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Kosas Founder Sheena Yaitanes Rediscovers ‘Pure’ Creative Expression Through Music

"All of life has felt musical and so piano felt natural," she said of her interest in the instrument, which has kept her busy while home during COVID-19.

Sheena Yaitanes has turned to her love for piano during the pandemic.

The founder of Kosas — the Los Angeles-based, cruelty-free beauty brand launched in 2015 — began taking lessons at the age of eight in Orange County, where she grew up.

“It was initiated by my mom,” Yaitanes said, chatting from her home in Calabasas, Calif. “I started then, and I really never stopped.…There has to be some natural pull toward music, and for me, there was. All of life has felt musical and so piano felt natural.”

Her training in her youth, taught by a strict piano teacher, Mrs. Kim, was centered in classical music, and she soon learned about household names like German composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

“There’s a lot of discipline, so I remember the feelings of frustration,” she said of those early days. “There was a lot of repetition, learning and memorizing scales, memorizing every key and type of chord.”

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It’s a new language one has to acquire, she continued: “Once you learn it, it starts to feel a little more free.”

In college, she discovered French musician and composer Yann Tiersen, the man behind the accordion- and piano-filled soundtrack of “Amélie,” Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 romantic comedy.

“That was when I started to go my own way, and I was really interested in contemporary, minimalist pianists, and he was one of them,” Yaitanes said.

She took a course on the history of jazz, which was “mind-opening,” she said, and a change from the world of classical.

“They would pick a key all together as a group, and then improvise within the key,” she went on. “And as long as you’re within the key and a couple other things, like within the time signature, you’re going to have a song.”

She continues to do that today, on her own while home: “On any day, I’ll pick a key and four chords that feel like they work together. That’s usually actually what people respond to, if anyone’s around. When they hear that, they’re like, ‘Wow, what is that? That’s so beautiful.’ People respond to that, because it’s easy for your mind to take it in.”

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Sheena Yaitanes
Sheena Yaitanes Roette Rago/WWD

Her seven-year-old daughter is often around, wandering into the room when she hears her mother play. Yaitanes plans to introduce her to piano lessons in a year. “I know she’s interested.”

For Yaitanes, music has been a way of utilizing her creative energy in a new way.

“Right now, the Kosas brand is the playground for that energy, but it’s not really pure, because there’s so many considerations,” she said. “We have to make a commercially viable product and brand all the time, and so it’s not just a pure expression of whatever I feel like doing. There are a lot of other people involved, multiple stakeholders and other creators within the company. It’s a collaborative effort versus a singular pure expression for its own sake. So that’s what the piano is for me now.”

It’s her artistry that helped fuel the launch of Kosas, blending skin care and makeup to create products free of harsh chemicals. The growing business, found at retailers like Sephora, Credo and The Detox Market, began in her kitchen.

“I feel like I have a lot of ups and downs with the way that things are going creatively in the company, and so sitting down at a piano and not having anyone there — it’s not for anyone, not for anything, really for no reason other than for that moment — that feels nice,” she continued. “It feels like a pure expression and a personal expression.”