Net-A-Porter:
Camila Cabello Cover Story

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

If there was a song that was the insis­tent sound of 2017, one that pulsed from siz­zling vaca­tion resorts, trailed from car win­dows in city traf­fic jams and hummed from the lips of the woman sat next to you on the train, it was Havana – a Latin-tinged pop banger that tells of a suave Cuban lover who stole the singer’s heart. Who was behind it? Camila Cabello. After three years as part of The X Factor-pro­duced girl band Fifth Harmony, the singer struck out on her own at the end of 2016 and has been on a path to pop infamy ever since.

Born Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao in Cojímar in Cuba, Cabello spent the first few years of her life bounc­ing between there and Mexico City, before her family set­tled in Miami when she was five years old. I don’t really remem­ber what [that time] was like, but I feel like it has totally shaped the way that I am as a person,” says Cabello of her upbring­ing. Dressed in a black DKNY hoodie and match­ing leg­gings, 20-year-old Cabello is foun­da­tion-free, just the rem­nants of some smoky eye­liner and mas­cara to hint at her usu­ally glam­orous appear­ance. It’s a fright­en­ingly cold New York day, and she is hud­dled next to a gas heater in a rustic Staten Island town­house. There are char­ac­ter­is­tics [about me] that are super-Latin,” she con­tin­ues. My par­ents don’t think that any­thing is that big of a deal because they went through so much strug­gle to get where they are. So when­ever I’m like, Ooh, I’m so ner­vous, I’m about to per­form,’ they’re like, Cut the c**p. You’ll be OK.’”

Cabello describes her­self in for­ma­tive years as kind of invis­i­ble in school, very shy. If ever I sang, it was just to my family; I wasn’t in any of the music classes [at school]. So, when I first audi­tioned for The X Factor and made it and my audi­tion finally appeared on tele­vi­sion, every­body in my school was like, What the hell?!’ because they had no idea that I sang.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

At 15, a deter­mined Cabello and her family trav­eled to North Carolina to attend The X Factor audi­tions. She made it through as an alter­nate, only to be rebuffed by the show’s pro­duc­ers. But a chance encounter back­stage with impre­sario Simon Cowell changed her fate. Cabello was allowed to audi­tion and was put together with fellow solo singers Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane and Lauren Jauregui to form Fifth Harmony.

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

The band placed third in the real­ity TV com­pe­ti­tion, a fact that seemed to have little bear­ing on their chart suc­cess – an American Music Award, White House per­for­mances and over 1.6 bil­lion on-demand streams are just a few of the band’s career high­lights. Rumors swirled about dis­cord in the group, but Cabello says her exit was about spread­ing her wings rather than any­thing mali­cious. With the expe­ri­ences we had being in the studio, I became super-curi­ous about song­writ­ing and it was around the time – I think it was the second year that I was with the group – that I wanted to start song­writ­ing for other people,” she says. But once I was old enough to expe­ri­ence my first kiss, or the first time that I went out on a date, I began writ­ing songs about it, and I didn’t want to give them away to any­body else because they were about me. I was find­ing my voice, and with it, I found the pas­sion that gives you a deeper mean­ing.”

Being in Fifth Harmony, she promises, was an essen­tial, pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence. Man, it shaped me entirely. I would not be the person that I am right now; I would not have been ready for this,” she says. I feel like being part of a group teaches you so many things about your­self, iron­i­cally. And it also brings out this healthy com­pe­ti­tion, you know what I mean? You never want to be the one that sucks.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

After she made her exit in December 2016, Cabello released her first solo single, Crying in the Club, which per­formed mod­estly com­pared to the imme­di­ate suc­cess of Havana. In fact, reveals Cabello, Havana almost didn’t happen: I was in the studio last January with my pro­ducer Frank [Dukes] and we had all given up hope on the song because we couldn’t finish the verses,” she says. “[But] I knew it was the best thing to come out of that week of ses­sions.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

