Here’s why Mowalola Ogunlesi’s Spring 2024 Collection left a sour trail

A dive into why some of the looks lacked nuance and sensitivity

Fashion Week is undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated events in the world social calendar. Artists and designers in the form of iconic brands and fresh newcomers gather around fashion capitals of the world including New York, Milan and Paris. On September 15, London Fashion Week commenced, allowing designers an opportunity to showcase their distinctive ideas and tell the more important stories through fabric and design.

The weekend, as expected, came stacked with a plethora of notable designers providing a refreshing perspective on how we consume in the present day and the likes of Skepta make a glowing contribution to the multi-faceted discourse. The British-Nigerian musician made his official entry into the fashion world with his new brand, MAINS, debuting a sportswear collection stacked with tennis-court-styled pieces, relaxed knitwear, pristine tracksuits and more. Designers like Mowalola Ogunlesi, debuting her Spring 2024 Ready-To-Wear collection, on the other hand, are not new to the game. 

Reminiscing on her 2023 Autumn/Winter collection, which successfully blurred the lines of imitation and appropriation of IP with a futuristic element punctuated by her signature design, Mowalola has always been a disruptor in the industry. Her Friday show at The Beams London gathered a crowd of roughly a thousand people as Mowalola sparked by her viewing of David Cronenberg’s 1996 film, Crash. “I was really excited by the fetishisation of pain through crashing,” Ogunlesi shares in conversation with Luke Leitch for Vogue. She presents her the idea of living dangerously and ambitiously, and proposes that we reflect that in the clothes we wear. Russian-American supermodel, Iryna Shayk, who opened the show adorned with a metallic silver floor-length dress and vivid bruises on her face is a clear play on the glamorisation of pain associated with this collection’s themes. 

Ogunlesi strays away, ever so slightly, from her signature small pieced leather looks and opts for a more modest approach, all the while retaining not-so-subtle brazen elements with scantily clad women on her t-shirts. Subsequent looks, like the first, feature oversized cuts and ludicrously capacious bags with the occasional low-rise mini skirt and her logo sprawled around the various pieces. Ultimately, her message speaks of embracing the pains we experience and wholeheartedly living with them. We later stumble into risky territory with the inclusion of sensitive words and insults, but with some conjoined pieces, Ogunlesi attempts to signify how all that pain can bring us together regardless of these differences. She utilises a darker, earth-toned colour palette of dingy brows and blood-like red to reiterate her collection’s message, an appropriate contrast to the silky, reflective textures she adopts. 

By the middle of the collection, Mowalola wilfully takes a provocative route with the inclusion of leather mini skirts  of countries’ flags including Japan, the United Kingdom, China and—stirring the most conversation—Saudi Arabia. It was particularly sensitive and in bad taste because the country has a steep history of social issues surrounding women’s censorship which showed up in the form of banning skirts in 2012. However, the major bone of contention lay within the message inscribed on the country’s flag with a Shahada which translates to, ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’, in Arabic.

Considering the message held sacred verses, using the flag of a hyper-religious nation on a provocative miniskirt comes off as disrespectful. Initially defensive, Ogunlesi sarcastically retorted to the outrage but several users doubled down to explain why respecting people’s religion does not have to be considered artistic censorship. 

She later issued an apology. “I’ll ensure this design is removed from the collection. I deeply regret any hurt or offence my oversight may have caused. Thank you for holding me accountable, and I appreciate your understanding as I learn from this experience,” Mowalola concluded. As the show progressed, we were introduced to the brighter side of life that resulted from embracing the darkness that comes with life. The colour palette now reflects this with conspicuous yellows and metallic pastel oranges, adorned on models seemingly less bruised than the show’s openers.

Just as art intends to be open to scrutiny, the aim for many is to document an improvement or positive change. However, Mowalola might’ve skipped out on that memo with Look 44,  a short-sleeved conjoined piece with a message ‘4 Slim People’ displayed boldly across. Her reference point and defence to consumers’ critique was “Ur[Your] rage is valid but I will always be humorous. I flipped this Karl Lagerfield 4 slim people tank top. It is funny to me because I hv[have] never seen any plus size on a Chanel runway & I never see this outrage towards them.” 

Her sentiments are valid, the standards are different for brands like Chanel. More than being one of the biggest brands in fashion history, Chanel’s ownership rests predominantly with white people and this allows them some level of protection from scrutiny more often than not. However, the validity of that argument falls flat. Fashion from the early 2000s and prior faced heavy criticism regarding the inclusion of a variety of bodies and their incessant need to perpetuate harmful ideologies and body standards. If brands like Mirror Palais can make more informed decisions, then surely it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone else.

Rather than reiterating the fatphobic tendencies of earlier fashion eras, collections like Mowalola’s with a platform like London Fashion Week should channel evolution with time and growth in a way that reflects our realities and what we want our future to represent. 

Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE