When Mowalola Ogunlesi appeared for her bow after a three-year runway hiatus, the room roared. Ogunlesi has a strong community of fashion lovers who love her – even outside her physical show space, her legions of online fans offered an outpouring of support. That passion bleeds into Ogunlesi’s clothing and her first solo show after participating in Fashion East for several seasons. “Before, I would cut myself off from expressing in certain ways because I thought I shouldn’t do that,” she said before her Paris debut. But the designer learned that “whatever feeds me, I should just do it.” What was feeding Ogunlesi this season was thievery and evolving her aesthetic beyond the trenches, tees, and accessories she is known for. She titled her collection “Burglarwear,” inspired by all types of criminals, from kidnappers to stockbrokers to the priesthood. There were literal renderings of these themes – the show opened with a yellow leather cross harness, closed with a beautiful sheer cross-embellished veil worn over a nude body, and Wall Street suits were cropped to Mowalola proportions in between – but her most interesting propositions were her distortions to the human body. Sexiness has been a staple of the Mowalola look since the inception of her brand – backstage before the show she expressed frustration about gendered views of sex appeal, “that’s why I have women showing nipples and men showing nipples,” a pregnant model in a beaded dress and a male model in some of the lowest rise pants seen this season. But rather than just show off the body, she reshaped it. Inspired by the way kidnappers would zip tie wrists – “the same position if you are wearing handcuffs,” she said – she created garments that held arms clasped out in front. The best was a white dress that pointed the model’s elbows up to the heavens. “I like the idea of weaponizing clothes, weaponizing shoes, weaponizing shoulders, weaponizing elbows,” she said with a smile, “Even my bag… sometimes I have to use my bag as a weapon.” Living as freely and expressing as purely as Ogunlesi does, sometimes require fighting for a space in fashion. She’s definitely up to the task.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.