London-based Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi has provided her first official interview since since presenting her spring 2024 Mowalola collection in London in September. In the exchange with Dazed, Ogunlesi revealed the presentation almost didn’t happen because of lack of funding, until Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) stepped in and covered the cost of the show. “We had no support to do the show at all then at the last minute, [Ye] came and he was like, ‘[I’m] gonna pay for everything’. And I think, what if that show never happened? I can’t see life without it,” she explained.
The spring 2024 runway stirred controversy because it included a mini skirt adorned with the flag of Saudia Arabia, which features the Shahada, an Islamic oath stating: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God.” Strict observers of Islam’s dictates, referred to as Sharia, descended on the label’s social media feeds where they excoriated the designer for printing the the holy oath on clothing, which has been banned by the Saudi Ministry of Commerce for commercial purposes since 2022. Ogunlesi initially brushed off the criticism but then apologized and took down images of the skirt.
In the exchange, Ogunlesi was also asked to address Ye’s more controversial views, which include a whole host of antisemetic and bigoted statements. “You don’t have to agree with everyone but he’s also been, apart from my parents and my sister and my community, the only person who’s supported me in this business,” she explained. “He’s helped me see my dreams come true, and I appreciate that. If not for him, I would lowkey be dead in the water. He’s one of the greatest designers ever yet people don’t want to give him his flowers; they keep trying to marginalise him.”
Ogunlesi became acquainted with Ye when he reached out to her while she was attending Central Saint Martins. While she turned down an offer to work for him at the time, they stayed in touch and she eventually created looks for North West‘s birthday party in June 2020. Not long after, he asked her to creative direct his Gap collaboration and she accepted the role.
The Central Saint Martins graduate also spoke on the ongoing challenges of keeping a small label funding and her wish to work for a larger label. Highlighting Alexander-McQueen, Burberry, Givenchy and Vivienne Westwood as dream designer jobs, Ogunlesi acknowledged the industry appears not ready to hire a Black woman. “I’ve never seen any Black woman at the head of any house, and I keep seeing all these diagrams of the history of fashion houses and it’s all white people. It feels like it’s already decided that it isn’t a space for a Black woman, you know? I feel like they’re only just testing out the Black man now. The Black woman doesn’t even cross their minds,” she said.