Anna Calvi is a creature of contrasts. She has sold albums in the hundreds of thousands, toured with Nick Cave and Morrissey, twice been nominated for the Mercury Prize and mesmerised figures from David Byrne to Brian Eno and Marianne Faithfull, all of whom have worked with her. Yet in person, she is a woman of few words, and her voice, so powerful on stage, is hardly a whisper.

More curious still, she used to be afraid of singing. “I’ve always been obsessed with playing music,” says the girl who grew up in Twickenham listening to her dad’s jazz, rock and blues records, “but I started singing really late. I had a phobia about it, like this emotional block about hearing my own voice – I wouldn’t even sing in the shower.” She first picked up the violin aged six, then migrated to the guitar. “Something would take over when I would see an electric guitar,” she says. “I was so taken aback by the sound that my heart would beat really fast.” Over the years, Anna used the guitar to express herself; it concealed her inherent shyness and became her voice. Only in her mid-20s did she decide to stretch her vocal cords. “I locked myself away for a long time, listened to singers that I love, like Edith Piaf and Scott Walker, and worked out how they made those sounds with their voice. Gradually, I found that I had this strength in my voice that I didn’t think I had.”

Brian Eno describes her as “the best thing since Patti Smith”, and Anna has been similarly welcomed into the fashion world. She has performed at Gucci, Fendi and Chloé runway shows, and Karl Lagerfeld photographed her for a Maison Michel lookbook. In fact, Kaiser Karl told Anna she had the perfect nose and she has since been added to the roster of Chanel muses. For this summer, Anna has a new challenge: she is planning a live show with an orchestra. “I never anticipated everything that’s happened,” she says. “I just feel incredibly lucky to have worked with these people.”

Text by Nazanin Shahnavaz