This Nigerian-Based Creative Is Shifting the Perception of African Fashion
From Los Angeles to London to Lagos, Momo Hassan-Odukale's transcontinental style is integral to her leading her own creative studio to empower local designers.
"Beyond the Fit" is a series that explores how emerging creatives weave together personal style and identity.
"I want everything to grow and come together". That's the ultimate goal for Momo Hassan-Odukale, the 24-year-old creative director and stylist, currently based in Lagos. And she is crystal clear when it comes to the intention behind her creative output. "I'm into styling not only Nigerian brands but brands [from all over] Africa, to highlight them, not necessarily even to the Western world, but to people here as well".
After graduating from Central Saint Martins, the world-renowned art and design school in London, Momo stayed in the city to experience the hustle of working in the fashion industry as an editorial intern and stylist's assistant. But she remained mindful of the burnout that's common in the industry and with her generation. "I didn't want to kill myself just because of a job", she says. "I love this industry regardless, but I just wanted to come to Nigeria and do what I love at home and not have to go through all of the emotional, psychological and every kind of stress just because I want to work in fashion in London".
But for Momo, there were other motivations in moving back to Nigeria. In Lagos, she's close to the local talent who motivate and inspire her. That's why MOMO—her creative studio, which offers consulting, styling and creative direction—came to life in 2019. Here, she discusses her journey from Los Angeles to London to Lagos and how she is working to shift both the global and local perception of African fashion.
How does your cultural background play into the clothes that you wear and the work you do?
[My background is] very much transcontinental. Yes, my heritage is Nigerian, but I was born in Los Angeles, and I attended school in England since I was 11. I've picked up bits and pieces from everywhere. What has influenced me is travelling. I love culture and learning, going to places and seeing different things that could subconsciously apply to my style.
Creating moves me. It's obviously my passion, and I think it stems from art as my first kind of love. In school, art history is what drew me to just wanting to create and finding myself through art or just creating experiences. It's emotional.
What does the fashion scene look like in Lagos?
There's the music scene, which has its own fashion. Then there's the designers who are actually making their new collections. There is a massive gap between how the music scene looks and what the designers in Nigeria are actually creating. There is a word—alté—that people have been saying, which means alternative. I feel like a lot of people are quite tired of that word. If you are a certain age, hang out with certain people and you are in the music world—then you are automatically described as alté, which you might not necessarily see as bad.
What does alté look like?
I would say it's '90s and cool for the girls, mainly. High boots, miniskirts and crop tops.
When you're styling, do you try to incorporate your heritage into your work?
Not necessarily. I really don't feel like I have to, especially as I don't wear traditional garments on a day-to-day basis. But I do definitely go out of my way to work with a lot of Nigerian designers, who in a few years might re-imagine what OG Nigerian style looks like—which is our traditional clothing and represents what parts of Nigeria you're from. That is the OG style to me. It wouldn't be anything Western; it's everyday wear from back in the day that we now call "trad". It's what you wear to weddings. I'm just happy to work with people who are making and exploring their craft with new techniques, while also going back to how those traditional garments are made. Maybe it's with the threading of the clothing or the kind of material they are using.
As a stylist and creative living in Nigeria, do you think the phrase "African fashion designer" limits opportunities for designers?
I feel like the problem with saying that you're an African designer is what people think around it. People expect you to use a certain print or silhouette. I think that's all we're trying to do now—show that just because you are an African designer, it doesn't mean you're going to have colourful fabric in your clothing. You could make a tailored, structured suit or a two-piece, and you're still a designer. It's about changing the narrative of what is African in the first place and letting go of all stereotypical views of what Africa is or who Africans are.
How are you shifting perceptions of what being a creative within Africa looks like?
I want to help grow the infrastructure of fashion here, generally. I'm not really looking at it as, like, it's just about me. If I'm styling these designs, I want other people to be focusing on the designers and seeing how amazing their work is and how capable they are. It's just a great sense of wanting to show how much we have and how talented everyone really is. That's what I want.
How has being based in Nigeria instead of London impacted your career journey?
I feel like getting to know and having personal relationships with these creatives and designers here is something I wouldn't have the same access to if I was in London. So, yeah, it's important that I'm home and able to do this. I moved back to Nigeria knowing what I wanted to do here. It was just about, "Where am I? Where do I want my base to be?" I want my base to be where I'm from, and that definitely was linked to what I want to do. In the future, we'll be working with lots of brands across Africa. I want to constantly be travelling in Africa. So it's about what I want to do and what I feel will basically have a bigger impact on my life. I feel like that's being here.
Words: Devine Blacksher
Photography: Dan Mbo
Reported: November 2020