Ozwald Boateng is 20 years of tailoring in a ‘Fashion in Motion’ exhibition this week at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The designer is celebrating 20 years at the forefront of British tailoring and is the first black designer to be accorded space at the V&A.
Only a handful of designers before Boateng have had this honour: Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Suzanne Lussier, curator of his show, said he was chosen ‘because he has revolutionised Savile Row, fusing traditional skills in tailoring and expert cutting with this very modern use of colours. His whole life is a success story,’ she said. ‘There aren’t many black designers around and he’s an icon.’
The young Boateng, whose family are from Ghana, learnt to sew at 14 after a summer job in a factory in east London stitching jackets. By 16 he had begun designing his own ‘creative suits’. Over time, though, he leaned increasingly towards traditional tailoring – a taste he acquired from his father, ‘a bit of a traditionalist’.
Boateng sold his first collection to two fashionable boutiques in London while still at college and went from strength to strength under the tutelage of the renowned Savile Row tailor, Tommy Nutter, who created suits for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. At 23, Boateng became the first Savile Row tailor to show his suits on the catwalks of Paris.
After opening a store on Savile Row in 1998, Boateng was appointed creative director of menswear at the French fashion house Givenchy in 2003. He was the first black designer to head a French couture house. Boateng said he ‘enjoys Givenchy because I don’t have to worry about the business, I only have to be creative’.
‘British men’s attitude to fashion has changed completely in the past 20 years,’ said Boateng. ‘In our dress-down culture, the suit is a choice, which gives it more value. Men wear them because they want to, and they care more about what sort of suit they buy. ‘Fashion in Motion’ with Ozwald Boateng is Friday, November 25 tth. Call 0207 942 2820 to book tickets.
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