The day after the gown she designed for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made international headlines, Aurora James was reflecting on the undeniable fact that she didn’t see many different Black girls designers represented at the Met Gala, which this 12 months was meant to have fun “American independence.” (There have been a number of Black males designers in attendance as visitors or dressing visitors.)
“I think there may have been one person that I saw last night who was wearing Fe Noel, and that was DeBlasio’s wife,” she mentioned. “Who else was?”
Noting this type of factor is second nature for Ms. James, who’s the founding father of the 15 Percent Pledge, an initiative compelling retailers like Sephora and Gap to commit 15 % of their stock to Black-owned companies.
She can be the founding father of Brother Vellies, a shoe and accent line. And she is the girl who dressed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for a $35,000-per-ticket occasion in a white mermaid robe blaring “Tax the Rich” in purple scrawl on its again, sending the web right into a tailspin.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez responded to the criticism Tuesday on her Instagram, defending her resolution to “puncture the fourth wall of excess and spectacle” and citing a double customary in scrutiny of female and male politicians.
Here, Ms. James talks about her design — a wool jacket costume with an organza flounce, worn with an identical “Tax the Rich” satin bag, obtainable with out the embroidery for $995 — and her perspective on dressing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. (The two have been following one another’s careers for a while, although after this ordeal, Ms. James mentioned, “I would say that we are becoming friendly now.”)
To use a considerably outdated phrase, your costume sort of broke the web. Were you anticipating that?
I don’t know what we have been anticipating, to be trustworthy. For us it was about delivering a message, and I believe given what the Met Gala is, and who the congresswoman is, and what her message actually at all times is, we felt that it was acceptable.
What have been the early ideas for the look?
I undoubtedly needed to make one thing right here in New York — that was actually necessary to me. She’s clearly a girl of the Bronx, however she’s additionally Puerto Rican, and so themes of her heritage got here into play. There was an artist, Shelley Pehrson, that I discovered via a buddy who makes these actually stunning flowers out of paper; she created the Flor de Maga, which is the Puerto Rican nationwide flower, for me in the very starting, and we designed the shoes round the concept of adorning them with that flower.
When it got here to the costume, we needed to play with the concept of conventional suiting, as a result of after we consider the congresswoman, she’s normally in a go well with or one thing of that nature.
Did you already know that you just needed the phrase “tax the rich” to be on the costume from the starting?
No, we talked via lots of completely different concepts and themes.
How did you determine the place to position the textual content, and the way you have been going to use it?
I didn’t actually wish to overthink it an excessive amount of. The subject material this 12 months was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and while you begin diving into what which means and how one can interpret the theme, I believe in the end the congresswoman in and of herself represents the theme.
It actually wasn’t about having the most excellent writing or something like that. It was actually about having an trustworthy output.
Did you write the phrases your self?
No, truly, one in all my design assistants wrote it — that’s simply his handwriting, and it was embroidered.
How did you concentrate on the textual content as a design aspect, past it being an announcement? It’s fairly massive, and the letters barely curve together with her physique.
We know the way a lot individuals wish to management girls’s our bodies. Placing the letters on her as soon as the costume was already match onto her, and actually working round her form, is kind of the reverse of that.
When you stepped on the carpet collectively, what was going via your thoughts?
So a lot of what we see typically in vogue does really feel a bit bit performative, however it is a girl who actually does this work day in and day trip. Given the final a number of years that we’ve had on this nation, I believe that all of us must be asking ourselves what we’re doing with our platform. If we get a seat at the desk, what do we wish that dialog to be over dinner?
Listen, it could be rather a lot simpler to go to the Met Gala and simply put on a extremely stunning costume and look actually stunning and have a great time. But that was not her intention, proper? Her intention was to take a dialog that’s largely current in working-class communities and produce it into rooms the place that dialog could be a bit bit extra uncomfortable. It’s not straightforward to indicate up in a room like that, with an announcement like that.
There’s lots of people who acquire entry to rooms like that and are too afraid to rock the boat.
Once you bought inside, and when you have been at these tables with millionaires and billionaires, how was the costume obtained?
Overall, individuals have been so completely satisfied about it, and actually stunned.
I additionally must say, the workers that was there — which have been primarily Black and brown individuals, predominantly — they have been actually excited to see that message being delivered.
Did you expertise or observe any sort of awkwardness round the costume?
I didn’t actually. Quite a lot of instances individuals could be seeing her from the entrance, after which she walks away, and it’s like: “Oh. Ohhh.” But it’s kind of a pleasure in the surprising.
Who was at your desk?
Oh, I don’t assume we are able to share tables.
The criticism that there’s some hypocrisy in mingling at an occasion amongst the very individuals that you just’re calling to tax — what’s your response to that?
I believe that it’s fairly good to ship a message that you’ve on to the people who that you must hear it. In individual.
If your congressperson goes to be in the room with these individuals, what would you need them to say? Ultimately, what she’s saying is that the one % must be taxed.
One of the photos circulating final night time, together with the picture of your costume, was one in all the Trump-supporting singer Joy Villa at the Grammys in 2019, when she wore a white dress with the phrases “Build the Wall” written in large purple letters on the again. Were you referencing that in any respect?
No. I’ve by no means heard of that individual.
This interview has been edited and condensed.