Aurora James is a multi-hyphenate in the fashion industry – from casting director to fashion consultant, James’ many roles approach the industry from all sides. As Creative Director of footwear label Brother Vellies, James works with shoemakers in Namibia, Kenya and South Africa to produce authentic, modern-day desert boots made of Kudu leather. As the Fashion Director of GenArt, a leading arts and entertainment organization, James is at the forefront of shining the industry spotlight on new, emerging fashion designers.
As a producer, creative director, and casting director, you wear many creative hats – how would you define your involvement in the fashion industry?
I’ve been in love with fashion for as long as I can remember. I started out as an intern at NEXT Model Management when I was 15, and I’ve never looked back. There are so many different elements of the industry that inspire me and they’re all so closely linked, it’s hard not to get involved in a lot of different facets. One day I’ll be on set with my boyfriend who is a photographer, and the next day I’ll be helping produce a show for Hood By Air. Really, I couldn’t imagine it any other way – I’m not a cubicle kind of girl.
Do you find yourself drawn to projects with similar themes and values?
Definitely. For me, it’s all about development, whether I’m working with emerging designers, my own production line at Brother Vellies, or with a model on her first trip to New York from Brazil. I’m very much into the idea of supporting ideas and people through their journeys and watching them evolve and define themselves creatively. That experience is like nothing else.
How did you get involved with Brother Vellies?
I think when you hear about any element of creative culture dying within a community, it’s hard not to compel yourself to get involved. Especially when it relates to amazing shoes.
Is everything produced in Namibia? Are you traveling often to oversee production?
When we first started, everything was produced in Namibia. Now we are producing in Kenya as well as South Africa. This year I’ve been traveling every two to three months, which is intense. I’m lucky because I now have the world’s most amazing production manager, which takes the load off a little bit.
Is the collaboration with Opening Ceremony ongoing?
We love Opening Ceremony. They were one of our very first retailers and have been very supportive of the mission and us. Hopefully the relationship will continue forever and ever. You can always count on them to buy the craziest thing in the collection, which is refreshing. Designers need retailers who are willing to step out of the box and support new things.
What’s your involvement with GenArt?
I’ve been working with GenArt off and on for the past five years. Typically, I curate their fashion programming and conceptualize alumni events like the Vena Cava x St Vincent party we had last summer at the Chateau Marmont. Because of them, I’m always on the hunt for young, amazing designers.
How has this organization evolved over the past few years under new leadership?
Things are always changing at GenArt, that is a hard question to answer. I love supporting designers and that has always been my passion. Any platform to do so is a platform worth saving and supporting.
Who have been the most successful GenArt alums?
Wow – Rodarte, Zac Posen, Philip Lim, Vena Cava. Some of the newer kids on the block too – COMEFORBREAKFAST and Anne Sofie Madsen, who were both honored by Vogue Italia’s Who Is On Next right after GenArt. Both of those lines are unreal talented.
What sort of casting projects do you get to work on with your boyfriend, photographer Jason Eric Hardwick?
Art direction is a major passion of mine, as is casting. It’s great to work on both of those with someone like Jason who is young and inspired but supremely talented. He has a lot of clients who have a really fresh take on casting, which has been great. Some days it’s about jumping out of my car on Wythe to nab a tattooed guy for a campaign and other days we’re looking at dozens of African American girls as options for Vogue Italia, so its always something different working with Jason! And don’t even get me started on our Brother Vellies castings in Africa… that’s a whole other level!
Do you have a dream collaboration? (with Brother Vellies, Jason, casting, etc.)
Yes! How about shooting Erykah Badu for a multi-brand collab with all of my friends (Ace & Jig, The Selby, Edun, William Okpo, Suno, KARA, Gretchen Jones, Anne Sofie Madsen, Amanda Lew Kee, COMEFORBREAKFAST, Mickalene Thomas…) that is handmade in Ghana and employs 2000 women. Can we make that happen? That sounds like a dream come true!