'I grew up in Toronto but also in Jamaica and the Eastern Provinces, so there were a lot of different vibes around me as a kid. Then, when I was 22, I moved to Los Angeles. I’d been there on vacation and fell in love with someone and just never left. I hadn’t planned it, but I just felt like it was my home—the sunshine, the breeze, the ocean, being able to garden...everything there is slower. Initially, it annoyed me that people wouldn't immediately respond to my emails for work, but then I began to appreciate it—they weren't responding because they were out doing things that normal people do, which isn't something we really do on the East Coast.
Eventually I moved back here to New York and worked on some random projects—things like producing Hood By Air’s first show and generally dabbling in different creative ideas. Then I went to Nigeria, Morocco, and Namibia with my good friends Darlene and Lizzy from William Okpo. I’d heard a lot about traditional African shoes like 'vellies,' which are desert boots, to 'baboush,' the traditional Moroccan slipper. My mom always had a lot of different traditional shoes, and I grew up wearing mukluks. The idea of things that are natural to certain areas of the world was really in my mind, when designing my shoes. But at the same time, I found that a lot of people didn't want to wear their traditional stuff anymore. They want to wear whatever they saw on Kanye or Kim. What happened in these countries was that all these people who had been making shoes for generations were losing their jobs. It was really sad. Now, I work a lot with different people based in traditional skill sets. We have our workshop in Kenya, and it’s been really great because I’ve been able meet artisans who I otherwise wouldn’t be able to work with.
My mom is the most hippie person I know, and growing up, she would run a crystal under water and then rub it on herself! She used that as deodorant. But my grandmother was the real big presence in my life. She would tell me what was OK and what was not OK to leave the house in. She was one of those g randmas in Toronto, with a house in Florida and a facelift. She would use a lot of blusher, put roller sets in her hair. It was very Dynasty.
Up until a few years ago, I just used soap and water on my face, but after a while, I felt like I was starting to look older and asked a makeup-artist friend of mine for some advice. She was like, “moisturize!” So, I got recommendations from my friends and tested different things out. Now, I have a bunch of different moisturizers that I use and each one reminds me of the friend who recommended it to me. Like, the Origins stuff that I use— Make A Difference Plus Ultra-Rich Rejuvenating Cream and A Perfect World were recommended by my friend Ali, and the Weleda Almond Soothing Facial Lotion was recommended by Karen. It's transformed my skin. Since I started using them, I don’t have these rogue lines anymore.
The first thing I do when I wake up is drink a huge cup of water. I’m like a flower that's is wilting and not cute if I don’t have water. Then, I’ll splash water on my face and use Fig + Yarrow Facial Scrub because it has coffee in it. Sometimes I’ll use it with my Clarisonic. It works really well, but I’m not married to it. I don’t use a cleanser, but sometimes I’ll use Acqua Distillata Alle Rose from H. Roberts & Co. on a cotton swab. If I have a pimple, I'll use this Desert Essence 100% Australian Tea Tree Oil. It’s really good at drying it out. I’m a little bit more prone to acne in humid places—I definitely bring it with me to Kenya. And if I’m somewhere really dry, I use MAC Prep & Prime Fix Plus because it just refreshes you. My boyfriend bought it for me after he saw a makeup artist use it on a shoot in Africa to cool everyone down. I use Nivea Creme to moisturize my lips, which I have used my entire life. It started when we would go skiing in Canada on school field trips. Someone was like, 'Have you ever put this on your lips?' So I did it, and it was amazing. I use Smith's Rosebud Salve if I want more of a shine.
If it’s been a long week and I want the ultimate girly night where I can watch something on TV, put my hair up, and wear sweatpants, then I’ll put Fig + Yarrow Clay Mask in Red on. I initially bought it because it reminded me of the Himba people, who are a tribe of women who live in Namibia that cover themselves in all red clay. I’ve worked with them before on shoe stuff.
I use Origins' A Perfect World Intensely Hydrating Body Cream with White Tea as body moisturizer, and then I use Skin Trip Mountain Ocean Coconut Moisturizer on my hands because it smells good. The RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream is really good for winter. I don’t think there is any difference between the RMS coconut oil and any other generic brands, but I picked it up on Net-A-Porter one day just because. I’m one of those people that’s totally random like that—like, I’ll buy candles without smelling them. One of my candles is the Byredo Tree House Candle and as soon as I heard the name, I was like, 'What is that? That sounds amazing—I’ve got to have it!' But, who buys a candle without smelling it?!
When I go to Africa, I always take Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Nourishing Sheen Spray because you can use it for anything. You just get it from the African American section in the pharmacy…I spray it on my legs, on my arms, on my hair—just anywhere. It’s basically just olive oil, but I love it. It’s the easiest thing to bring anywhere, and it doesn’t have a hardcore fragrance so you don’t have to worry that the mosquitos will come for you.