Luckily, she didn’t let it go, and thanks to a meet­ing with hit­maker Pharrell Williams, the song was finally fin­ished, com­plete with a verse by American rapper Young Thug as the fin­ish­ing touch. Cabello ded­i­cated Havana’s accom­pa­ny­ing video to the Dreamers, the col­lo­quial term for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of young undoc­u­mented immi­grants who, under America’s cur­rent Trump admin­is­tra­tion, face depor­ta­tion after his reces­sion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I feel like I have to [say some­thing about it] because it feels unfair to me that they have to deal with this. There’s noth­ing that really sep­a­rates me from them – it’s the same story,” Cabello reflects. We came [to] the United States at a really young age, par­ents moved you here… I can’t imag­ine some­one saying, You can’t live here any­more; you have to move back to Mexico or Cuba.’ I don’t have a home there; I wouldn’t know [what to do]. It is so desta­bi­liz­ing because these are kids that have lived prac­ti­cally their whole lives [in the US]. You know, my music is some­thing that I do for myself, that’s what makes me happy, but I would like to help people, too… Impact lives in a deeper way.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

Talking to Cabello, you can’t help but think of a young woman coming into her own, albeit under the mag­ni­fy­ing glass of the enter­tain­ment indus­try. This is made even more evi­dent by her epony­mous debut album, Camila, released this month. Previously titled The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving, Cabello made the deci­sion to change it to be more of a reflec­tion of where she is at now; she has put aside the hurt, she says, and is on a path to hap­pi­ness. That [title] was about a sit­u­a­tion that just left me feel­ing hor­ri­ble, and I thought my album would be sad seven months ago, but it’s not. This is my first album; it’s a reflec­tion of me. I would never want to give the power to some­body that hurt me. No way.”

More mul­ti­fac­eted than your aver­age pop outing, the 11-track listen is a mix of mid-tempos and bal­lads with lyrics that read like pages ripped from Cabello’s diary, backed by heavy­weight pro­duc­ers who, through infec­tious riffs and pow­er­ful melodies, never let us forget the singer’s Latin roots. I didn’t want every song to sound like Havana, I wanted to sur­prise people,” she smiles. On its release ear­lier this month, the album went straight to number one on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, and she’s fol­low­ing it up with a tour, she reveals, that will take her through to the end of 2018. But when she does find her­self home in Miami, you’ll find Cabello devour­ing Harry Potter or episodes of her latest dis­cov­ery, Sex and the City (well, she was born in 1997; it’s not totally unfor­giv­able). I think I want to move to New York – Sex and the City does that to you,” she exclaims. But unlike Carrie Bradshaw, Cabello is less Manolo Blahnik, more Birkenstocks. I do love Birkenstocks, that was me over Christmas. I love mas­cu­line suits, too,” she says, ref­er­enc­ing the style of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. I like things that make me feel empow­ered. Although I do take plea­sure in just wear­ing sweats some­times – no hair, no makeup.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor

Given the choice between going to Miami’s hottest night­clubs in her down­time or having a hang­out party with her close-knit gang of girl­friends, it’s a no-brainer: Cabello is still that shy young girl with a mon­ster talent, but she’s trying to be braver.

It’s actu­ally my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, to have more expe­ri­ences,” she says. I work so much that I don’t see people for a long time, and then I forget how to inter­act with people [socially]. It makes me so ner­vous. But then I go and push myself and do it, and I remem­ber it’s actu­ally not scary to put your­self out there. Before, I was like, It’s just a part of my per­son­al­ity.’ But I know that I have to con­stantly fight against [being] intro­verted. Usually I don’t want to go out and meet a new person – even if it’s a boy I like, I try and make an excuse. It’s con­stantly some­thing that I have to push myself to do. [But] even though it’s dif­fi­cult some­times, it’s always worth it.”

Photography by An Le, Styling by Tracy Taylor