How Aurora James Brought an African narrative to her Met Gala Beauty Look

Undoubtedly, the e Costume Institute Gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the biggest event on the fashion fundraising calendar. Every year, the most famous faces from the various industries of fashion, film, music and art come together to raise money for the Met’s Costume Institute and celebrate the grand opening of its latest exhibition. The night is majorly centered on the theme of the new exhibition. In previous years, there have been several themes ranging from Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, to Manus x Machina, Punk: Chaos to Couture and China: Through the Looking Glass. And for this year, the exhibition theme was Camp: Notes On Fashion.

The curator of the institute, designed the exhibition after Andrew Bolton, around Susan Sontag`s seminal 1964 essay notes on “Camp”. According to him, the message in Sontag’s writings were in tandem with the current social, cultural and political happenings in the world today that, “he felt it would have a lot of cultural resonance.” A Vogue contributor opined that the theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion” is quite befitting for this year’s edition as the Met Gala is a recognized stage for camp costumes.

Lady Gaga (who had four total outfit changes before even entering the ball), Harry Styles (who piercedhis ears pierced to display his custom Gucci look), and Serena Williams (whose choice of accessory for her Versace dress was a pair of trainers), were among the first set of celebrities to show off their unique interpretations on the theme. And not to disappoint, famous musician, Katy Perry came in as a chandelier.

Aurora James, the founder and designer of the Brother Vellies brand had a pretty unique interpretation of the theme. Over the years, Aurora has carved a niche for herself in the creative fashion industry as being impactful and all for progressive and fun to wear designs.

In a recent Vogue interview, she spoke in depth about her designs and the inspiration back of them. She spoke about her visits to African countries, particularly South Africa and Nigeria. There, she was entranced by the various beautiful traditional shoe shapes and artisanal techniques that were intuitive to the natives. She decided thus to share this beauty with the rest of the world.” And so, she decided to create the Brother Vellies brand, a sustainable accessories label to preserve and propagate the traditional African culture and values through the various artisanal techniques.

Another reason for the establishment of the label is to create employment opportunities that were directly linked to celebrating the rich African culture. So, at the Gala, there were a lot of expectations as to her interpretation of the theme. Aurora James did not disappoint.

The writing of Susan Sotang stated, “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”

And on the red carpet, Aurora’s entire outfit completely embodied the theme. Aurora says she knew what she wanted to do the moment she saw the theme. Her inspiration was based on the introduction of an African narrative into the conversation and thus, the entire look, for her was “Swahilian Notes on Camp”.

According to James, the black narrative was a decidedly missing factor in Susan’s writings. She muses,

“Are the over the top floral headbands not just a rift on the women of the Omo Valley? We know where animal prints come from. And is an orchid not the campiest beauty of all? I think the true Queen of Camp might actually be Mother Nature. And something tells me, shes black.”

In her opinion, the writings of Sontag describes the idea of campiness in a very acrylic and over the top manner, stating that camp cannot be natural. And Aurora had a contrasting line of thought. She wanted to create a counter narrative to that suggestion based on her time and work with natural materials in Africa because she could not particularly relate to the description of campiness in Susan’s writings.

Working together with her makeup artist, Alana Wright and Michael Warren, her hairstylist, Aurora was able to pull off her natural and culturally aware look and still look glamorous. Her hair and makeup had the  natural and ethereal feel and went a long way in depicting the image Aurora wanted to portray.  According to Aurora,

“We sourced things naturally and used a lot of different elements from Africa in the look. It was important to me that beauty served the larger story in a cohesive way…I think the theme is wonderful, people should have fun with fashion. And fashion should empower people to express themselves. I think the theme helps us do both,”

For the Gala, Aurora’s hair was made into single box braids. Although her hair is rarely ever in braids, the look helped the proper interpretation of the theme for Aurora. They were styled in a way that allowed the introduction of a headpiece to give her some dimension. This headpiece comprised of various types of beads sourced throughout Africa and used at Brother Vellies like sea amber from guinea Bissau, light sandalwood beads, pearl agate bead,Kenyan white cow bone beads, the glass swirl trade bead, Chevron batiked wooden bead and natural tree sap river amber bead.

For her makeup, Alana, her makeup artist decided on using pale golds and bronzes on her skin. This was intended to complement the raffia and rattan of her dress, and to give a natural bare-skin glow throughout her face and body.

The inspiration for her dress was from a photo on her mood board. She thought it looked like a grass hut in a very sterile environment.” Throughout the process of creating the masterpiece dress, Aurora sought counsel and guidance in terms of construction and aesthetics from the artist, Simone Leigh who has designed her photo inspiration. The entire outfit  also included a custom bag, with a chain-link handle carved only from a single piece of wood, the spectacular headpiece and custom Brother Vellies shoes.

Aurora James brought a refreshingly different yet relatable definition to the Met Gala this year. A lot of people were reminded of their rich cultural heritage and its value and relevance to the fashion industry and the entire human modern society, at large.