The last time I was in Kenya, I discovered these leaves that they use there as deodorant. I was with the Maasai, and we walked past a bush where they stopped and started taking the leaves and sticking them to their armpits before long walks, so I tried it. I generally want to try all the different things I see there. I’ve had henna done, which was fun—you just have to make sure there is not gasoline in it. Sometimes henna will have gasoline in it to enhance the darkness, but you don't want that on your skin. Whenever I look at people’s marking on their bodies, I’m always really inspired to get nine more tattoos or something...but maybe that’s not the best choice.
Until very recently, I felt like I was battling with my hair. My dad is black and my mom is white—I'm mixed, so my hair is mixed. A lot of people think there's white hair and there's black hair, but it all needs to be dealt with specially. I have a lot of hair, but it's not actually that thick. My mom was always like, 'Leave your hair natural and curly, it looks amazing.' She has curly hair, and I've only seen her wear it straight maybe once. But having big, Scary-Spice hair is high maintenance! We’re talking six hours for my hair to dry when it’s curly, and that sucks especially when it's cold. My best friend growing up would spend hours blowing out her hair, and it seemed like such an inconvenience to me. In high school, I wore it in braids—it took 12 hours to do but they're low maintenance because after that, you don't have to worry about them for a while.
Black hair is such a daunting topic—I had a boss one time tell me that I should consider keeping my hair straight because people can’t take me seriously when my hair is curly. It’s weird the things people say and what women do to each other sometimes over hair. I love my curly hair, but for me and my nonchalant ways, it’s easier just blowing it out for now. It’s not a political statement, it’s just what I like doing. So once a week, I get a blowout at a Dominican salon in downtown Brooklyn and use Kérastase Sérum Oléo Relax. I’m not physically capable of blowing drying my hair myself. Also, I’m an only child—if I had a sister, maybe we could sit around, sing “Kumbaya!” and brush each other’s hair—but curly hair is just hard to deal with in general. I grew up with it, and it's still hard!
My first perfume was Lolita Lempicka. It came in a lavender-colored glass bottle that looked like an apple, and I think about it all the time. It’s a very nostalgic smell. I think we’re all very tied to different scents. I remember every guy in my school used to wear Cool Water or Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, and some would specifically mix the two. I remember them always being encased in a cloud of fragrance. Now, I really like Byredo’s Bal d’Afrique. I guess it’s the tones of it that I like, and I feel like it changes a lot when it’s on my skin. I also use the Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille sometimes, which I bought for my boyfriend, but now I use it too.
I like to put as little on my face as possible on a daily basis. I’m someone who touches my face and likes to lie down a lot. If I draw my eyebrows on, they'll be off by the end of the day. Also, when I’m in Africa, the humidity is at 90 percent—so anything you put on your face is going to just melt off.
Sometimes I use concealer, MAC’s Pro-Longwear Concealer in NC42. I bought it during one of those times walking through Bergdorf's. The makeup person is like, 'Can I do something to you?' and I was bored, so I was just like, 'OK!' I always end up buying something. Then I use Sephora Collection Colorful Blush in Orange Pop like four-out-of-seven days in the week. It's good for meetings. I realized at a certain point that if you go to a meeting wearing no make up, then people think it’s weird or a little bit offensive, like they weren’t worth putting on your face for.
I think that if you are having your picture taken or it’s a special occasion then you need a little something to balance you out—you put on mascara so you don’t look totally asleep, or something like that. I wear Diorshow Mascara once a week or if it’s Fashion Week or something. I also curl my lashes but not every morning! If I am wearing mascara, then I use Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade in Dark Brown to fill out my brows, because I stopped tweezing about a year ago. I feel like now, in certain spots, they are kind of sparse and need to be filled in a little bit. If I’m going somewhere at night, I’ll wear Chanel Rouge Allure Lipstick in Lover[ed note: discontinued]. And during the holidays, I wear red lipstick almost every day because I feel like it’s festive…I’ll just dab it on, and use a lot of tissues to blot it off, so it feels more like a stain. Earlier this year, I got Marc Jacobs Beauty Lust for Lacquer Lip Vinyl [ed note: discontinued] in Truth or Dare, a dark purple, because it makes me feel like I’m in the '90s. It smells good, and the packaging is nice too.
And my go-to nail polish is Essie's Raisinnuts. It was hard for me to find the right shade of red for my skin tone on my hands, but this one is perfect!”
—as told to ITG
Aurora James photographed by Tom Newton on March 5, 2015, in Brooklyn, New York.