Ghanaian born designer Ozwald Boateng will forever have an indelible place in the history of men’s fashion as the youngest and first man of colour to own a store on Savile Row.
Savile Row is a street in Mayfair, central London known principally for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men, where customers have included Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill, and Jude Law.
Born 28 February 1967, Ozwald is a fashion designer who is best known for his characteristic variation on classic British tailoring and bespoke style suits.
His first inspiration was the pristine suits his father wore and perhaps the gift of a bespoke suit from his mother at the age of 5.
In Ozwald’s words,
“I had come accustomed to the importance of style. And my mother used to take me to church and, you know, we had to dress our best for that. As well as my father was a teacher and he always wore suits and always looked smart. And so it was almost a way of life in my household to look good.”[npr.org]
The real push however came when Ozwald fell in love as a student at the Southgate College; he was 16, studying Computer Science, and he met an amazing girl who steered him in the direction of his talent.
“Love is the reason why I design clothes,”
With his mother’s old sewing machine, he started designing and selling to his fellow students, and finally switched courses to Fashion and Design.
With a degree under his belt, Ozwald helped a friend to make clothes for a fashion show and his creations were commended.
He eventually sold his first collection to a menswear shop in Covent Garden and after that, there was no turning back.
His early success in selling his pieces gave him the financial leverage to open his first studio in Portobello Road in 1991 at the age of 23.
In 1994, he was the first tailor to present a collection on the Paris catwalk and at the end of 1994, he opened his first store on Vigo Street, just off Savile Row, and became the youngest and first black tailor to have a store on the row.
Blowing its trumpet very loudly, ozwaldboateng.co.uk states that
“over the past two decades Ozwald Boateng has reinterpreted the British art of bespoke tailoring. Traditional craftsmanship and innovation are corner stones of the House. Ozwald Boateng’s iconic contemporary twist, refined fabrics and contemporary silhouettes offer a unique luxury experience to men of all generations”.
Ozwald has since extended its merchandise to include semi-bespoke, ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories and luggage, and some of his many clients include Will Smith, Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Keanu Reeves, Rio Ferdinand, P.Diddy, Mick Jagger and Lex Fenwick.
Ozwald is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at the 2006 Queen’s New Year’s Honours.
He co-founded the Made in Africa Foundation in 2011 with Kola Aluko and Atlantic Energy to support and fund master plans and feasibility studies for transformational and large scale developments and infrastructure projects across the African continent.
“It’s a well-known statistic that US$400 million of funding for feasibility studies and master plans across sub-Saharan Africa would develop over US$100 billion of infrastructure projects, which in turn would create a trillion dollars of value across Africa. The first step is often the hardest and we have created this Foundation with Atlantic Energy to make that step easier for Africans.” Ozwald Boateng.
Why did he choose to undertake a Foundation for this particular purpose? Ozwald is honest,
“I just want to open shops back home… but it requires me to build the environment for many stores to have the one store. And then you realize that to do that, you need to do the right master planning and the right feasibility planning for it to come off the ground. Then you realize, once you get to that point, you realize the overall problem. It started off with just looking at a plot of land and then it grew from there.”[npr.org]
Ozwald continues to raise awareness concerning the work of his Foundation and in this speech culled from edition.cnn.com, Ozwald addressed bankers at the African Development Bank annual meeting thus,
“… I mixed these great talents from the diaspora and Africa in amongst the finance ministers, bankers and entrepreneurs. This is what a designer looks for: the harmony in contrasts. They find their common desire to make it happen — one group bringing this solution to the global audience, giving it transparency and encouraging investment, and the other group implementing it. That’s why I set up Made In Africa Foundation with the support of a fast-growing Nigerian business, Atlantic Energy.
The message is quite simple: A small group of nations cannot forever benefit from keeping the majority of nations and people in a state of weakness. The peoples and continents of the world are not separate, they are part of the same social and economic system: a system that must return to balance and harmony. But this balance can only occur when Africa itself realizes that it is time for Africa.”
What do you think? Is it truly time for Africa? Do leave a comment and let us know.