Sudan Archives “Nont For Sale” Style Direction for Vogue

Late last month, Leonardo Volcy mentioned that he was set to work with multi-instrumentalist Sudan Archives on a music video for her recent single, “Nont for sale” and asked me to come on board for Styling and Style Direction. After several conversations about style direction, we finally came together early May for what turned out to be one of the most magical experiences this year. The video is now out!

I also had the lucky opportunity to chat with Vogue on my inspiration and intent behind the styling approach.

The style direction for Sudan Archives video was an amalgamation of her origins, personality and inspirations. I wanted elements that showcased that she’s an Afrophile (my new favorite word btw) but also highlighted her midwest 90’s roots. Therefore the direction was an attempt to embed elements of 60’s Africa as you would see in a Malick Sidibe portrait but still keep it hood hence pieces like the Joyrich velour track suits and Vida Kush jewerly. The pieces that really tied those elements together were the detailed No Sesso x Come Tees garments brought by my styling partner Autumn Randolf paired with streetwise brands like Marna Ro and pieces from the Hannah Jewett eclectic jewerly collection. All in all, it was a beautiful marriage of creative minds.

   

Full Video.

Vogue.

LIVE FAST MAG

Although I’m typically on the photographer’s side of the camera, sometimes I happen to be on the other side for a change. Had an awesome time modeling for this feature for Live FAST Magazine, at the delightful Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. The rooms were beautifully decorated in pink, with dreamy vibes that I’m still thinking about. Check out some of the photos below.

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FAST.

Aurora James for PopSugar

Africa is a continent brimming with a rich amalgamation of raw materials and endless inspiration spanning thousands of cultures. That influence is visible from head to toe in its inhabitants, from the immaculately decorative geles worn by Yoruba women in Nigeria to the intricately weaved kanga of the Masai in Kenya. Still, it sometimes takes a foreigner with ancestral roots to see how those styles might strike a chord outside a country’s own borders. That sort of person is Aurora James.

Over the course of several visits to the continent, the New York-based Ghanaian-Canadian became particularly mesmerized by traditional South African shoemakers. Fortunately, she allowed that inspiration to guide her to launch her critically acclaimed label Brother Vellies in the Spring of 2014. The thought behind the brand was simple yet profound: to preserve the shoemaking craft in Africa and create new jobs for the artisans, specifically South-African shoemakers. Her effort paid off quickly — and bountifully.

In 2015, James was selected as a Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund Award winner, becoming the first black woman to ever receive the coveted honor. She has gone on to show her collection in New York for six seasons and supported many artisans and South African children by working with a local school and using a portion of Brother Vellies sales to support their education. Even with all her accolades and the weight of maintaining the momentum of a flourishing brand, James remains unfazed. Today, she’s steadily focused on impacting change outside of the confines of shoes and growing her brand to include other kinds of apparel. To better understand her past inspirations, current goals, and future prospects, we sat down with James, who seemed at ease calling between meetings on a Tuesday afternoon in New York. From our brief chat, we found ourselves even more enthused about what’s next for James and Brother Vellies.

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Grace Bukunmi: Since becoming one of the first black women to win a CFDA award, do you still find a dearth in diversity among fashion designers? If so, whose responsibility is it to rectify the imbalance?

Aurora James: There are some [designers of color] and I wish there were more. I think it kind of comes down to the way that the system’s built. Not everyone still has an equal opportunity to be able to come intern in New York City for an entire Summer. That’s really expensive. I think that when you take a lot of factors like that, that’s where you end up seeing some of the disparity. Fashion is still a pretty old-school industry. It’s not really as progressive as everyone thinks when it comes to corporate infrastructure. But is it anyone’s responsibility? I don’t know. I would hope that people just keep an open mind when they’re hiring and not always just try to go through friends of friends of friends. And I think, hopefully, Instagram is opening peoples’ eyes to all the different types of creative people out there as well.

GB: I think having sustainability as a foundation for Brother Vellies since its inception has contributed wildly to its success. Since you’ve expanded your collection, how have your original goals transformed?

AJ: When I first started, obviously, it was very different because I was in Africa making small batches at a time and bringing them back. So we’ve really been keeping our eyes on some of the bigger-picture goals. For me, that’s about creating as many job opportunities in Africa as possible. We still need to make sure that we’re building in a very thoughtful, cautious way. We need to make sure that we have artisan partners who are aligned with our goals and are going to make sure that everyone they’re working with is taken care of. I have to think on a much larger scale now, because I can’t really do some of the levels of sourcing that I did before, which was on a really micro level. Now, when I’m creating specialty products, I need to make sure that the specific product that I’m training people on is going to have some level of longevity so that they’re not just not working for one season and then don’t have a job afterward.

GB: I’ve always admired how imaginative and intricate Brother Vellies designs are. Can you describe the first piece you ever designed, either as a professional or even as a kid, and what you wanted to express with it?

