. What are we (meaning the team: photographer, director, artist, stylist, make-up artist) trying to portray. Who is the character and what is the message? Beauty is in line with what the story needs to be, so if the hair needs to be what could be perceived as ugly in order to support the story then in that lies beauty.
Tell us a bit about your recent collaboration with Athena Paginton. What was the inspiration and concept behind the shoot?
Anna Cofone: I’ve known Athena for several years now and have always been inspired by her commitment to mental health awareness and sustainability. The story was inspired by a conversation we had about my dad who suffered from a degenerative disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, and the power of colour therapy for people with a disability and how in turn the use of colour can benefit a person's mental health. For a number of years now, I’ve been interested in whole foods and how important these are to our physical health which has a direct impact on our mental health and so it led me to this idea of seeing, exploring and researching what whole foods have a strong colour pigment once juiced. I got different fruits, vegetables, spices, juiced them and then used that to dye pieces of hair to see what the colour effect was. We then worked with my longtime friend and collaborator Felicity Ingram and also set designer Lianna Fowler to create a beauty story focused on the colours that came from the whole food ingredients.
Why was using natural ingredients important to you?
Anna Cofone: I think that we are a fast moving society, fast fashion, fast social media, fast food, and although I’m not educated in this field I do believe that together they have had a huge impact on the rise in mental illness. I’m an advocate of eating whole foods, exercising, holistic therapies and using nature to heal yourself where possible. It also comes from feeling like maybe I could have done more to help my dad with his mental health if I’d known about these things at the time and a desire to hopefully make a positive difference in other people’s lives now that I am more aware, even if just to my closest friends.
What should a hairstyle bring to a look?
Anna Cofone: I think it’s important that all elements are cohesive. For me, clothes have always been important. The stories that the pieces tell should be supported by the hair and make-up and that’s how I always approach any editorial, video shoot, campaign shoot or runway shows. Understanding what the photographer/director/designer/stylist need to portray.
What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Anna Cofone: I’ve taken lessons from everyone I assisted but I think the most important thing that keeps coming up for me, even now, is never stop learning..and always believing that you get out what you put in.. I know some people may think it’s an overused cliche but I really do believe in it.
What is the future of beauty?
Anna Cofone: I think the future of beauty is leaning toward natural and scaling back a bit. And going back to what fashion stories always were for me which was storytelling as opposed to what they have become now, which is about selling product.