When it’s your job to dress a star whose hit song name drops a “cowboy hat from Gucci, Wrangler on my booty ... diamond rings and Fendi sports bras,” your fashion game better be sharp.
Lil Nas X, up for six Grammy Awards on Sunday, including three for his mega-hit “Old Town Road,” has a genre-defying, trendsetting image that requires the kind of finessing by a stylist with a resume that transcends categorization.
“I have a foot in every world,” says Hodo Musa by phone, immersed in preparations a week before Lil Nas X will surprise his fans with three custom outfits at the Grammys. “My references are different. I am from Somalia. I was raised in Sweden. I have the maximalist style with the minimal.”
The 36-year-old, who began styling Lil Nas X in May, honed her style while modeling in London, studying fashion design in Oslo, styling Norwegian pop singers and creating costumes for operas based on the Supremes and Bob Marley. Her familiarity with theatrics, coupled with a fondness for mixing high- and low-end brands, comes in handy with Lil Nas X.
On the red carpet of the BET Awards last June, Lil Nas X wore a custom baby-blue suit accented with flowers, leopard spots and plaid by New York-based label Pyer Moss.
For the MTV Video Music Awards, British designer Christian Cowan ventured out of women’s wear to create his first men’s outfit for the 20-year-old to wear on the red carpet: a sequined suit with a cropped jacket that revealed a ruffled shirt and lace cuffs in homage to Prince.
At the American Music Awards in November, Lil Nas X turned heads in a slime green ensemble, including a zebra-print velvet shirt and matching opera gloves, by Brooklyn-based Christopher John Rogers. His feet also glowed in neon heels by United Nude X Shaun Ross.
Musa describes Lil Nas X’s style as “fun, adventurous, colorful.” It’s also a boon that her collaborator “really loves to go into character,” she says. “Only when you feel safe and you really like the person you work with, that’s when the outcome like this happens. He has very little ego. He really, like, not only made my career but also [was] crediting me, seeing me, giving me the recognition that maybe other people wouldn’t do.”
It’s hard to miss Musa. Her silhouette rivals Nefertiti’s, with a delicate nose, high cheekbones and full lips. Multilingual, she speaks English with a soft cadence. As the eldest of eight children in a Muslim family that escaped the Somali Civil War, her name means luck in Somali. She has lots of it.
After moving to L.A. last February, Musa broke into the U.S. music industry by styling Noah Cyrus. Cyrus’ manager introduced Musa to his other client, Lil Nas X. The video for “Old Town Road” had just premiered and Lil Nas X’s look in the over-the-top short was already established by Cathy Hahn, who’s known for styling Post Malone. With Musa, Lil Nas X ascended to the next level, breaking boundaries in music, fashion and culture as an openly gay black star.
“We personally try to stay in a neutral mind and do things that come from the heart,” she says. “It’s not this deep [thinking] that we’re going to change the world. If you have the right influence and reference and knowledge of the designers you want to work with, all of these things come naturally.”
She continues, “My dream is to work with Lil Nas X forever and maybe start his fashion house and work with him and direct that.” Meanwhile, her aim is “with his light around him [to] put that light on people that are smaller.”
Musa is catching some of that light. Last November, attending the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Gala in New York with Lil Nas X in coordinating black-and-white get-ups (his by Off-White, hers by Rogers), she mingled with actor Ben Platt and models Bella and Gigi Hadid.
“We met Anna Wintour,” Musa recalls, referring to Vogue’s longtime editor in chief. “She came up to him and shook his hand. That was like the recognition me, as a stylist, needed.”
Musa has earned respect from other fashion insiders. “I love her ideas,” says Gladys Tamez, who’s created hats for Lil Nas X as well as Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in her L.A. studio. “To work with Hodo and create this zebra color, this yellow hat, this red [one], with Swarovski [crystals] — it’s super-fun.”
Plus, “she has genuine creativity, which is not found in a lot of stylists,” Cowan says. He traces the steps that started with his DM to her on Instagram and ended with the sequined suit. “I always love the artists in the glam-rock era in the ‘80s, where masculinity was shown by their confidence to wear fabulous fabrics and all these things,” Cowan says. Slender and 6 feet 1, Lil Nas X “is obviously perfectly proportioned to pull off any outfit,” he adds.
Musa says what drew her to Cowan’s collection was that “it’s very ‘80s ... and the bold color. I thought, there’s something here.”
For the Grammys, Musa wants to advance Lil Nas X’s aesthetic a decade forward with a yet-to-be identified designer. “It’s going to be the most high-end red carpet we’ve ever had,” she says. “When it comes to this designer, we wanted to collaborate with them because they did some stuff in the ‘90s that’s really killer.”
Fans of Western style, take note: “This will be the last time that we [will] do a full-on cowboy look like this,” she says. “This is the era that is the end of ‘Old Town Road,’ and we’ll do something else.”