AJ: To be honest, a lot of my early designs weren’t related to shoes. They were related to furniture and food, if that makes any sense. I was really, really creative when it came to food and plating food as a child. And I was always super into architecture. My mom sewed a lot when I was younger. I think that design was sort of just — no pun intended — woven into the DNA of who I am and how I was raised.

GB: Your designs showcase the rich, multicultural influence of African diaspora. Can you explain why you felt it so imperative to integrate, and economically cultivate, countries like Kenya, Namibia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria?

AJ: The fashion industry has taken so much inspiration from different cultures over the years. For me, when you take something from someone, especially someone who is less fortunate than you, and you don’t give them anything in return, that’s a form of theft. If I was inspired by a group of people whom I could actually involve in the process, and also maintain the authenticity of the original inspiration, then why not? Just trying to replicate that process at a factory in China to me isn’t the same. It’s like the difference between a fake butterfly and a real butterfly. One is super magical and the other is made out of weird paper.

GB: Speaking of your work with African artisans, what has the response been from African communities whose traditional elements have inspired Brother Vellies shoes?

AJ: I think that it’s a little bit mixed. I think the bulk of people are very excited and are celebrating it and are extremely happy to see their culture represented in that way. Also, because a lot of people in America are really displaced from their own cultures and roots, I think a lot of people are interested in fashion because it’s an interesting way to explore your own background. With Vellies, our very first shape was this tragically uncool thing to wear in South Africa at the time when we started making it. Then we started selling it at Opening Ceremony, and JAY-Z had some, and suddenly it was like, “Oh, wow! Actually, this thing holds value and we don’t have to only value things that aren’t ours.” Part of the goal is to change the value systems that exist there, as well. It was very jarring for me to go to Kenya and see that everyone was trying to dress like Cristiano Ronaldo. It was really disheartening to me, but I understood it; with the economy of used clothing donations there, people aren’t embracing their traditional cultural apparel anymore. I hoped that by us celebrating it over here, they could also start understanding the value of their own culture that’s been stolen from them.

GB: What advice would you give other women business owners who are trying to tap into their ancestral identity? Especially women of color who have been historically marginalized?

AJ: I would love to see women of color try to support each other more within the fashion space. Researching, talking to each other, sharing information, community building, etcetera. Just taking time out and being like, “I want to support you because there’s a part of you that’s intrinsically linked to who I am, and I want to learn more from you.” Also, just remember that every time you spend money, you’re voting for something and you are validating the existence of that thing. So if we don’t want McDonald’s to exist anymore, or we don’t want to support the National Enquirer magazine, don’t buy that. If you don’t want to read about whatever celebrity, don’t click on that. We have the power to sort of dictate those things. I think our culture will be raised up if we raise it up by engaging with it as much as possible.

GB: I would love to hear your experiences as a Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based woman who spends a good amount of time in various countries across Africa. How has that shaped your political consciousness?

AJ: I always say that America is like a cultural melting pot and Canada is more of a mosaic. In Toronto, specifically, people tend to maintain their own culture a little bit more and sort of just integrate it with other people and other ways of life. I think we kind of all celebrate our cultural differences. So that was a really great foundation to build from. Then, I was in Jamaica for three years when I was younger, so that also gave me a totally different viewpoint of the world. I also had a lot of pen pals from Africa because my grandmother sponsored children in Africa and I was always writing with them and understanding the differences of their lives vs. my life. I think that gave me an awareness of how big the world is.

Even though I can be in Canada, and someone else can be in the DRC, as a 15-year-old girl, we’re kind of sharing a similar source of angst, even though the depths of their despair, at times, are definitely going to greater than mine because I have a much larger privilege than they do. We also have to acknowledge that we have access to a lot more potential than the people do in the rest of the world. We need to harness that opportunity and when we have that opportunity, we need to use it to lift other people up.

POPSUGAR.

Laguna Beach for LADYGUNN

Had the chance to style and photograph the budding 16-year-old model, Chelsea Mckenzie ) for an editorial shoot with LADYGUNN. Some of the pieces she wore include Cadieux, Jessica Elliot Jewelry, and Seven til’ Midnight. Check out some of these beautiful images below!

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Miki for Astonish Magazine

Had the chance to style the beautiful Miki Hamino, who rocked chic, edgy pieces from Saint Laurent, Elizabeth and James, Kenneth Nicholson, and RIIA in this editorial shoot I worked on for Astonish.

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Reggae on the Rock

Upon arriving on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, you are immediately engulfed in vibrancy. From the vivid hues of each building, lively local music echoing through the streets, and the ceaseless roll of the ocean waves in the distance, every inch of the tropical paradise teems with an infectiously dynamic spirit. To experience the unique culture of the local population is to truly experience this eternal atmosphere.

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I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Jamaican lifestyle for a few short days as a guest of Red Stripe Beer, the leading local brewery on the island. Founded in 1928 with the slogan “born from a little island with a big spirit,” Red Stripe has become an integral part of Jamaican heritage. Our itinerary was packed with thrilling adventures from coast to coast in order to highlight the passion and beauty of the island, including an private tour of the brewery’s facilities.

