nyc brand william okpo on solange, puma and prints
Darlene and Lizzy Okpo are the New York City natives behind one of Solange’s favourite labels.
Perched just above 28th St, Lizzy and Darlene Okpo's studio has a wall-sized window with the perfect view of the world below. It'd be easy to spend an entire day watching swarms of bike messengers buzz between traffic, bag ladies (or are they Kawakubo models?) mine treasures from sky-high trash piles. But having spent their entire lives in the Big Apple, the Okpos have seen it all.
"We grew up in New York City, practically all five boroughs," Darlene tells me. "We were born and raised in the Bronx and Staten Island, but we currently live in Brooklyn." Darlene and her younger sister Lizzy delight in swapping tales of their dad's stint as a taxi driver in Harlem or their childhood days playing hide-and-seek in TJ Maxx.
The sisters spin these stories into bright and bold collections for William Okpo. Named after their father, the brand is a celebration of his fondness of print, colour, and silhouette. Soon after their first collection's launch five years ago, Solange became a fan and fast friend. After becoming a creative consultant for Puma last year, the younger Knowles tapped the Okpos to create their version of the German sportswear brand's Disc model. Off the heels of their second Puma collaboration, Lizzy and Darlene talk all things New York with i-D.
The brand is named after your father. Can you tell us about him?
Lizzy: Our dad arrived to New York in 1976, he says with only $180 in his pocket, but I always think he's lying. He came to this country for education; he wanted to study medicine, but went in a different direction due to the struggle of living in New York City. We've always been inspired by our father because he was our stylist growing up, he took a lot of pride in dressing us.
What are some of the best items in his closet?
Darlene: My favourite jacket he has is a corduroy version of the North Face Snorkel that he got off a crackhead in the 80s in the Bronx for $20! He's a hoarder, but he's very specific. He used to bring us to TJ Maxx every Saturday after we did our grocery shopping. We would stay in the store for two hours, and he'd leave with just one item. We'd play hide-and-seek in the racks to pass the time.
When did you start designing?
D: Our first collection made its debut at Opening Ceremony in the autumn of 2010. OC was the first store to pick us up as young designers and we say in every interview that we are forever grateful to them for it.
L: They gave us a chance. Carol and Humberto sat us down and gave us such valuable information that we still hold on to and take with us to every meeting. They gave us financial advice - how to calculate patterns and samples - as well as visual advice about how to make a simple collection look so elegant and cool. We've really held on to that and we keep it in the back of our mind.
Can you tell us about your new collection?
L: Every season we always try to do something fun, silly, and quirky, and this collection definitely was that. We didn't want any boundaries this season; we weren't trying to please anyone but ourselves.
How did you come to collaborate with Solange and Puma?
L: Solange has been a friend for a few years. We work with her on many projects and when she became the art director of Puma, she wanted to curate her collections, not claim she was designing them. She wanted to honour the people that she loves and help create based on what she admires. She loves visuals so she chose Hisham Bharoocha, Gerlan Jeans, and us. By bringing all of us on, she helped Puma to open up and take a different approach on things. We all connected so well and we really got to express ourselves. There were no rules.
D: It was an amazing and interesting process; we all went up to their headquarters and design lab in Boston together. There was so much fabric and we were like, "You mean we can pick any of it?" It was like a funhouse.
Speaking of supporting one another, do you feel a sense of community between yourselves and other New York designers?
L: Yes! There's so many of us that literally cheer each other on during fashion week. We know it is a struggle, but we're not in it alone. We share our stories and find ways to help each other, hit each other up for resources or information. You'd be so surprised how that on the drop of a dime, people will send a whole list of resources when you've only asked one question. New York is so challenging for young designers, but we've formed a great community from that struggle.
D: It's the city that raised us, so we've gotta stay loyal.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Kathy LO