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The Children of the Dragon Issue

Carbon Copies

Identical twins always attract a peculiar type of attention, but these gals were walking mirrors. Their uniformity was uncanny.
January 12, 2012, 1:45pm

The first time I saw Monette and Mady they were nonchalantly strolling around Paris’s 11th arrondissement, where I used to live. Identical twins always attract a peculiar type of attention, but these gals were walking mirrors. Their uniformity was uncanny. Over the following months, then years, I kept seeing them around. They were always dressed exactly alike in just-off-the-rack outfits that were expensive, tasteful, and never the same. Every time I spotted them they appeared to be running late for some important function or meeting, their hurried gestures and body language perfectly synchronous. I’d always wanted to talk to the twins, to find out what their deal was, but a good opportunity never presented itself. Then, on a random Sunday morning years after my first encounter, I ran into them at my local produce market and asked if I could take their portraits. They agreed almost immediately. I soon learned that Monette and Mady were very familiar with modeling and acting. They’ve appeared in French films such as Amélie and Paris Je T’Aime, starred as dancers in a George Michael video, and posed for numerous advertisements and art projects. The more I spoke with the twins, the more I wanted to know about their symbiotic existence. I discovered that they’ve lived together their whole lives, never married or had kids, collectively refer to themselves as “I” instead of “we,” finish each other’s sentences so quickly that it often sounds like only one person is speaking, and follow the same daily routines, including eating duplicate meals in identical portions. After we became better acquainted, I asked if I could document their daily lives indefinitely. At first, they couldn’t fathom why someone would want to do such a thing, but eventually they came around. VICE: Have you always dressed identically?
Monette: When we were very young, our mother would dress us in different outfits to make it easier to tell us apart. Later, when we started dressing alike, she didn’t like it.
Mady: She always made a point of giving us different gifts and treating us as separate individuals.
Monette: But it’s fun to wear identical clothes! It amuses us to see people’s reactions on the street, they turn around and give us strange looks—
Mady: —because we still dress alike at our age. Uniqueness might be important to singular people, but it’s not to us. What do you mean by “singular people”?
Mady: Singular people are those who are not twins. What I mean is, for example, if a singular person sees two people dressed the same, it’s a shock to them.
Monette: We’re not singular people, to us being and dressing alike is part of our personality. It would create an imbalance if one of us would be dressed casually while the other would be dressed up and wearing high heels.
Mady: It would feel like wearing both outfits at the same time. We are very balanced so we can’t have that! Does it annoy you when people stare?
Mady: We make fun of them too!
Monette: Once, three boys in their 20s passed us on the street, all dressed the same in jeans and similar jackets. They made some ridiculous comment about us dressing alike.
Mady: We caught up with them and said, “At least we are aware of it.”
Monette: Most people don’t realize it but everyone looks more or less the same these days. Have either of you ever had boyfriends?
Mady: It’s quite difficult to explain all this; a twin will always be a twin even if she gets married. She will always be attached to her other half. You carry your twin with you all the time.
Monette: We knew—I say this with modesty—everything about being in a couple long before singular people our age did. To find a soul mate is extremely difficult for a singular person, it might happen just once in a lifetime. Are you implying that the two of you share romantic relationships?
Monette: What do you mean? Let me reformulate that question: Has someone ever fallen in love with both of you?
Mady: [giggles] You will have to ask them that! Have you ever fallen in love with the same person?
Monette: Oh, now you are asking questions we won’t answer! You once told me that some people are superstitious around you, that they give you offerings.
Mady: Yes! To a certain African community, twins are a disturbing element so they protect themselves by giving us a coin. They also make a wish so it’s a votive offering.
Monette: They are obliged to do so. If we refuse they’ll say, “No, no, I must give you a piece!”
Mady: About a year ago, when we were waiting for the bus, a young African woman passed us. She smiled and said hello, then retraced her steps and said, “Is it OK if I give you a coin?” We asked her why and finally found out.
Monette: So now we accept their offerings because we don’t want to disrespect their culture. Do you ever spend time apart?
Monette: We do most things together, but it happens. For example, one might go to the shop while the other takes care of the laundry.
Mady: We don’t really have a need to be apart, which singular people have a hard time understanding. Whenever we’re out on different missions we keep in touch over the phone.
Monette: People tell us we’re lucky because we can be more efficient; you could argue that we can be in two places at the same time.