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Paloma Elsesser on community and connection

NYC-based model Paloma Elsesser on heroes, finding connection and using her platform to imagine new futures.

Paloma wears coat and dress by COS.

Unfiltered and direct, Paloma Elsesser (she/her) is a thoroughly modern model. Entering the industry at a time when catwalks were failing to fully reflect their audiences, just by her sheer presence, Elsesser ignited a long-overdue conversation around representation, insisting that diversity of body shape and background becomes routine rather than radical, meaningful rather than tokenistic.

Born in Kentish Town, North London, raised in LA and now based in NYC, the globetrotting tradition continues for this in-demand model. Spending much of the year city hopping, Paloma has become a household name (and social media star) thanks not only to a series of high-profile cover stories and campaigns, but her unconventional honesty. Open about her own life and the issues closest to her heart, her easy authenticity and unflinching sense of self permeate everything she does, balancing an almost other-worldly glamour with a tangible relatability.

Elsesser has fully embraced the powerful platform her modelling career provides, with this innate understanding of the relationship between image-making and communication developing early on: ‘I’ve always been comfortable in front of a camera, playing muse to my friends and my older sister, Kanya, since I was a little girl. I was always interested in conversation, not modelling exactly, but this has been an incredible platform to create just that — conversation.’

Elsesser reminds us that, while these conversations are taking place industrywide, their beginnings are more intimate, sparked over dinner tables with friends and family. Community and connection are everything for Paloma Elsesser, purposefully surrounding herself with like-minded people who share her values and importantly, her vision for a more just world.

‘I’ve always used clothing as expression, a way to articulate a feeling or mood without a word. They can convey identity and interest as well as aspiration.’

‘I first started modelling professionally through Instagram. I would be contacted by brands and magazines but didn’t take it seriously at all. I had a dear friend who worked at a magazine at the time and sent me to a bunch of agencies, they all said no! A few months later, Pat McGrath was working on her eponymous makeup brand and got in touch, that’s kind of where it all popped off.’

‘I think I meet heroes all the time, people that are free with their story and genuinely share. I’ve kind of adopted this new ideology of being impressed and inspired by determination in the face of doubt. I love Björk, Nelson Mandela, Kate Bush, my mother.’

‘I’ve always used clothing as expression, a way to articulate a feeling or mood without a word. I still think that way about clothes; they can convey identity and interest as well as aspiration. I’ve always gotten dressed from the idea of who I want to be today, as well as uniform. I’ve always dressed that way despite not having access to all the clothes I want because of sizing. Because I love style and genuinely love clothes, I have always been resourceful.’ 

‘Community means a collective of people who fundamentally hold each other down, accountable, and up! I believe a moral ideology must be shared. Are we in pursuit of the same world?’

‘I think there has always been this obsession with maintaining appearances in the industry, especially an industry so reliant on image. I think it’s pretty important to strip that veneer in pursuit of my personal purpose – connection. I can’t feel safe in my body, mind or spirit if people who are taking pictures of my body, dressing or manipulating it don’t know or value who I really am. By leading with that it has allowed me to have deep and meaningful relationships with people in and out of the industry and to make images that are made out of love, not just necessity.’

Alton wears jumper and Paloma wears dress by COS.

‘Work with people who believe in you like your friends believe in you.’

‘I have a healthy boundary with social. I go on and off and don’t feel bound to it the way I used to. My team knows I do not like to feel obligated to post, as it’s MY platform; no one else’s. It’s a really special tool in communicating thoughts, views, as well as how I see the world; however, the world doesn’t exist only on social media. It exists outside.’

‘Los Angeles is where all of my formative memories are but when I’m in London I feel equally at home. I love both! I have close friendships, family and career there, so I never feel out of place or estranged from my centre. I love the creativity and the almost scrappiness to get things done in London, but like LA I hate getting around there.’

‘A massage, ordering in with friends, reading, phone on ‘Do not disturb’ and being outside.’

‘Work with people who believe in you like your friends believe in you.’

‘In 5 years' time I see myself with children, a beauty product range, writing and hopefully happy!’


What was the last book you read?
Black Marxism by Cedric Robinson.’

If you could catch a flight to anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?

What’s the one album you couldn’t live without?
Debut by Björk.’

What’s your most treasured possession?
‘A Nelson Mandela tee that my older sister got when she was 10 from the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1992!’

How would your friends describe you?
‘Affectionate. Honest. Wordy.’

Paloma Elsesser (@palomija) wears the Autumn Winter 2022 collection for COS.
Photography by Mario Sorrenti.
Styling by Camilla Nickerson.  
Words by Lena Dystant.

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