“It’s about the collapse of society. What I envision people wearing at the end time,” said Mowalola Ogunlesi of her sharp and urgent autumn-winter 2023 collection. That collapse’s trigger, she reckoned, might be sparked by the membrane that now connects us all: “low-key we’re literally in the last fight between life and tech. And I feel like a lot of corporations are gaining massive power over a lot of things.” Mowalola‘s fashion dystopia speaks volumes about our society today. But it also offers clothes suited for tumultuous times. The ingeniously-gartered, pants-down jeans and skirt; the crotch-hands shorts, pants, and skirts; the Insert Disc Here dress; and the closing series of dancehall fits all pointed to that, as did the masks. Said Ogunlesi of these: “it’s about an aspect of life that is kind of put in the dark, which is our true desires. A lot of people don’t celebrate them. You have politicians who do things, and when it comes out, they act like it wasn’t them.” There will always be traction for a brand built in youth that throws barbs at the hypocrisy of the elders and which champions freedom of expression in resistance to systems.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
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.
In the light of the extremely sad and disturbing events that have happened in the past few days – and not only – I would like to state that my site, my work and my outlook always stand with the black community. Racism is alive in America, and in the world, and we must be vocal about it (the way you personally choose to). I believe that educating yourself, having conversations (private and public) and spreading actual awareness is much more meaningful than just reposting a slogan on your social media feed (even though doing this little is better than nothing). I also think that in the creative industries – the one I can speak for – reflecting personal beliefs should be more than welcomed. Other than this, donate (click here and here), share links (here, here and here), support! You can even buy the dress Rihanna wore by Asai, and the entire 300 pounds it costs will be donated to three charities – just DM the designer with your order or send him an e-mail. In the domain I’m most active in – fashion – I feel like the situation should be highlighted as well, and more designers and brands should join that dialogue. On my side, I want to introduce you to the most exciting, emerging, independent black designers out there, who are often overlooked during fashion weeks or simply underrated. Their stories and visions shape and inspire today’s industry, we should all acknowledge that!
Starting with Mowalola. The Lagos-born designer Mowalola Ogunlesi arrived to London when she was a kid. At first she planned medicine as her life path, but in the end she went to Central Saint Martins. Three years ago, she presented her diploma collection dedicated to contemporary Africa. She made waves – fashion insiders and international magazines were obsessed. Mawolola’s vision was completely one-of-a-kind: through sexy, at points kinky garments she managed to convey the power of erotic tension in the times of social uncertainty. “In my country, I grew up with sexuality being very judged. So I wanted to transform people’s ideas of what sexy is. That it’s okay to show skin”, she told Vogue Runway. To embrace her origins, the designer chose psychodelic rock from Nigeria as her main reference, and her music inspirations lead to creating the new romantic menswear. Mowalola models wore sultry leather jackets, low-waisted super-slim pants and skin-baring crop tops with assymetrical cuts. All that kept in bold colours, reminding her of the Nigerian landscapes and streets. For her spring-summer 2020 collection, presented with Fashion East, Mowalola expanded her unique take on men’s fashion. Her signatures were styled with belts buckled with sacred and profane symbols: a cross, a religious icon, the Stars and Stripes, the words “sexy” and “mother fucker”. “I base it on what I’m going through – I’ve just fallen in love for the first time; I feel as if no one talks about the horrific side, the dangers of love, of losing control of your emotions and feeling like you’re crazy. It’s like how I see a horror movie!” she related. “So this is as if I’m in a black Woodstock Festival, and someone has been murdered.” See selected looks from her collections below, I can’t wait to see what she’s up to in the upcoming seasons. Make sure to follow her on Instagram and take a look at some of the pieces available from her on ssese.com!