What do Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, and Judy Garland have in common? Besides them being absolute musical legends who have left an indelible mark upon our culture, they have all been a source of inspiration for Cosima, who re-imagines them, as well as Barbra Streisand, Nancy Wilson, and Karen Carpenter, in a new shoot with photographer and BRICK Magazine editor Hayley Louisa Brown.
The south London singer first caught our attention back in 2017 with her romantic, soulful sound and intimate songwriting. Since then she has been busy, working with a diverse series of collaborators, from Pierpaolo Piccioli to God Colony, and releasing her latest EP The Fun Is Here? earlier this year. A genre-bending record, it is not surprising that Cosima counts such a wide range of artists and musicians among her influences. It was this variation that sparked the idea in Brown for the shoot.
Over lockdown, Cosima was posting the eclectic selection of artists she was listening to, everyone from Crystal Gayle to Frank Ocean, on Instagram when Brown reached out about doing a shoot where the singer embodied her musical icons. While the pair had worked together several times over the years, including for BRICK, Brown had always wanted to shoot a personal project with Cosima and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
After firing references back and forth, “Kevyn Aucoin’s Face Forward book was key,” Brown says, they settled on a list of names and got to work. The result is a simple but striking series of images and a short film of Cosima performing acapella as each icon. Photographed by Brown, with styling by Keeley J Dawson, and Gabriel de Fries, Grace Ellington and Sylvie Macmillan on beauty, Cosima’s transformations are both powerful, precise, and subtle. These are not the broad, caricatured portrayals of a Vegas tribute act. Rather, Cosima draws on the essence of each artist, giving a nuanced performance that embodies their spirit while still retaining her own.
“I didn’t want to lose Cosima completely,” Brown explains of their decision to go in this direction. “It wasn’t about making her vanish but actually amplifying her presence through the lens of her inspirations.”
To hold focus on Cosima’s face and performance, and the work of the beauty team, Brown kept the backdrops clean and consistent – a solid constant, she says, against the wildly changing face in front of the camera. When it came to the film, they were rigorous in keeping the cropping consistent, so that the only changes the audience notice are the subtle shifts in tone and movement for each characterisation, which Brown says Cosima fully committed to.
“I loved seeing her step out of the dressing room each time. As Dolly she couldn’t stop smiling, and as Barbra she was demure and graceful.” It was Judy Garland, however, that Brown feels was really the standout performance. “Cosima embodies the delicate underlying sadness and dignity of Judy so beautifully, I really see her spirit in those pictures.”
In the end, what the film and images convey – outside of Cosima’s incredible vocal talents – is that what elevates someone from a successful artist to a musical icon often is that instantly recognisable trademark look. The visual impact, as Brown puts it, of their public persona, a style legacy that the whole world can recognise and emulate.
“I bleached my hair as a teenager because I wanted to look like Courtney Love (it was not a success), and there are so many other instances of finding myself through the musicians I listened to and looked at, growing up,” she says. “So bringing those pop culture nods into my work is always something I love being able to do.”
Photography HAYLEY LOUISA BROWN, styling KEELEY J DAWSON, hair GABRIEL DE FRIES using Haar Vital wigs and Bumble and Bumble, make-up GRACE ELLINGTON, nails SYLVIE MACMILLAN, D.o.P MAX CUTTING, sound JOEL NEALE, editing TAYLOR LAMB, production CHARLOTTE BEARDOW @ DARLING CREATIVES, lighting assistants RORY COLE and CHARLIE ROBSON, hand prints LABYRINTH PHOTOGRAPHIC