For his new collaboration with AHLEM, stylist Mobolaji Dawodu merged two of his favorite things: timeless design and super vivid color. To celebrate the AHLEM x Mobolaji launch, we sat down with the GQ vet to learn more about the inspiration behind the frame, the origins of his celebratory outlook and the epic collections he’s built from traveling the world.
What’s your background? How did you get interested in fashion?
My dad's Nigerian, my mother's American. I grew up in Nigeria as a child, and then I moved to America, where I spent the rest of my childhood. Nigerian culture is very colorful and opulent, and there's a lot of celebration. There's a lot of history, there's a lot of art.
But also, my mom had a clothing business when I was young, making contemporary clothing and African prints. When I was a kid I used to go with her and sell, so I've been selling to people since I was 10. The interaction with people, and the boldness, the color, has always been a part of my life. Celebration and socializing was a big deal in Nigerian culture. I think having the best of both worlds, having Nigerian culture and having Black American culture, made me who I am. I always wanted to have a good time and a dynamic life.
I spent my summers as a kid in the countryside of England, where my uncle owned a castle, and I also spent my summers in Virginia going fishing with my grandpa. The juxtaposition of living in Nigeria as a young kid in a megacity of 20 million people and going to the country club, and then coming back to America and going fishing with my grandfather—we used to fry fish and play cards every Friday—and then the English countryside, I mean, like what? In one life?
So I think my foundation was…no limits. That’s my foundation of thought and the way I've moved through the world and the way I travel. Nothing is so impossible. I find inspiration in life, I find inspiration in people. To me, nothing would happen without people. If there are no people, there’s no fashion.
In terms of style, are there ideas you find yourself returning to again and again?
I like timeless shapes, but I love color, and that comes back to the Nigerian part of me. I think if there's anything that defines my style, it's definitely those two things. Nigerian culture is so colorful and wild, and I like to show off, so I definitely took a lot of that.
Tell us about your collaboration with AHLEM. How did that come about?
I started using AHLEM glasses in some of my shoots. Ahlem DM’d me and she said, “Let's meet up.” We were at the Bowery, and we had a great conversation. We just connected as human beings, and I think there's something similar about us—we're laid-back but also intense. We're intense about what we like, what we know we like, and very intense about our perspectives, but we're also open to other things. I think that is the connection I feel with Ahlem: intensity and calmness.
As someone who’s worn glasses for most of your life, what do you look for in a frame?
Essentially for me, glasses are like my face, so I want something that I can wear all the time, that is not so specific, that goes with a lot of things. What do I look for in the frame? I look for my face in the frame.
You’ve amassed a collection of finds from your world travels. Do you have a favorite recent discovery?
I collect a lot of random things—rugs, dolls from different places, walking sticks, magnets. My fridge is a bit crazy. What else? I collect colorful scarves. Hats. You'll never see me without a hat on. It's rare. I don't even go to the corner store without a hat on. I actually went to Indonesia one time just to buy hats. I wanted to buy some specific hats that they sell in Jakarta, and that's what led to my trip. I literally was like, "You know what, I'm going to go there," because I wanted to go there anyway, but I wanted to buy hats.
Where are you finding inspiration at the moment?
I'm really just inspired by places I go, different cultures and meeting different people. I think the beauty about fashion and clothes, for me, is adapting to different people's personal style and silhouettes—how one thing looks on someone and looks totally different on another person.
I pay attention on the streets. I observe. I've done a lot of street casting, so I pay attention to people's faces. It's really about people for me, more than anything, because I think that's what really changes. Fashion, it goes and it comes and it repeats itself, but what changes is always people—different energies, different generations, different generations' take on things. Clothes don't change as much as people change.
What sustains you creatively?
Joy sustains me, enjoyment and feeling good, because I think clothes make people feel good, food makes people feel good. Whatever makes people feel good and what makes people happy. That's what sustains me. And love. It's very simple.