Let’s talk about Ugo Mozie 🙂
Starting a clothing line at 17 with musical artist Quinn Aston was the “baptism into the fashion world.”
Mozie’s goal was to alter the story surrounding African fashion and demonstrate that clothing produced on the continent can be equally lavish and meticulously crafted as those originating from France or Italy.
For the Lagos born stylist, everything started with his parents. They “have always been very intentional about what they wore, how they wear it, how the dress, how they look — never afraid to be expressive through style,” Mozie told Fashionista in a recent interview.
“I learned organically as I was growing up, and fell into my own sense of personality as I was starting to know what my style was.”
What initially brought you to New York, and how did the city influence your relationship to fashion?
New York was somewhere I always knew that I would come back to and live. When I was 14, I went out there with some friends for spring break, and I was culture shocked in the best way. I was able to really see what it meant to live freely and uniquely, without as much judgment. At the time, I was living in Houston, and that was really a culture shock [coming from Nigeria] — not for the best. I felt like I had to suppress a lot of my creativity in school. The kids were a lot more conservative, as opposed to my liberal views and liberal way of expressing myself through style and fashion.
Being in Houston, not only was I one of the very, very few Black people at my school, but [I was one of the few people who was] also African. I did a lot of soul-searching as a kid, and I feel like those experiences allowed me to get an understanding of who I was. I had to decide whether I would let my differences be an insecurity or be an advantage, and I chose advantage. I chose to be confident in my differences, in my culture, in my heritage.
What was helpful in that soul searching?
The most helpful thing during my journey of soul searching — which never ends, by the way — was my family: my mom, my dad, my siblings. Their support gave me the permission to be myself in public. It gave me the confidence to know that, if my foundation is proud of me and my foundation accepts me, I’ll be fine.
Whenever things would happen at school, like bullying or people not understanding me, what would ground me would be just remembering my family. At the end of the day, I have 50 cousins — who needs friends from school anyway?
I moved to New York a year before starting at St. John’s University, to get a good transition. The first thing I did was get an internship at Virgin Records, interning for the head of marketing. That allowed me to get my first education in the music and entertainment industries. I had a chance to understand how the record world works — how they discovered, developed, produced artists — and to work on creative packages, rollouts and marketing plans. One common denominator between everybody in the office was they were always noticing my style and what I wore. Eventually, I started working with the creative director, helping them with the style and images for artists. That was my first experience in fashion styling.
From there, I got an internship with an amazing stylist named Jason Rembert. He’s still an icon today. He gave me my first real knowledge and education in what styling was, to really understand the ins and outs — how to get a client, reach out to designers, build networks. I’m really eternally grateful to Jason for that.
From Jason, I landed my first client: Dawn Richard. She was a member of Danity Kane and Diddy’s Dirty Money. This was at 18 years old. She brought me in, and I started working with Dirty Money, too. From Dawn, I got Teyana Taylor, then Kelis, then Omarion. By my second year in New York, I was pretty much styling full-time and going to school full-time. I did that for about three years.
You eventually left St. John’s and New York City. What inspired that move?
I went to Paris for about a year. Paris was where I got my knowledge and experience in the high-fashion space. I became a fashion editor of this magazine called Ghubar and started producing, creative directing, booking talent and styling shoots. With that, I got a chance to build a network of top designers in Paris, Milan and London and really create personal relationships with them that would end up propelling my career.
After Paris, I moved to L.A., and I swore it was going to be a smooth, easy transition — but it wasn’t. I had to relearn the market all over again, and understand that the industry in L.A. is completely different from anywhere else in the world. Once I understood that, I booked Chris Brown [as a client], then I started working with Justin Bieber, Travis Scott, the list goes on.
Were there other challenges when you relocated to L.A.?
Besides relearning the market, I would say that L.A. is a place where who likes you goes a very long way, where it requires a lot more than hard work and talent to succeed. It requires energy and network, as opposed to New York, where I felt like hard work, talent, work ethic, determination and confidence goes a long way. In LA, you may have never even worked in this job or career your entire life, but your mom knows the CEO or you met a casting director at the grocery store — it’s a very magical place, in that sense.
I feel like once you’re mentally ready and you’ve stopped feeling desperation, timing, rush and aggression, the universe starts to magically move things around to really serve what your destiny and journey is. That’s what I felt for me, at least. The first year in L.A., the biggest thing that held me back was my expectations. Obviously, you do your best and put your best work out, but at the end of the day, the energy and timing is out of your control. Once you know that you’ve done the most you can do, just let it go. There’s a certain level of ease and comfort that people appreciate. I found that people will hire you and work with you because they appreciate the energy that you bring to the room.
By Elijah Christopher