If the tagline from your upcoming documentary suggests you are the "Coolest Man on Earth," you must live up to it right? Those are lofty shoes to fill. Surely, expert tailor and menswear designer Ozwald Boateng has. Walking into his famed flagship boutique in the heart of London's Savile Row, designed by world famous architect David Adjaye, for your first time and viewing your first ever Boateng ready-to-wear collection, you know why he is "cool." As soon as you step in, it's like you've sauntered into a Kanye West featuring Pharrell Williams video shoot in a swanky London hotel. Dapper gents in sublimely slim cut suits ranging from wine to a light tangerine color litters the crowd. They are most likely London's fashion elite and/ or possible models wearing last season's Boateng. Girls in pretty frocks and bouffants bigger than Amy Winehouse and Adele combined, sip champagne from towering flutes. Somewhere near the back, a singer with a cello wails "Roxanne" by the Police. The whole scene is effortlessly cool. Am I in the right place? Is this a fashion presentation? A glance of homogenous Japanese male models in sharply tailored suits pose and linger with the chic crowd. Yes, this is a fashion presentation.
Ambiance = check. Crowd = check. His cool card has been granted.
Yet, what I received as just a taste of the Boateng buffet that evening, he's been doing since the early 90s.
Boateng famously started his career in fashion at the age of 16, tailoring a friend's fashion show. As legend unfolds, the success of the show and the praise of his work led Boateng to sell his first collection to a menswear shop in the Covent Garden section of London which then led to his first runway show during Paris Fashion Week in 1994. From then on Boateng skyrocketed in the industry. Highlights included designing bespoke costumes from James Bond films to The Matrix and Oceans 13, a three-year stint as Menswear Creative Director of Givenchy, to even designing a credit card for the long standing UK private bank, Coutts. Boateng's career, spanning over 20 years now, has certainly been illustrious. Yet, mostly in the international sect. Although he's fully documented his life in tailoring menswear and cultivating his signature style aesthetic in a wide array of film projects, most notably in 2006, collaborating with the Sundance Channel for an eight part documentary series produced by American film icon, Robert Redford, entitled House of Boateng on expanding his brand to the US, Boateng's star remains a bit dimmer that US household names and contemporaries such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and even Christopher Bailey of Burberry. Could it be that he hasn't tried hard enough to expand?
No. He's worked just as hard as them, even lauded by American GQ for his tenure during Givenchy Man. Yet why hasn't he catapulted to household name phenomena? Perhaps it's still early for him in his career.
The most recent of his film efforts, which holds the tagline of Boateng as the "coolest man on earth", is the new much talked about documentary, A Man's Story releasing later this March. The doc shows over the course of 12 years of Boateng's brand. Directed by Varon Bonicos, the film features a who's who of A-Listers talking about Boateng's influence on men's fashion including: Spike Lee, Giorgio Armani, Jamie Foxx and even Prince Charles. With the laundry list of top tier front page names, the documentary also goes inside the evolution of his brand as well as who Boateng is; a family man who's driven by his creativity and work as a tailor. In the film, he makes no bones of the fact that his intentions in menswear are that of a tailor, not a highbrow fashion designer. He didn't go to a school like Anterwerp in Belgium nor does his pedigree extend from generational influence in the constraints of luxury like the Gucci family; he was an average man from Ghanaian parents born in the Northern section of London. To fully digest him as a "tailor" would be of stripping him of his superb business savvy. Most, if not the one percent of tailors in the world are the youngest person to open a shop in the prestigious Savile Row area of London and when you count him as the only black man to ever do it -- you pretty much put him in a class all his own.
And a class of his own is where he belongs.
Cut to his fall 2012 presentation. At first glance, it's a vast difference from what Boateng is mostly known for, vibrant pops of colors on lean suits. It's a tad relaxed, and stays within the black and white confine. Gone is the cosmopolitan blend of male models with enviable sinewy but toned silhouettes of past seasons and hello to grungy Japanese male models. In fact that was his inspiration for his latest outing; a fusion of east meets west with hints of wafuku, a traditional Japanese clothing typical of a pre 20th century Japan. Slim cut blazers with stark dress shirts paired with turned up or ankle-bearing trousers, wooly knits, flimsy fedoras run the look of his fall 2012collection, giving a Boardwalk Empire vibe.
"The traditionally 'black and white' Japanese attitude towards clothing etiquette fascinates" notes Boateng. "In modern society, migration between East and West has caused these elements to merge. Autumn/ Winter 2012 combines facets of typical British hunting attire and a Japanese aesthetic story to create something new, something directional."
Something new? Yes. As mentioned, Boateng's latest collection is a little less Theophilus London and more cerebral, almost if he's taking a cue from his east meets west theme and transferring to his embark on worldwide fashion acclaim.
Yet, can you blame the man who just happens to be the "coolest guy on earth" to take a sharp turn right from previous efforts? When you're that cool, you make the rules not abide by them and what rules Boateng continues to create not only takes London by storm, it will, confident in proclaiming this will take the world into a tailspin.
Follow Jared Lowe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lowefactor