The Man Who Brought Color To The Fashion Industry: Ozwald Boateng

Sometimes, all it takes to awaken your dreams within you is a talk from an elder family member, or a decision to major in accounting or chemistry in college. Or even, a double-breasted, tailored sport coat in a fine purple mohair textile. This was all it took for Ozwald Boateng to drive his far-fetched imaginations into a real life, tangible reality. Boateng’s parents had emigrated from Ghana in the 1950’s, and after being introduced to the world of cutting and designing, he eventually realized that fashion is where his deepest desires lie. Not only was he beyond skilled in the art of fashion design, he knew there was a reason why his first job of sewing linings into suits, just at the age of fourteen, felt so right. After pursuing a degree in computing at Southwark College, he followed his heart and dropped out to absorb everything the fashion world had to offer him. Boateng had the support of his parents beside him through every decision. His mother, who was an established seamstress, guided him and allowed him to sell her designs to passers along Portobello Road in London. Just at the age of twenty-three, living a lifestyle that was definitely not where he had envisioned himself, Ozwald Boateng had set up a full-time business.

As time passed, Boateng learned the ins and outs of the tailoring business. He knew who best stitched buttonholes on the sport coats of men’s suits, what was the best way to set the sleeves, as well as add his own personal touches to every garment he produced. He went on to creating and selling his very first collection to a popular menswear shop in Covent Garden, and then opened up his first pop-up shop on Portobello Road, London in 1991. The public responded to his designs in a very appreciative way- there were certainly no other designers incorporating color and embellishments to a proper men’s suit in the way Boateng had. His twists to a classical uniform increased the use of vibrant color in the fashion industry. Suits were no longer considered to be traditional or monotone. Boateng reminded people that it’s perfectly acceptable to stand out, and if that means dressing in a red suit, then so be it.

In 1994, Boateng was the first tailor to have a catwalk presentation on the runways of Paris Fashion Week, while he was mentored by Tommy Nutter. His first presentation was so successful that the show led to the opening of his first official boutique on Vigo Street, London in 1995. What was it about this tailor turned designer that led to his overnight popularity? Maybe, just maybe it was Boateng’s personal views on the risks of wearing color. In an interview with GQ Magazine, he revealed “Color is it. Anyone can wear color. The question is about finding the right shade. There is a momentary trend to dark colors because when the financials are not that great, people go for black, navy, and gray...” But the real risk takers are those who take the chance of standing out color.

In his runway shows since his rise to fame, Boateng’s designs are truly unlike any other fashion show. He utilizes models from all different backgrounds, to add to the eclectic vision he wants to get across. Some models walk with bleach blonde hair, some with no hair at all, and some with natural, healthy fro’s. The ties worn will be a color that is completely opposite on the color wheel with the dress shirt worn. And you guess it, the coat worn over the dress shirt and tie will also be a varying color. For example, in one show, one of the most memorable looks that received the most buzz was a model wearing a trim fit, neon green dress shirt, with a cobalt orange tie featuring a gradient pattern, topped with a bright yellow sport coat. On the bottom, the model was dressed in a simple pair of blue jeans with black shoes. This look is unforgettable, so much so, that you can’t help but compliment the designer himself for being so bold and so brave in his work.

Boateng went on to work for Givenchy as Creative Director of Menswear, designed the premium credit card for Coutts (which of course came out in imperial purple), and designed the amenity kits for Virgin Atlantic’s first class travelers in 2004. Some of his designs are even seen in box office hits like Sex and The City, Hannibal, The Matrix, and Oceans 13. When asked about the future, Boateng aims to follow in the footsteps of Giorgio Armani. He claims “He is my template. He is 81 and he has energy like no one else. I’m just getting started.”