“Whether it’s dandified seersucker suits teamed with vibrant hued socks and brogues, or a tailored vintage Americana look of leather varsity jackets and chambray shirts with neck ties, African dandies showcase their incomparably cool personal style, but, by extension; redressing the monolithic concept of blackness and African masculinity today.”*
Ozawald Boateng, the undisputed King of Savile Row and Ambassador of Impeccable Tailoring
European influence on Africa during colonial era has its detractors – frankly not many Africans I know are fans of what happened to the continent and the resulting vacuums of power and relative chaos left in the wake of their mass exit, but one enduring impact left behind was Europe’s fashion, styles and tailoring aesthetic, which the locals were consciously (and unconsciously) assimilated.
Over time, we came to appreciate the European sensibility for clothes (many Africans didn’t have a choice as they were forced to abandon their tribal form of dress) and its fine tailoring but threw in our own rebellious details, turning it into our own form of expression, especially during the independence movements of the 50s and 60s. And so it was, that in the following years, many African men became dandies – “reflecting a breath of identity, gender, and politics, but all sharing a common obsessive interest in fine tailoring, fabrics, textures, of fine tailoring using clothes to carve out a dignified and distinguished identity at different moments in history”.*
House of Boateng SS12 collection
My father was one of this men. I remember growing up in Nairobi watching him each morning as he carefully brushed his leather shoes til they shone so bright you could see your reflection in them. His suits were impeccable – and when he could afford it – bought them from designers Pierre Cardin and Hugo Boss. His handkerchiefs were perfectly ironed and his shirts were crisp, yet colourful. The result is that same aesthetic has flowed to my brother, a dandy of great renown amongst friends and family, and us girls in the family love our threads and style as well – we ‘die’ (a la Rachel Zoe) for excellent stylish clothes and great shoes.
The uncrowned King of the Dandies – both in Africa and the diaspora – is unarguably Ghanian born, London based designer – Ozwald Boateng.
Over the past two decades 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.
Boateng, whose parents emigrated from Ghana in the 1950s, was born in 1967 in Muswell Hill, North London. In London his father continued his career as a teacher, while his mother who was in the fabric trade in Ghana became a seamstress.
Boateng was inspired by the immaculate suits his father wore, and received his first suit from his mother aged 5: a double-breasted in purple mohair. At fourteen, he found a summer job sewing linings into suits.
While studying computing at Southgate College aged 16, he was introduced to cutting and designing by his girlfriend. Using his mother’s old sewing machine, he started designing and selling to his fellow students, and switched to graduate in fashion and design.
Boateng helped a friend to make clothes for a fashion show, and after receiving praise for his work, sold his first collection to a menswear shop in Covent Garden. Some of his first pieces were also sold in Academy, Newburgh St. C1987 This enabled him to open his first studio in Portobello Road in 1991. In 1994, Boateng staged his first catwalk presentation during Paris Fashion Week, the first tailor to stage a catwalk show in Paris.
Mentored by Tommy Nutter, the success of the Paris show in 1994 enabled Boateng to open his boutique on Vigo Street, the south end of Savile Row, in 1995, . becoming the youngest and first black tailor to have a store on the row.
Boateng’s contemporary approach to menswear design helped to forge a new appreciation for Savile Row, and draw in a younger demographic. Boateng’s moved fully into Savile Row in June 2002, with London Mayor Ken Livingstone crediting Boateng with making a vital contribution to the promotion of creative talents in the capital.
House of Boateng SS12 collection
In 2003, Boateng launched an original concept in for women. Bespoke comprises two different vials of fragrance within an elongate, jewel-like bottle. Developed with the whole essence of “bespoke” in mind, women have the option of wearing each of these fragrances separately, or of adopting a “bespoke” approach by layering and mixing the two synergistic fragrances together in differing proportions, to create an infinite variety of to suit their mood and personality.
In 2005, Boateng was honored with a major 20 year retrospective event at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition recognized that Boateng had by combining the highest standards of execution with a fresh, vibrant design philosophy, successfully captured the imagination of both the media and the public.
In 2008 Ozwald Boateng’s new flagship store and headquarters are launched at No. 30 Savile Row, on the corner of Savile Row and Clifford Street. The signage and interiors were co-designed with British-Ghanaian Architect David Adjaye. Boateng commented: “The fact that I am now in the old Anderson and Sheppard store means a lot to me. Before I even opened my store on Vigo Street, I never dreamed that I would have my own flagship store in place of tailors that represent the cornerstone of British Tailoring and Savile Row.”
Today, in addition to a bespoke service, Boateng also produces two ready-to-wear collections a year, produced at the former Chester Barrie factory in Crewe, Cheshire.
Boateng’s elaborate collaborations
The world has clamoured for his talent, with many leading companies and brands collaborating with the designer. LVMH President Bernard Arnault appointed Boateng Creative Director of Menswear at French Fashion house Givenchy. His first collection was shown in July 2004 in Paris, at Hotel de Ville. Boateng parted with Givenchy after the Spring 2007 collection.
In 2004, Coutts approached Boateng to design a new Super-Premium credit card. The Coutts ‘World Credit Card’ appears in Boateng’s trademark imperial purple, designed to communicate a new modernity and supreme elegance.
That same year, Boateng designed new amenity kits for Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class. Critically claimed to be the most stylish first class kits available to travelers on any airline, the design increased pick rate fivefold.
House of Boateng SS12 collection
Boateng was commissioned by John Agyekum Kufuor, President of the Republic of Ghana, to design and orchestrate a show at the 9th Annual African Union summit in 2007. Held in Accra, it coincided with 200 years since the cessation of the transatlantic slave trade, and 50 years of independence for Ghana.
Boateng has designed bespoke costumes for films including: Hannibal, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Tomorrow Never Dies, Sex and the City, Ugly Betty, Eastern Promises, Gangster Number One, Alfie, Assault on Precinct 13, The Matrix, Miami Vice, Oceans 13, and Rush Hour 3.
As well as Design, Boateng has long had a passion for cinematography and has been heavily involved in film, also creating and directing numerous projects of his own. In 2009, Boateng releases a BBC4 documentary – Why Style Matters - on the significance of Savile Row in the 21st century and the renewed interest in Tailoring and features Giorgio Armani.
His ss 2012 show takes him back to his roots. “From the beginning I have always wanted to shoot this collection in Africa, and The ‘I Love Soweto’ shoot captured what I was trying to do so beautifully. Spring/Summer 2012 essentially represents a European take on an African aesthetic, and my African heritage coupled with the setting of Soweto really gave the concept it’s authenticity” – Ozwald Boateng
Ozwald Boateng has extended its bespoke expertise to semi-bespoke, ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories and luggage: a sophisticated journey through men’s lifestyle. True to his pioneer spirit, Ozwald Boateng consistently breaks new ground, combining fashion, design, art and architecture.
*’Dawn of the Dandy’ – by Alexandra Phanor-Faury: http://www.blackbookmag.com