Interview with singer Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin Artist Profile / NY /
By Rory Winston
Photos by Michael Loccisano for Getty Images
Jewelry by Homage from Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin for Sintessi Fine Jewelry Clothing by Maggie Norris
The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you,” stated Gloria Vanderbilt, the renowned artist and designer. The implications of this statement are evident when it comes to both her career as well as that of her remarkably gifted young cousin, the singer-songwriter Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin – a direct descendant of the late great Cornelius Vanderbilt. In a sense, Consuelo has made a name for herself despite her surname’s financial legacy. I use the word ‘despite’ because we often begrudge those born into privileged circumstances of the accolades their art might otherwise merit. In an effort to distinguish artistic gravitas from monetary gain, we’ve romanticized hardship till it smacks of posthumous critical acclaim while erroneously associating poverty with the inception of creativity. Though history is replete with iconic figures the likes of Goethe, Lord Byron and Elizabeth Barrett Browning whose not-so-humble respective origins did little to dampen their poetic gifts, our mystification of the ‘suffering artist’ continues well into this century. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of pop music where ‘Street Cred’ has, sadly enough, become synonymous with ‘profundity born of dire circumstances.’
Still, despite the PR value of an underprivileged background, it’s hard to deny exceptional talents like Carly Simon on the grounds that her father co-founded the Simon and Schuster Empire. Nor would it be savvy to underplay the value of Lily Allen or Julian Casablancas (of The Strokes) simply because of their good upbringing. Likewise, it would be insane to ignore the most recent singer-songwriter discovery to take center stage in the form of Consuelo Costin – the heiress related to Consuelo Vanderbilt the 9th Duchess of Marlborough, who could easily have followed in her family’s legacy of being a debutante.
Taking the road ‘less traveled,’ Consuelo has altered the course of her life and made all the difference to the millions of fans who now regularly enjoy her music. With her first dance hit single Naked having peaked at #11 in the Billboard charts and her follow-up single Feel So Alive hitting #2 spot for Breakout Artist of the year, it did not take long before Consuelo’s recent Here We Go garnered the attention of US and European DJ’s alike, thrusting her to #11 on the UK Commercial Pop top 30, German DOC top 40, US Dance Billboard top 15 and a myriad of other chart-topping categories.
Although born in New York, Consuelo spent her formative years in London where she attended boarding school and understood firsthand what it meant to be bullied. “I was an outsider of sorts, teased quite a bit,” she admits with a charmingly self-effacing smile. “In those days, music became a refuge. I recall putting on my headphones and escaping into a different world – one that was far from the taunting, immune to what others were saying. I understood then music was a powerful coping mechanism. It’s one of the reasons I still write music to this day – to give others that same sense of protection, an emotional space in which they can hide.” That the little girl who once fell asleep listening to Madonna’s Cherish still spends a great deal of her time devoted to supporting gay rights is in no small part thanks to her belief in music’s ability to bring solace while simultaneously delivering a valuable message. Having performed two years in a row at Washington D.C.’s Capital Pride, she is aware of the potential that performers have when it comes to uniting people and fostering awareness and understanding.
“By 17, I had moved from London to Florence,” explains Consuelo; “Two years later I was performing with a German rock band.” Her insouciant reveries take a more pensive turn. “I had a bad car accident at the age of 19 and if it wasn’t for my mother…” she pauses in an effort to avoid tears before willing herself to continue at full throttle: “The point is she supported me and it was my mom who made me more determined than ever. A year or so later and I already had my first contract.” It was also shortly after this time that; tragically, Consuelo’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “I wrote Better Days as a tribute to her,” explains Consuelo. The American Cancer Society ended up licensing the song while proceeds from her other single Find A Way were donated to the Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater California, an organization in which Consuelo retains her role as Vice President. To this day, she maintains a close relationship with many charities, donating much of her time to fundraisers while also performing regularly for a battery of worthy causes.
“While I love collaborating with other artists” (a fact that is evident after her recent work with producer Peter Amato of Miley Cyrus, Ricky Martin and LeAnn Rimes renowned), states Consuelo, “If I wouldn’t have need to write, I wouldn’t be singing. Every song I do is based on my own experiences… they are literally ripped from the pages of my journals. So while I am enthralled with the notion of putting on a big show, having catchy hooks, working with exceptional talents and making a real connection with an audience, it’s equally important that I am expressing something real, something that is an integral part of my very soul.”
And Consuelo’s soul certainly seems to go a long way. Here We Go remains an evocative celebration of living in the moment whether that means getting down and dirty on a dance floor or simply having some raunchy fun. As for Feel So Alive, it is a timeless paean to the inexplicable magic of love and all the romance associated with the heightened mood. “To be honest,” Consuelo ebulliently states, “I had become obsessed with the Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers classics – that era, the unself-conscious over-the-top romanticism of that world, the classy headiness and beauty of it all… and, well, it inspired the idea for that song.”
Having shared the stage with legendary artists like Joe Cocker, Vanessa Carlton and notables such as Mya and Tweet, Consuelo went on to touring the South of France, being on Germany’s ZDF Show, and, more recently, appearing on Taft-Rockin’ Berlin which aired on Pro 7, the country’s largest TV station earning the network a record 5 million viewers. With an estimated 50+ million listeners in countries as varied as USA, UK, Germany, France, Vietnam, Mexico, China, and Brazil – just to mention a few – it is clear Consuelo’s success is far from abating.
“The truth is I am as comfortable with large audiences as I am with more intimate venues,” reflects Consuelo with a girlie shrug. Her idiosyncratic approach to her art ensures that she is forever engulfed in numerous projects and thrives under a chaotic schedule. “One minute, I’m there singing God Bless America at Dodgers Stadium and the next I’m performing at Fashion Week in NY and LA. Yes, they’re very different audiences but change is challenging.”
It is not surprising that Consuelo had begun her own label, C&R Productions as far back as 2011. She is also collaborating with jeweler Michel Piranesi of Sintessi Fine Jewelry to create Homage, a classic diamond and pearl jewelry collection inspired by her great grandmother, Consuelo Vanderbilt Earl, slated to debut this June, as well as taking on a role as a philanthropic ambassador for Mercedes Benz fragrance. It is clear that Consuelo is at her best when multitasking. Like Gloria Vanderbilt whose interdisciplinary approach to life made it possible for her to be an artist, designer, author, actress as well as a socialite, Consuelo seems well on her way to receiving the level of fame that is earned rather than inherited. Listening to Consuelo’s recent releases, one can hear that she is less to the manor born than someone who has been reborn.