Mowalola Ogunlesi was born on the 25th of March, 1995. She is a Nigerian-born fashion designer working and living in London. She is known for working with a wide variety of textiles such as leather and PVC to produce non-traditional silhouettes inspired by Nigerian and London youth culture.
At only 25 years old, Nigerian-born, London-based Mowalola Ogunlesi has carved out a space for herself in the competitive fashion industry, with provocative and powerful designs under her namesake brand. The designer, who works largely with PVC and leather, takes great pains to create fashion that challenges people and ‘screams [her] lived experience as a Black person’.
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She’s already dressed huge names like Naomi Campbell at the supermodel’s Fashion for Relief gala, as well as Kim Kardashian and Solange, and was recently named Design Director of Kanye West’s Yeezy Gap initiative.
Ogunlesi was born to two Nigerian fashion designers, her mother specializing in children’s clothing and her father working in traditional Nigerian menswear. The designer grew up in Nigeria and moved to the UK at age 12 for boarding school in the Surrey countryside. Her parents, who still live in Nigeria with her brother, are both fashion designers, so it’s in the blood. She explains:
“My mum’s a childrenswear designer, though she used to do womenswear with my grandma. My dad makes traditional Nigerian menswear. He’s always trying to tell me about designing, but we have different tastes. I love the way he dresses though, he wears whatever he wants. He’s always buying things and personalizing them. He’s a big inspiration to me.”
Ogunlesi earned her Bachelor of Arts in Fashion at Central Saint Martins – University of the Arts, London, debuting a collection at the Graduation Press Show in 2017. She enrolled in the Master of Arts programme at Central Saint Martins that year but dropped out in 2018 to have more creative freedom in her work.
Career and recognition
After leaving Central Saint Martins, Ogunlesi applied to the Fashion East mentorship and support programme. Her 2019 London Fashion Week debut took place on Fashion East’s stage.
Ogunlesi came under scrutiny in September 2019 when Naomi Campbell was spotted wearing a Mowalola gown with a bullet wound design. The dress was interpreted as a statement on gun violence, but on Instagram, Ogunlesi clarified the garment was meant to convey a sense of being a walking target.
In October 2020, Ogunlesi was named by Elle as one of “10 Trailblazing Women Changing The Future You Need To Know”, the others being: Tobi Kyeremateng, Ngozi Onwurah, Simi Lindgren, Balanda Atis, Magdalene Abraha, Koffee, Holly Fischer, Celeste and Margaret Busby. Ogunlesi has attracted the attention of artists like Drake, Solange, Steve Lacy, Kelela and Kanye West.
Mowalola designed the Nigeria national football team’s World Cup jersey for Nike in 2018. The following year, she created outfits for Skepta’s “Pure Water” music video and was one of six designers approached by British Vogue to style Barbie dolls for the brand’s 60th anniversary.
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On June 26, 2020, the Yeezy GAP 10-year partnership was officially announced, with Mowalola appointed by West as Design Director.
Mowalola is not one for working in isolation, she loves the energy generated from sharing ideas with others and is building a global community of like-minded creatives around her, from Lagos to London, New York to Toronto. They include the men who are her muses and collaborators, like Trey, and Tawan KB – who she connected with over Instagram five years ago and who worked with her on boots for her graduate collection – and musicians like Canada-based La Timpa – Mowalola is music-obsessed – who is also Nigerian-born. For her Fashion East show she is hoping, if possible, to have a full Nigerian cast on her runway.
Featured image source: Her network
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