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Style + Design

Sister Act

Designers Darlene and Lizzy Okpo behind the knockout label William Okpo are the latest sibling duo on the fashion scene. They've got a flagship store in NYC and collabs with cult brands Opening Ceremony and Brother Vellies, not to mention high profile friendships with It girls, Solange Knowles and Aurora James. Siobhan Reid sits down with the pair to talk trends, Trinidad and Tobago and New York City transit.

See recent posts by Siobhan Reid

Star-studded runway shows. Glossy editorial shoots. Big-budget costume exhibits. Style inspiration takes many forms in a city as fashionable as New York. But for Lizzy and Darlene Okpo, the sister act behind ready-to-wear fashion label, William Okpo, inspiration strikes underground in the city’s flickering subway tunnels.

“I love the funky fashion choices that you see in the New York subway” says Darlene, the label’s creative director. "Unlike in other cities, if you walk onto the subway in an all-white outfit, no one will bat an eye. It’s truly a judge-free zone."

With a penchant for all things colorful and daringly-cut (think pleated skirts; coulottes; bell-sleeved crop tops), the Brooklyn-based sisters have scored collaborations with the likes of Aurora James of Brother Vellies and Solange Knowles for Puma. But despite their non-stop schedule, the sisters are "making it [their] business" to visit 5 different countries this year alone.

“Even if your day-to-day is crazy, you got to make time to travel” says younger-sib Lizzy. "It’s such an important education.”

You can see Darlene and Lizzy’s fall collection ⎯ pastel pant suits, billowy shirt dresses and wide-legged jumpers ⎯ at their South Street Seaport flagship store. Just don’t expect to leave in an all-black getup.

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Tell us about your design philosophy?

Darlene: Though we tend to gravitate towards the masculine and the quirky, we like to bend the rules and strive for a one-of-a-kind look. IT'S all about having fun—to do what you want, not to follow rules and trends. In fashion, it can be difficult to be true to your own personal style—especially when Vogue or the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) is telling you what’s hot and what’s in season. So we try to stay focused.

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The brand is named after your dad. How did having a fashionable father affect your style?

Lizzy: We grew up with our father dressing us. He was always very militant when it came to fashion. Every Sunday, he'd iron his clothes for the week ahead. And whether we were going to school or to a special event, he'd be the one buying our dresses. It’s only now that we realize how unconventional it was to have a father giving us style advice!

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Your dad left moved here in 1976. What surprised him most about American fashion?

Lizzy: When he moved to America from Nigeria he couldn’t understand why everyone was always wearing black and shying away from color. He was like, ‘where are the plums, the blues and the rust colors?’ That being said, the only time he wore the traditional African dress was when he went to parties. Otherwise, he'd sport three-piece suits just like James Brown, his style icon. I do believe that fashion has the power to deconstruct certain perceptions of immigrant culture. I’m inspired by Japanese culture just as much as I’m inspired by African designs.

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How do you spend your time when you're not dressing A-list celebs?

Darlene: I'm always studying up for my next vacation. My sister makes fun of me because I constantly have one browser on Google flights. It’s so important to travel, especially when you’re young. It gives me a chance to observe other cultures and their artistry. I’m making it my business to visit 5 countries this year.

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What's the best trip you've ever taken?

Lizzy: Guatemala. Guatemalans are such artisans, in the truest sense of the word. Their craftsmanship is incredible, from the textiles to the furniture.

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Where are you headed next?

Darlene: Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru and India. Basically anywhere where there’s color, that’s where I need to be.

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What is your favorite souvenir?

Darlene: An accent! When Lizzy and I travel, we really try and connect with the locals, even if we don’t speak the language. When we were in Trinidad, we picked up the Trinidadian accent in an effort to blend in.

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Must-have carry-on item?

Lizzy: I always bring a book that's related to the country I’m visiting. When I went to Tobago I was reading Frank Moya-Pons’ ‘History of the Caribbean.'

Darlene: My Bluetooth speakers. I don’t go anywhere without my music.

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Care to Share Any Travel Tips?

Lizzy: Eat local! Darlene and I will go out of our way to find great street grub or someone who is willing to make us a home-cooked meal.

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