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The weekend was a whirlwind of daring escapades and indescribable natural phenomenons. Our first full day began with a tubing excursion through the Ocho Rios rapids to the hidden waterfalls of the Irie Blue Hole before taking flight over Montego Bay for a private avian tour. Known for its stunning white sand and crystal clear turquoise water, the popular tourist destination appears as a breathtaking aquamarine gem from above.

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Another day was spent primarily at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, a local restaurant and bar famous for it’s breathtaking sunset views, delicious local cuisine, and live local music. After happy hour, diners can watch their fellow travelers cliff dive 35 feet from nearby rocks into the inky teal abyss. For those lacking the (liquid) motivation to take the daring leap, there are two shorter cliffs that still allow for thrilling challenge.

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Nevertheless, the climax of the trip was the three-night reggae festival Sum Fest, As this year was the 25th anniversary of the incredible event, the crowds were bursting with vigorous intensity. Attendees embraced the Jamaican spirit by wearing radiant tones and unprecedented festival styles, often inspired by the rasta colors red, green, gold, and black. The epitome of my experience was my exclusive interview with Grammy-winning artist Sean Paul, which will be published shortly.

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While my time on the island may have ended, Jamaica has forever impressed into me the unparalleled vitality and culture of its locals, and I am already looking forward to the next adventure there.

 

xx

Bukunmi

Faux Fur Fantasy

Had the pleasure of collaborating with renowned Dominican artist Uzumaki Cepeda to showcase her fantastically furry installation in conjunction with denim designer Melian J. The juxtaposition between the vibrantly playful sunshine yellow and jarring destroyed denim highlights the unique eccentricity of Uzumaki’s unprecedented medium.

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Uzamaki credits her whimsical aesthetic to her Dominican heritage and upbringing, as both contributed essential elements to her unparalleled installations. While her Latino roots inspired her vivid color palette and dynamic energy, her adolescence in the Bronx encouraged her to create art from any available material, thus inspiring the uncommon faux fur motif.

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Uzumaki Bukunmi Grace Artist

This photoshoot melds Uzumaki’s fuzzy fantasy with high fashion in an unusually alluring partnership, allowing both aspects to compliment each other. The soft background texture compounded by the rugged blue jeans creates a simplistic yet strikingly couture atmosphere within the images.

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Young Paris

Photographed and Styled Young Paris for  Highsnobiety.

Read below for more info on Jay-Z’s protege:

Published 10/25/ 2016

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“You can imagine how theatrical our house was, there were colorful costumes everywhere,” says Milandou Badila via FaceTime. He’s relaxing at a friend’s apartment ahead of a Redbull Music Academy performance in Montreal. Badila, who goes by the stage name Young Paris, enjoyed a childhood that spanned three continents and was shaped by constant exposure to the arts. His father, who passed away in 2011, was a dancer, choreographer and musician as well as the co-founder of the National Ballet of Congo, the country’s first internationally recognized dance troupe. The ballet’s formation came at a critical point in Congo’s history and helped create a sense of unity in the country during the tumultuous time of independence in the 1960s. Paris’s mother was equally immersed in the creative scene; she worked as a playwright and professional dancer. The latter career choice led her to become acquainted with Paris’s father. “She was invited to dance at my father’s studio [in Paris]. Long story short, they fell in love and had seven kids. He had three before he met her so I have 10 siblings in total,” Paris shares.

When the rapper was around seven the family moved from Paris to upstate New York. Still, the change in environment did little to uproot Badila’s familial ties to Congo, where his mother and father would take him to visit between return trips to Paris. This cross-cultural range of experiences soon influenced Badila’s taste in music. As an artist, his interest in divergent genres creates a unique soundscape that blends tropes of traditional hip-hop and trap with EDM, afrobeat and afrohouse.

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“I was involved with a lot of different music styles, ” Badila explains. “I grew up with a lot of traditional African music from Salif Keita to Papa Wemba, so most of my young life was African music. Then, growing up in America, I became interested in hip-hop, I wanted to rap like other kids. As I got older I started going to festivals and I’d hear EDM and trap so I just started mixing all of those different sounds. Now seeing what’s happening with afrobeat it’s created another lane for me because my music already has a lot of those elements.”

In this last year alone global megastars like Drake have turned an eye to the African continent, tapping artists such as Wizkid for chart-topping features. As a result, a new permutation of African-influenced American hip-hop is emerging. It creates a prime opportunity for someone like Paris, whose first-generation experiences position him in the crosshairs of two cultures. He has essentially emerged as a human bridge between traditional hip-hop and the music of the African continent. Following in the footsteps of his mother and father, Paris has created a platform that uses popular culture and performance as a tool for injecting African histories into Western conversations. In 2016, he released the African Vogue EP, which spawned its own hashtag on Twitter specifically dedicated to highlighting the accomplishments of the black diaspora.

 

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Click here to read full interview on by Stephanie Smith Strickland on Highsnobiety