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ExploreSt James Quarter

In The Know: Chioma Okoro

Imagine strolling down an Edinburgh street and being approached by a canny modelling agent with an eye for the next big thing. Perhaps this is the kind of thing that happens to you all the time, but, for most people, it is rare. When you look like Chioma Okoro, though, it’s a distinct possibility. This type of ‘street casting’ was exactly how she got her start in modelling. “Yeah, I found myself being asked on the street to model for people, and I decided to get an agency, just to make it easier”.
That agency in question was Tartan Models in Edinburgh, and she has gone on to appear in numerous fashion spreads, photo essays and articles in print and online. From the outset, Okoro was interested in both sides of the camera and, having studied fashion at the Heriot-Watt University school of textiles and design, is a stylist and creative director, designing and coordinating shoots as well as modelling. Pressed on which of these activities she prefers, she finds they all have something stimulating to recommend them. “I don’t really know because I enjoy doing all these different things in photography and fashion. With modelling, it’s like you’re portraying different characters, and with creative directing, I enjoy putting things together and watching the vision come to life. I think, right now, because I’ve finished uni, I’m enjoying the creative direction side a little better because I am such a control freak that I can influence how everything is styled!”
Asked to describe her own personal style, it is something that’s hard to pin down. “I’d say it’s very different. It’s very bold and there’s no set way to do it. I get inspired by many things in my life – mostly anime, you know, and Japanese fashion. So, the idea of having different asymmetric shapes and daring colours… There’s no set style. I wouldn’t classify myself as any one look. I’d say I’m in-between genres.”
One design shop very much on her radar is the innovative and inventive Acne. “I’m really fascinated by the designers at Acne Studios …what they do is up my street. I love their collections, especially their menswear. It’s almost presented as though anyone can wear it. It’s very freeing and, to me, I just love how everything is put together. You can tell that the creator of the designs is influenced by a lot of subcultures and architecture, which are the same things that inspire me.”
What she sees SJQ adding to the Edinburgh fashion scene is a healthy local alternative to the retail experiences in London or even Glasgow. “I think it’s great, especially for young people. I know most people who go online and have a lot of trouble with sizing and returns. Most people have to go down to London or Glasgow, but having something here is really, really good for the young people… and to put Edinburgh on the map. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and, apart from the art scene and everything, in fashion… if we keep getting more successes, it’s all good.”
She made her own inaugural trip to SJQ recently and already has a favourite spot to visit. “I was in there today. I’m in love with Bershka, which is a fast-fashion Spanish brand [owned by Inditex, the same chain as Zara and Pull&Bear]. I just love their stuff.” Other outlets that might expect a visit from Okoro include “…maybe Pull&Bear as well… H&M is good, and I worked there, so I already know everything they’ve got.”
At the same time, she’s just as likely to find her clothes in a vintage shop, and has a mix-and-match approach to her distinctive style. Does an Edinburgh street style exist? Okoro has been observing the patterns at play more keenly than most and has noticed an Eighties throwback, not only in the way people wear their clothes but also in how they wear their hair. 
“Every time I look around, everyone seems to have a mullet!” she laughs. “There are definitely styles and trendsetters in Edinburgh. They’re just low profile. When you think about style and trendsetters, you don’t think about Edinburgh, you think about London, but I guess I know the stylish people and that’s why I keep seeing them around …it’s definitely there. Looks from the Eighties, Seventies, some Nineties… they’re all mixed together in the youth culture just now.”
Another area of influence is the USA, where Okoro rates actress-singer Willow Smith and the simply unstoppable Zendaya. “I love how she puts herself together. Awesome artists. They’re both iconic women.”
And what does the future hold for this iconic Edinburgh artist? A few trips abroad are certainly on the cards. “I want to travel. That’s one thing on my list – to travel the world. I don’t believe in being boxed in any one place. As a creative, my dream is to see the world and know what I can add to it. And I can’t do that if I
 simply stay in Scotland. I definitely want to travel the world.”
The longest of journeys, as they say, begin with one step… possibly in an immaculately stylish pair of heels or industrial-style designer boots.