GQ's Mobolaji Dawodu gets his kaftans custom
"It's all about fit -- that's universal"
Mobolaji Dawodu is Fashion Director at GQ, where he’s styled many towering jawnsmen including Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Brad Pitt (in a tremendous Missoni sweater vest, below left) & the Oakland god himself Mahershala Ali….
We met Mobolaji a decade ago thru our mutual big-homey George Positive, who appeared in last week’s BLOCKBUSTER PANTS REPORT rocking large trousers exquisitely … “George and I met on the Staten Island Ferry when I was 18 and I first moved to New York,” Mobolaji says. “Back then I lived in the only trailer park on Staten Island, on Goethals Road.”
We wanted to know more about how Mobolaji got from there to here. Also, since Blackbird Spyplane is the no. 1 source across all media for “unbeatable recon” on dope under-the-radar joints, we wanted to know: What rare personal possessions does he cherish? We hit him up the other day to get the intel, and he hit us back with a bunch of pictures of himself wearing beautiful kaftans: “These are my summer shit,” he explains…
Mobolaji, with Nigerian photographer & filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, wearing a custom kaftan with jeans & Marni sneaker-sandals…
Blackbird Spyplane: Before we get to the kaftans, what was yr path from the Staten Island trailer park to where yr at today?
Mobolaji Dawodu: “When I was 20, 21, I started a little clothing line — I was born in Virginia but moved back to Nigeria when I was 5 weeks old, and the stuff I was making was, like, traditional Nigerian fabrics and embroidery done in contemporary styles. The Fader did a story about the shirts, and eventually I started doing styling for Fader, doing advertising, doing costume design for music videos and films, and finally I ended up at GQ.”
Spyplane: So what’s up with yr kaftans & those slippers?
Mobolaji: “I stopped doing my clothing line — because I was young and not that committed — but I kept going to Nigeria and Uganda and getting stuff made for myself, just as a cultural thing. After a while it was just, like, ‘Damn, why should I buy something when I could get it made?’ The designer that does them for me in Uganda is called Brenda Makara…
“Nigerian culture, they wear western clothing, but they’re big on traditional, too — that’s your flex. If you go to a wedding or a funeral in Nigeria, you’ll know who’s connected to which family because the whole family will be wearing the same fabric — different pieces literally cut from the same cloth. That’s true whether your family is 10 people or 35 people or 75 people.
“And the slippers I get made in Senegal — they’re called babouches.”
Above and below: a Fall ‘18 GQ Style fashion shoot that Mobolaji cast & styled in Dakar…
Spyplane: What are the main qualities that separate a fire kaftan from a trash kaftan?
Mobolaji: “It’s all about fit. That’s universal. It doesn’t matter what culture — fit is fire.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Not color, not the “most luxurious” hand-feel… ?
Mobolaji: “No. You could get some cheaper fabric, and if it’s tailored well you’ll look fly. In my styling work, over the years, I’ve done stuff where I didn’t have the greatest resources, and I learned that you’ve got to adapt your style to your resources. So I might like a luxurious fabric, but it’s not necessarily about that.”
Above left, an ‘08-era commemorative Obama shirt from Ghana; above right, Supreme’s SS17 “homage” to African BHO-print textiles… Below: fabrics attributed to Dutch wax-print hegemon VLISCO, themed around PlayStation controllers and Gen 1 iPods…
Blackbird Spyplane: It’s interesting when contemporary western motifs show up in traditional African contexts — I remember some friends copping Obama-print shweshwe in Joburg around ‘08, which was a super-popular motif across Africa then. Do you have any non-traditional kaftans along those lines?
Mobolaji: “I have Obama fabric, but it’s a pillow — I’m not a fan of wearing faces on my body. That was a big thing with Obama, but they do it with a lot of people: I can at least speak for Nigeria and say that if you have a wedding, they’ll usually give you a Tupperware with the person’s face on it, a handkerchief, a tray, a bucket…”
Above, fabric samples from one of Mobolaji’s Ugandan kaftan-plugs
Blackbird Spyplane: When yr putting a fit together around a kaftan, which western pieces work with it & which don’t?
Mobolaji: “For me, kaftans are so normal — I kind of just wear them like I’d wear a western shirt. Obviously it’s a different vibe, but I don’t really think about it as so different. I do think the kaftan is about a balance of silhouettes — I don’t wear mine with big pants, because they’re so loose, I think the bottom needs to be more fitted. Like in India, how they wear the Kurta with skinny pants. That’s not across the board — like, in Afghanistan they wear kaftans that are big and the pants are big, too, but that’s not for me.”
Mobolaji riding masked-up & kaftanless around Bed-Stuy, shot by Marc Baptiste; with his daughter at GQ Towers
Blackbird Spyplane: What’s yr take on ppl of non-African / non-Asiatic descent rocking kaftans?
Mobolaji: “I think it doesn’t really matter — if it looks good, it looks good. People of color have been wearing western, European clothes forever, but going in the other direction is something people just aren’t used to, because most things in style are presented Eurocentrically.
“It should come down to what looks good and what’s comfortable: Style is not Eurocentric, and once people get that Eurocentrism out of their brains they’ll be better for it.”
Looks from a 2017 GQ shoot Mobolaji helped put together in Lagos at Fela Kuti’s New Afrika Shrine, mixing designer coats with traditional Nigerian pieces
Blackbird Spyplane: Which under-the-radar brands & designers are you f**king with right now?
Blackbird Spyplane: Yes! There’s a beautiful Ize jacket we’ve had our eyes on for a minute. How does yr interest in African jawns inflect yr work at GQ?
Mobolaji: “I’m not sure… I do use those types of pieces in my styling. And we did a shoot at the New Afrika Shrine, in Lagos, which Fela Kuti built. We were supposed to shoot a cover in Nigeria, and the artist we were shooting couldn’t get a visa, so we cast a fashion shoot at the shrine. I incorporated traditional dress with contemporary stuff — but those categories are hard for me to separate, because they’re both part of who I am.”
-Follow Mobolaji on Instagram here
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