Who is Mowalola? The 26-year-old Nigerian designer hand-picked by Kanye West to head up Yeezy Gap

Appointed as design director for the new line, the first drop sold out in less than a day

Mowalola's all-leather collection for Fashion East in 2019. Courtesy Mowalola
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With the news that the much-anticipated first drop from Yeezy Gap sold out almost immediately, despite not being physically available until the autumn, Kanye West's $1 billion deal with the high street giant looks set to be a huge success.

It's been more than a year since West announced his lucrative 10-year deal with Gap, yet in that time little outwardly has happened. Global pandemic aside, rumours have come and gone of an impending launch date, and there has been no word about what the pieces might actually look like. So when the first drop arrived a few days ago, offering a single, bright blue bomber jacket, the world was finally given a glimpse of the direction to come.

A huge image of the jacket was projected onto prominent buildings in New York City. It was only available to pre-order for an undisclosed date in the autumn, and it sold out within hours.

However, while it might be West's name on the collaboration, he didn’t actually design it. The inaugural Yeezy Gap jacket was instead the work of Nigerian-born fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi.

Hand-picked by West to be design director of Yeezy Gap, Mowalola, as she prefers to be known, was plucked from outside-of-fashion-circles obscurity for the role.

Born in Nigeria in 1995, Ogunlesi comes from a creative family, with both parents working as fashion designers. She moved to the UK to attend school at the age of 12, before going on to study fashion at the storied Central Saint Martins college, where she graduated from in 2017. She remained in the UK, where her eponymous label is headquartered.

In summer 2019, Ogunlesi, 26, showed a collection as part of Fashion East, the branch of London Fashion Week dedicated to emerging names, and in September the same year hit headlines when model Naomi Campbell stepped out in a Mowalola dress made with a single, bloody bullet hole. Facing strong criticism for glamourising gun violence, Ogunlesi released a statement clarifying the dress was instead about her "lived experience as a black person".

“I make clothes to challenge people’s minds," she explained. "This gown is from my collection Coming For Blood – a delving into the horrific feeling of falling in love.”

Model Naomi Campbell wearing the controversial 'bullet hole' dress in 2019. Courtesy Mowalola

Her work draws on the dual influence of Nigerian culture and London street fashion, which is translated into bold, primary colours and playful, clubwear-esque tops, jackets and dresses.

The label began attracting wider attention, and was soon picked up by the likes of American musicians Drake, Kelela, Solange and Kanye West, as well as British artist Skepta, for whom Ogunlesi created the looks for his Pure Water video.

A vibrant new voice in fashion who is unafraid to push boundaries, Ogunlesi was also one of six designers chosen by British Vogue to create outfits for Barbie's 60th anniversary. In October 2020, the young designer was also named by Elle magazine as one of the 10 "trailblazing women" changing the future.

So when West signed the deal to create Yeezy Gap in June 2020, he decided that Ogunlesi was the best person to work alongside him, as design director.

With Gap hoping the deal will turn around its ailing fortune (the group is closing 19 branches across the UK alone this year), it is banking on revenue in the region of more than $150 million in the first year, and hitting the billion-dollar-a-year mark by 2023. While this may seem like a tall order, judging by this first taster, Gap's ambitions might not be so wildly optimistic.

With a first snippet of a collection that will be seemingly born of a designer who speaks to the youth, and with West, a man who knows a thing or two about creating hype, at the helm, perhaps we can expect some extraordinary things from Yeezy Gap over the next decade.