Nadia Lee Cohen is momentarily speechless. “Wow, oh wow”, she stutters. She’s just back in Los Angeles after a three-month stint in London and is distracted by the photos flooding her Instagram feed of a pregnant Rihanna wearing rocking underwear as an outerwear in a black vampire lace babydoll. “It’s very nice,” she says. “If anyone else pregnant is wearing something like this, people will say they copied Rihanna.”
And Cohen, 29, knows an image that captures the zeitgeist when he sees one.
A master at creating eye-catching aesthetics, the Essex-born photographer, model, director and all-around fashion girl has become the muse of the It crowd. Her CV looks like a pop culture dream landscape. She modeled for Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty label (“Rihanna is a super woman; she can’t go wrong. It was really cool to work with her”), directed music videos for A $ AP Rocky, and Tyler, the creator, was personally chosen by creative director Daniel Roseberry as the face of Schiaparelli, he created a short film for the fashion house Maison Margiela and shot an advertising campaign for Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand Skims. Most recently, Cohen is making headlines thanks to an Interview magazine cover photo shoot featuring billionaire Kardashian. Of the shoot, Kim said, “Working with Nadia Lee [Cohen]—We live so well when we shoot together. She is the first photographer I have worked with at full capacity. The team said “No jockstrap”. And I’m like, “Come on. This is what I do. “I do best when I ignore them and do what I want. So, I’m glad I did.”
“Kim is really sweet, very kind and easy to work with,” she says. “She didn’t even want to see the photos, she was happy with whatever was going on and I was really surprised.” I too am shocked, I say, that the self-taught billionaire whose image can go viral in minutes has been so apathetic. “Well, she knows how to work her body; she knows her angles of her and how to stand, “says Cohen.” Because she’s been photographed so much, she knows. And she’s beautiful, so you can’t really take a bad picture of her. “
However, there are limits to working with someone that famous. “My first idea for the shoot was something completely different, which I would have preferred to do. I wanted to do something on the spot with Kim but, for what she is, you can’t just get her somewhere and shoot. He is very, very strict. You must be in a studio or have the relative security. “
This glittering and celebrity-filled life in Los Angeles is a long way from Cohen’s rural childhood on an Essex farm with his Israeli father, British mom (“he’s of Ukrainian descent – thankfully, he has no family in Ukraine anymore, everyone moved to England a generation ago, but I can’t even believe what’s going on there. It’s really scary “) and an older brother. “My upbringing was very wild. I was a little girl in the mud who didn’t brush her hair and didn’t wear girl’s clothes. It was a very isolated education. “
It was a copy of French Vogue that happened to her on a family vacation that sparked the beginning of her obsession with creating images. “I think that’s when I realized how exciting images can be, and fashion images in particular.” Until then, as a child of the 90s, it had been a different kind of glamor that had attracted her. “I’ve always been experimental with my teenage looks, but in the wrong ways,” she laughs.
“I was very, very Essex. I thought moms in school were really glamorous with their fake tan, fake boobs, hair extensions … That was glamorous to me as a teenager. They were very much the wives of the footballers, Jodie Marsh and Katie Price, whom I still love. I grew up in that era “.
Do you get nervous working with the biggest names on the planet? “I only get really nervous when I feel unprepared, but usually when I’m working on a project I tend to get pretty obsessed with whatever it is; so I usually feel ready. I got nervous with Sophia Loren (Cohen directed a short film called Dinner’s Ready for streetwear brand GCDS), but only because my camera broke. “
It has been less than 10 years since Cohen graduated from London College of Fashion. Her instantly recognizable work – stylized heyday of Hollywood shots that have been described as “veritable visions of saturated and surreal dream landscapes” – has since garnered critical acclaim and has been included in the prestigious portrait award. Taylor Wessing of the National Portrait Gallery when she was only 21 years old.
Her first photography book, Women, contains 100 photos of women, including Alexa Demie and Charli XCX of Euphoria, in various states of undressing and comes with a foreword by famed photographer Ellen von Unwerth. “I wanted to achieve a state of stripping without it being sexual,” says Cohen of the project, which has been in the works for six years. “I had to ask people what they were comfortable with and say ‘you can show all you want.’ It was different from everyone: some people showed nothing and others much more. “
Cohen herself often appears half-naked in the countryside and on her Instagram. Where does this openness with nudity come from? “I feel comfortable being naked and I think it’s because I struggled with ugly skin in my teens, but I’ve always felt comfortable with myself under my neck. I think it has to do with something deeply rooted. I love it when I see people feeling comfortable with whatever body they have, so if I have to take that kind of pictures of other people, maybe it would be hypocritical if I didn’t take them that way too.
“Obviously I don’t love everything about my body – I don’t actively try to be that thin, I have a thyroid problem which was a struggle. I have insecurities, like all of us, but you get to a stage where you accept what you have. “
A limited run of his second photography book was released in December, and the second edition hit shelves this month. Hello My Name Is… is a series of self-portraits in which Cohen embodies 33 different characters and is already sold out. Copies of the first edition are flogged on eBay for £ 250.
Next up is his debut photo exhibition in Los Angeles, a feature film (“I’m writing a script with my brother; it’s a dark comedy”) and a music video with someone “so great, I wish I could tell you but I” had to sign. a thousand non-disclosure agreements.
Meanwhile, Cohen is trying to limit the time he spends on Instagram. “I got to a point where I realized I was doing more on Instagram than I was doing in real life. So I thought it would be better to do things in real life and then the content will be there. “
His strategy paid off: he has half a million followers, including some of the biggest names on the planet. “Do I have a lot of high profile followers?” she asks, not quite believing it. They rattle off: Grimes, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Emma Corrin, Sophie Turner. “Oh wow,” she says. “It looks different now.”
He continues: “I recently showed up – that’s the last thing I’d expect to do – it’s not very British! But there is something. It’s working, all the things I’ve written are happening.