Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming: Model, Hedi Slimane Muse and (Most Importantly) Kind

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“It’s scary to be earnest, but if you do something with your whole heart, there’s nothing to be scared of. If you are truly following yourself, there’s nothing to run from.”

It makes sense that fashion and music are so interconnected. After all, are there any other professions more concerned with projecting an image? Maybe politics? Actually, it’s kind of a wonder there aren’t more politicians who used to rock. (We see you, Beto.) You see a lot of rock stars coupling with models and fashion houses partnering with musicians. And if you want to talk about each industry’s influence on the other, it’s basically a chicken-egg scenario.

What you don’t see often enough, though, is models making music. And you see even fewer who are as good as Julia Cumming. At both. As the lead singer (and bassist) of the Brooklyn-based garage rock trio Sunflower Bean, Cumming—who since 2014 has modelled for Anna Sui, Max Mara and especially Saint Laurent, where she was seen as Hedi Slimane’s muse—travels seamlessly between the runway and rocking out. (The band’s latest EP, King of the Dudes, dropped earlier this year.) Oh, and you better believe she’s political.

“Modelling and being involved in fashion have given me some incredible opportunities and also the chance to share some things I’m passionate about—like activism—with a different crowd,” she explains. She gives the example of a video she wrote and directed for Models.com that starred models (naturally) and explained how to call Congress. “As long as you do what you do authentically, there’s no reason modelling and activism can’t work together.”

Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean
Photography by Brent Goldsmith. Styling by Juliana Schiavinatto. Hair, Yoichi Tomizawa for Art Department/Bumble & Bumble. Makeup, Yuui for M.A.C. Fashion assistant, Dani Morales. Photography assistant, Ariel Sadok. Model, Julia Cumming for Wilhelmina.

And, actually, that may be the most impressive thing about Cumming: not that she can be a multi-hyphenate— it’s not even that she’s so damned accomplished in all of her careers; it’s that she considers doing all of it as just part of being her authentic self. Most people’s authentic selves enjoy staying in bed. “When we are writing as Sunflower Bean, we are all bringing our ideas and references to the table to make something original,” she says.

“We all have different tastes, and when we share them with each other, it becomes bigger than just us. It’s our artwork we make together. Authenticity comes from your heart, and that’s what people hear and connect with.”

Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean
Photography by Brent Goldsmith. Styling by Juliana Schiavinatto. Hair, Yoichi Tomizawa for Art Department/Bumble & Bumble. Makeup, Yuui for M.A.C. Fashion assistant, Dani Morales. Photography assistant, Ariel Sadok. Model, Julia Cumming for Wilhelmina.

If that seems awfully earnest, especially for a rock star, it totally is. It’s not just in how she answers questions in interviews either. Sunflower Bean’s music can be searching, or sad or a celebration, but, above all, it’s honest. That’s part of being authentic, too. “Irony has never been that interesting to me in the context of songwriting,” says Cumming.

“I’ve always wanted the same things, which are to record and perform music and to survive. I will say that I learn so much, all the time. Every year, I feel a little more capable of living in this crazy world!”

“We have always wanted our music to feel more tangible than just the moment you hear it, not something that feels like it’s going to blow away. It’s scary to be earnest, but if you do something with your whole heart, there’s nothing to be scared of. If you are truly following yourself, there’s nothing to run from.” But there are things to run—like her activist community, Anger Can Be Power, or, you know, the world. If she wants it.

“I’ve always wanted the same things, which are to record and perform music and to survive. I will say that I learn so much, all the time. Every year, I feel a little more capable of living in this crazy world!”

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