Justine of Common Era
We chatted to Justine Ariel, a 25 year old knitwear designer, poet, writer, artist and photographer who's originally from Portland, Oregon and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
G: What made you decide to create your blog, Common Era?
JA: I started Common Era because I love the glamour of a black and white photograph. One of the points Common Era makes, in the subtext, is that the vintage glamour we love so much is actually accessible today, we just have to see the world through a certain lens. Black and white photography isn’t necessarily “vintage” in itself, it’s a choice, but it reflects how we see the world of the past. That’s so important to me, but it’s equally important to try to create beauty in this world, in the here-and-now.
I’d also like to say that I’m interested in fashion photography as an art form that almost never tries to sell a product. My love of fashion is really about the dream, and not the product. That’s also why the past is so important. Vintage photographs and magazines might have tried to sell a product at one point, but that product is probably so difficult to find today that your eye and mind focuses so much more on the feeling the image gives you, the evocation. For instance, looking at photos of Audrey Hepburn - very few people say, "I need those 1962 Givenchy cropped trousers!" They say, "I want that attitude and that glamour in my life." That’s what I’m trying to do with Common Era. To cultivate a very modern attitude with a black and white, “vintage” aesthetic.
G: What inspires you?
JA: Anything that moves me inspires me. My strongest inspirations for fashion and photography are the films of the 1930s and the 1960s. Antonioni’s cinematography is a major influence in my photography style, but I also watch Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bogart, Bacall movies all the time. American classic film is about personalities. European classic film is about mood, feeling, what boils underneath society and how that can manifest in a relationship between two people. I’ve always been more inspired by “feeling” than “things” - which is interesting for someone who is starting in fashion photography. I do love product photography, but because of the design, not so much the thing itself.
G: When taking photographs for your blog, is there anything in particular you look out for?
JA: I look for angles, silhouettes, and halves of things. By showing half of a hat, or the Fendi window in and out of focus, the photos create a mood that isn’t about buying this, or having that. My wardrobe is not designer - I work two jobs! But I love photographing designer clothes and products, especially in shop windows. So, what started out as a survival technique - looking in windows, trying to understand the look and the lines - developed into a photography style. So many happy accidents happen in photographs of shop windows. You see shadows and reflections that you could never see by looking at the overall arrangement.
G: Favourite country you’ve visited?
JA: Wow. That is really tough. I’m going to have to say France or Italy, simply because I feel so at home in those countries. It’s important to be able to visit a place often and create private rituals. They give meaning to time passing, and you’re able to say, “One year ago, I was here, but I was different.” That said, I also crave new experiences. Last summer I went to Zambia on safari and that was a truly life-changing trip. As much as I love architecture, fashion, café life, it’s humbling to understand how diverse and fragile civilization actually is.
G: Describe the fashion in New York.
JA: Fashion in New York is eclectic. It’s difficult to describe one particular fashion, because it changes from street to street! A part of New York fashion is dominated right now by famous fashion bloggers like Garance Doré and Leandra Medine (The Man Repeller) - and their personalities and styles are so radically different. But the most interesting fashions are now the ones that would never show up on the blogs. You see sarongs in Bed-Stuy, home-made dresses in Queens. Usually it’s the individuals you see on long subway rides who have the most unique look.
G: Favourite places to visit in New York?
JA: The Neue Galerie is a great museum - well curated, and if you like Klimt or Schiele it has the best collection outside of Austria. I frequent restaurants in Brooklyn like Barbancino or Saraghina. And my favourite clothing shops are Uniqlo and Equipment. Walking around Soho is a joy because the cobblestones remind me of Paris or Florence.
G: Your top three films and books?
JA: My favourite films right now are Antonioni’s “La Notte”, Jacques Demi’s “Bay of Angels” (1963), and I’ve always loved “Doctor Zhivago” (1965, David Lean). My favourite writers are Lawrence Durrell (The Alexandria Quartet), Anaïs Nin (the diaries), Jorge Luis Borges (Labyrinths), and the Russian poets of the Silver Age, like Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam.
G: Your most prized vintage possession?
JA: I’m actually very basic - very classic - when it comes to my clothes. My most prized vintage possession is a simple and beautifully cut black Oscar de la Renta skirt. It falls right at the knee, and it feels very luxurious but not so fragile, so I can really take it and wear it anywhere. I found it in a consignment shop in Providence, Rhode Island.
G: What does vintage mean to you?
JA: Vintage to me is an ideal. Vintage is that dream of living a beautiful life. To be vintage today is to overdress, only slightly, to make a statement. Vintage is confidence. You don’t have to follow trends - you can look to Bette Davis 70 years ago for inspiration and look great. Vintage is an attitude: it isn’t old, it’s timeless.
Photographs by Justine Ariel