How Aurora James Brought an African Narrative to Her Met Gala Beauty Look

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu


Aurora James was raised in Toronto, moved to L.A., and now lives in Brooklyn. In her past interviews, she's spoken a lot of how she feeds off community—and how best harness that support and energy for good. "I love living in Brooklyn because it’s a small community to me and almost feels like living in the suburbs sometimes," she told Vogue. "There are also so many creative and talented people all around, we definitely feed off of each other energetically," James shares. It's with that in mind, Brother Vellies was born, a sustainable accessories label for which James is the designer and founder. "After visiting South Africa and Nigeria, I noticed that there were so many traditional shoe shapes and artisanal techniques that were intuitive to many people in Africa and I really wanted to share those skills with the rest of the world," she said in that same Vogue interview. "I figured that if I created Brother Vellies it would be a good vehicle to preserve traditional African artisanal techniques and also create jobs for people—that also tied back into the celebration of their own cultures." Since, her shoes have reached cult status, offering up a unique accessory for more than just the fashion set. They're fantastical in color and texture, often showcasing feathers, prints, and straps that allow for whimsy to persuade us from the usual clean lines and minimalist styles.

So, when we heard she'd be hitting the red carpet at the Met Gala this year, our hearts admittedly went a-flutter. Especially based on the theme, Camp, which was inspired by an essay Susan Sontag wrote in 1964. In her notes, she wrote this definition: "The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers." It's as if Aurora James was made to create a look for this red carpet. As for her inspiration, she told us the entire look was "Swahilian Notes on Camp" because she wanted to introduce an African narrative into the conversation. "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," James shares. Below James, her makeup artist, Alana Wright, and her hairstylist, Michael Warren, discuss the elements of her look and how their collaboration came together.

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu

On her interpretation of the theme...

"I think the theme is wonderful," James says. "People should have fun with fashion. And fashion should empower people to express themselves. I think the theme helps us do both," she adds. "I was incredibly inspired by nature and natural elements. Susan Sontag writes in her essay that 'camp can never be natural'" James recites. "I was very taken back by that because I find the contrary to be true—things that are the most camp are usually a result from nature bursting at her seams. So I wanted to really make that apparent with the looks," she says. James continues, "Both the hair and makeup looks served the theme well. They were natural and ethereal which are usually two things I stick to year round, but we definitely kicked it up for this event."

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu

On her hair...

"The idea of braiding was pretty intuitive to both Michael and I," James explains. "I rarely braid my hair, but it made perfect sense given the theme and how we were approaching it. What I loved was the idea that we could use the braids to showcase some of the amazing beads we use at Brother Vellies from time to time—reclaimed sea glass, carved cow bone, sandalwood, shell. Decorating my hair in that way felt really special," she says.

Warren explains, "We decided to give a more natural esthetic and opted to put Aurora’s hair in single box braids, incorporating a headpiece to give her some dimension. The box braids were done two days prior with the help of my assistant." He continues, "Today, I decided effortlessly pull her hair back on one side, allowing all the braids to fall on the other side. "A pure example of camp is unintentional," Warren quotes Sontag, explaining, "that was my thought process when deciding placement for the beads." He says, "We hand-selected seven different types of beads sourced throughout Africa (Chevron batiked wooden beads, Kenyan white cow bone beads, sea amber from guinea Bissau, pearl agate bead, natural tree sap river amber bead, light sandalwood beads and the glass swirl trade bead) to complete the look."

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu

On her skincare...

"To prep, I visited Dr. Barbara Sturm the day before the event for some micro-needling," James says. "I must say, it was phenomenal. It made a huge difference in my skin, so, I was able to use minimal makeup day of the event. The morning before the Met I went to Shamara Bondaroff for micro-current facial, which I also love. That combo was really a win," she adds. Wright says of her day-off skincare, "I prepped the skin with Cleanse by Lauren Napier Facial Cleansing Wipes ($23), Dr. Barbara Sturm's Hyaluronic Serum ($300) and Darker Skin Tones Face Cream ($215), and Sisley's Confort Extreme Nutritive Lip Balm ($74)." Then, she continues, "I used Noorface Skin Glass ($38) before applying powder and foundation."

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu

On her makeup...

"The beauty inspiration for this year’s Met Gala was a collaborative effort," Wright explains. "Aurora shared with me the concept of her look, 'Swahili Notes on Camp,' and we decided that 'camp' for makeup can also be natural. I chose pale golds and bronzes to complement the raffia and rattan of her dress, and to give a bare-skin glow throughout her face and body." After applying her skincare, Wright used Chantecaille's Future Skin Foundation ($78) and a bit of loose powder on the high points of James' face. "I lightly sculpted her cheeks with Dior's Backstage Contour Palette ($45), then buffed Charlotte Tilbury's Luxury Eyeshadow Palette in The Legendary Muse ($53) on her lids on top of Surratt Beauty's Artistique Eyeshadow in Truffle ($20). I carefully placed Battington's Lash Clusters throughout her lash line to give some definition without darkening the eye," Wright shares. Then, for the lips, Wright used Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheat Lip Liner in Love Trap ($20) all over her lips and topped it off with Surratt Beauty's Lip Lustre in Ensoleillé ($32). And finally, Wright applied Pretty Peaushun all over her body to give a "flawless silk stocking effect to the skin" and dusted on a gold loose powder along her shoulders and collar bone.

Christopher Sherman and Jun Lu

Next up: Getting ready with Lily Aldridge and Alessandra Ambrosio for the Oscars.

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