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Interview - The Islington Twins

The Islington Twins photographed by Janette Beckman

As far as street style and fashion are concerned, London is most definitely the capital of eccentricity and individuality. It doesn't come as a surprise that some of the world's most stylish people hail from here, or live here. We met Chuka and Dubem (later Chet and Joe) Okonkwo in the Summer, during the deLUX art expedition project on our MCM Routemaster. We were drawn in by the elaborate style displayed by this dapper duo and they were keen to share their enthusiasm for our brand. 

Chet and Joe, aka The Islington Twins are somewhat of a London style legend. They were first noticed by photographer Janette Beckman in 1977 at Clerkenwell College where she was teaching photography. She was seduced by their rude boy aesthetics (ndlr rude boy style in the late 70s describes clothing worn by tone ska revival fans in the UK) and dashing looks. In 1980, Beckman's photograph was published as a full page spread in The Face, solidifying their style icon status. After that, the twins held court at "The Bar", by Highbury and Islington tube station, where dozens of teens would come and visit them everyday to get inspiration and life advice from those two brothers, who decidedly were too cool for school.

Fast forward 30 years and Chet and Joe are using their style credentials and life ethos to help others with their mental development and everyday lives through their new venture Env↑ronMENTAL Training. We sat down with them for a little while to find out more about those two inspirational characters. 

Hello, please introduce yourselves...

Hello everyone. We're Chuka and Dubem Okonkwo, training consultants based in Islington, London. 
Could you describe your personal style for our readers?
Our style is a reflection of our mental state: calm, relaxed and confident. How we feel within is reflected in our choice of attire and style. Many things contribute to our style and it isn't easy to describe them in a few words. So we'll limit ourselves to speaking about colour, material and shape.

1. Colour - We like bright and dark colours and are happy to mix them. You may spoil us by presenting us with a University college scarf as a gift. Where bright colours are concerned care has to be taken with certain outfits. A pink cravat with dark-blue polka dots gets a nod, but a pink suit is a no-no; unless it's a pink boating blazer at Henley Royal Regatta. No, we're not members of the Leander Club. 
2. Materials - We like the look and feel of cotton, wool, silk, suede and leather products - whenever possible we'll encourage the lavish use of velvet on the collars and cuffs of jackets and overcoats. We won't reject a garment just because it's synthetic; if it's well-made and functional, it will become part of our wardrobe. Flexibility in taste is the key here.
3. Shapes - Slim collars on shirts, slim ties, bright coloured cravats and socks, tank tops, V-neck and crew neck sweaters, 14'' trouser bottoms with pleats and turn-ups, 3 buttons jackets - 2 buttons will be worn at a push -, full-length Covert overcoats with velvet on the collar and cuffs wherever possible. Classic English shoes made in Northampton: brogues, semi-brogues, monks and loafers, e.g. Crockett & Jones, Church's, Grensons, Tricker's and Edward Green. Famous as these English names are, we prefer to purchase traditional lasts and reject the modern styles. Hats: bowler, boater, top hat (silk only), trilby, caps: cricket, tweed, but not baseball. Accessories: university/college designed cuff links and tie-pins, armbands, button braces, but no clip-ons or belts. We always joke that only children, cowboys and pirates should be seen wearing belts. 
4. Regency dandies, Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen, Mods of the early 60's; cult TV shows: The Prisoner, The Saint, The Avengers, Mission Impossible, Man from Uncle - and recently Mad Men - have all had a strong influence on our style whether we're formally or casually dressed.
You’ve been noted as London Style Icons after appearing in the first issue of The Face Magazine. How has your style evolved in the past 5 years?
In the past 5 years, because of work and the type of places we visit, we've spent more time in suits. However, the same rules still apply whether formally or casually dressed: a mental ideal of how one desires to look and feel should be kept in mind, and resurrected at intervals.

First Issue of The Face dated May 1980

When did you first discover MCM?
Sunday 12th August 2012. 
We had just left Tate, after seeing the Migrations - Journeys into British Art, when we spotted  the MCM Routemaster parked outside. Minutes before, believe it or not! Paul Goodwin, a co-curator of the Migrations exhibition, had been telling us about MCM Worldwide.

Tate Modern
The MCM Routemaster
What is your favourite MCM bag and why?
Stark. It is beautifully designed and looks robust enough to survive daily use. We carry a lot of large books plus equipment and need a bag that will not come away at the seams.

What did you think of our Routemaster bus?
We loved it. Seeing the Routemaster for the first time was like coming across a red double-decker in the middle of the Kalahari desert. Wow!
We were lucky enough to have the experience of seeing and travelling on the Routemaster like excited schoolkids. It called at the Saatchi Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum before stopping at MCM's flagship store in Knightsbridge, where we alighted reluctantly, but happy and thrilled with the fun time we'd enjoyed on the road that afternoon.
What advice could you give to men who would like to start carrying bags but don't really know how?
If, like us, you have to carry a lot of things - for us it's heavy books plus the games that are used in our work; for others it might be a Leica camera, MacBook Pro and an iPad - then a sturdy bag becomes a requirement not an accessory.

Your number one style rule?
Always aim to be yourself rather than a copy of someone else, which means wearing what looks good and feels comfortable.

You both are known for having symmetrical style? how does symmetry affect your overall styling?

We have similar taste in clothes, but never think about symmetry. Any symmetry in our style is on an unconscious level.
In an interview with The Guardian, you were noted for your keen interest in handmade tailoring.  
Considering that our reason for doing that interview was because we liked the look of Tank Magazine: we found it wacky, daring, bold and very different, and were thrilled to be featured in it. We find it amusing that people only ever refer to The Guardian piece. (ndlr see also this G2 The Guardian piece)

Since MCM’s products are mostly handmade, we would like to know your take on the importance of handcrafted items? 
We love the feel of clothes made by craftsmen, and can appreciate the similar attention to detail that goes into creating MCM's products. Concentration, attention, love and patience are a few of the attributes needed to produce things of lasting quality; they also sharpen the mind, making it a better instrument of expression. 
What is Env↑ronMENTAL Training?
Env↑ronMENTAL Training is a mental development course that specialises in training, motivating and consulting. Childish games and monotonous exercises are used to train individuals to train themselves to improve and develop their ability to concentrate.

Why do you use childish games and tedious and boring exercises?
Childish games are deceptively simple, but they're not easy to perform; they demand our full attention and concentration.
What is the benefit in performing monotonous exercises? 
When the mind is put through monotonous exercises one learns to master tedium and boredom, and develops skills to handle difficult and challenging situations. 
How did you get started & what was your inspiration?

We spent years researching different methods of improving the ability to concentrate before setting up The Tw↑ns: Env↑ronMENTAL Training in 2005. The idea was to provide a service to help bankers and lawyers in the City, who were performing poorly due to lapses of concentration caused by anxiety and stress. Many secretly rely on alcohol and drugs just to get them through the day.


What is the correspondence between style & positive thinking?

Style and positive thinking use the powerful tool of imagination to influence our lives for the better.

Love from Mademoiselle Robot
Env↑ronMEN , twins , islington , mcm , Okonkwo