Aurora James, the designer behind Brooklyn-based brand Brother Vellies and founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, graces one of two painted covers for Vogue’s September issue.
James is the second designer to ever appear on the magazine’s cover, following Stella McCartney, who appeared on a cover in January this year alongside Greta Gerwig, Ashley Graham and Cardi B. James previously won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2015, with Jonathan Simkhai and Gypsy Sport, and is a regular feature on Vogue.com. Her 15 Percent Pledge initiative, which urges retailers to ensure black-owned businesses occupy 15% of their shelf space, has been enacted by companies like Sephore, Rent The Runway, Matches, Heyday, Violet Grey, and Threads Styling.
For the cover, 31-year-old painter Jordan Casteel was given full freedom to chose her subject and how she would depict them. The other cover is created by celebrated African American artist Kerry James Marshall, and shows a fictional person. The only requirement for the artists was that they both choose a dress by one of four Vogue-selected designers for their subject to wear.
James, captured barefoot while sitting on a stool on her rooftop in Brooklyn, is wearing a cascading ice blue-hued silk dress by Pyer Moss, while Marshall’s subject wears Off-White.
In a newsletter sent to Brother Vellies fans, James wrote passionately, “I may not be the smartest, or the prettiest, the fastest, or the strongest. But I might be one of the bravest. And if I’m going to end up on the cover of Vogue magazine, I would want it to be because of that bravery and because of my optimism. Dreaming of a better future and having the tenacity to call it forward. Without stopping. Things are changing, I am changing. We are changing. I love you.”
Explaining why she chose James, Casteel said: ” I believe that what Aurora is doing is hugely important in creating the long-term change that Black people deserve and this country owes us. I see her as a light in a lot of darkness, and a potential for hope, a representative of change across all creative industries. What’s most exciting to me is being given artistic integrity and being able to choose the person to be my sitter—someone who reflects a portion of my own identity—and then to do that truly in the medium of my choice. This is the way that I speak to the world. And this is the way I’ve been speaking to the world and talking about the humanity of our people, talking about humanity in general. It’s a really profound experience. I do think I’m participating and a change is happening.”
Of his work, Marshall told Anna Wintour, “I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator. I’m here and you can see me, but I’m not here for you.’ That’s a critical element. The great word, ultimately, is going to be ‘self-possessed.’ That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Read more about the creative process behind the covers on Vogue.com.