I was going to take the lazy bum route and ease myself gently into the 2011 routine of new label pummeling, as a new season of collections is alarmingly just around the corner. Talk about a few sales purchases, some S/S 11 trend observations, vintage treks and some exhibitions yadda yadda yadda…bang bang bang… and lo and behold, February is here and the madness begins.
I’m now horrified at that laissez faire sentiment. That’s no way to start 2011, the fifth year of this blog’s existence! Browsing through Opening Ceremony’s sale section, an activity that was part and parcel of my lazy bum Christmas-New Year routine consequently pulled me out of this lull. I discovered William Okpo whilst going through the bargainous steals and found out that one of half of the label, Lizzy Okpo also happens to work at Opening Ceremony. Together with her sister Darlene, this Brooklyn-based sister duo who named their label after their impeccably dressed father, have gotten a head start by having their debut collection stocked in a store that in my mind gets their selection scarily spot on (I say scary because I fear for my debit card limits when I’m in there).
Google doesn’t yield much on William Okpo but what it did come back with pervaded to be a strikingly pink elephant in the room – i.e. an obvious issue that funnily enough doesn’t get talked about that often. Where William Okpo is talked up online, happens to be on sites that talk up ‘black fashion talent’ of 'African inspired fashion' which led me to have a think about the ten or so black, designers that I could name off the top off my head that show on an international show, disproportionately low when compared to Caucasian or Asian (Chinese, Japanese) counterparts. Telfar, Laquan Smith (who himself highlighted the issue with the vocal support of Andre Leon Talley), Duro Olowu, Casely-Hayford, Jaiden RvA James and Ozwald Boteang are part of this handful.
When I last spoke about Laquan Smith though, my thoughts were that making the race of the designer into the main issue, sometimes needlessly sidelines the subject at hand, which are the clothes. This is still the case but I suppose Goggling up Lizzy and Darlene’s work pointed out this deficiency in the industry that has roots in a number of factors that somehow, isn’t as clear cut as it is in the modeling industry where it can be put down to unconscious/conscious decisions in the casting/agency process.
In any case, I'm reluctant to taint William Okpo’s work by ladling ISSUE with capital letters onto the post. As Darlene Okpo says: “We wouldn't segment ourselves as black designers we are designers, that's just it. There are many designers of colour out there, but they do not receive enough exposure.”
So onto the subject at hand which is their compact sophomore collection, which caught my eye because of its choice of fabrics, evoking watercolours in the softly gradiated sheer silks worked into trenches, long skirts and shorts complimented by opaque tones of muddied seafoam green, grey, black and dulled silver.
“For Spring/Summer we wanted to reveal the secrecy that every woman hides about her body by keeping her fully covered yet visibly see through,” explains Darlene. Clearly it’s their discreet ways of revealing and concealing that draws me in as well as their sensibility to fabrics and the delicate qualities of the pieces that feel perfect for wafting around in. It’s all very 19th century pre-Raphaelite movement up in my head at the moment… and I feel at any given moment, I’m about to gush with florid words of piss poor poetry so I’ll stop myself. I’m blaming the Okpo sisters for conjuring up Rossetti muses, Millais and the Lady of Shalott.