Tailor mate

Posted 1st November 2002 • Topic Fashion & Jewellery Design • Category Articles in News
"The worst mistake you can make is wearing an ill-fitting suit," according to Ozwald Boateng.

"The worst mistake you can make is wearing an ill-fitting suit." This sage bit of advice comes from Ozwald Boateng, the innovative menswear designer based at 12a Saville Row, the fastidious epicentre of London's centuries-old craft of men's tailoring.

Born to immigrants from the Asante region in Ghana, Ozwald discovered his talent for tailoring by accident when helping his then girlfriend to produce a fashion show. In the intervening two decades, Ozwald has set about rewriting contemporary perceptions of menswear and tailoring. Ozwald's international sales base includes such prestigious venues as Selfridges in London and Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

As influential commentator Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has observed of Ozwald, his designs strike a balance between bland assimilation of English traditions and a strident racial self-assertion. His striking sense of form is meticulously complemented by a deliciously bold sense for colour. "A big believer in being Asante," Ozwald's designs capture the contradictory energies of England's emerging multiculturalism.

Awarded the title Best Male Designer at the 1996 Trophées de la Mode in Paris, and Top Menswear Designer at the 2000 British Fashion Awards, his bespoke tailoring is worn by the likes of Will Smith, David Coutlhard, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Robbie Williams and Matt Damon. Even London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, is a Boateng regular.

Ozwald Boateng's trendy tailor shop is not quite the type of shop you would expect on London's Saville Row, the centre of traditional British tailoring. But then again, neither is his style of tailoring! His suits come in everything from a traditional navy pinstripe to purple velvet. Of course, style doesn't come cheaply: a two-piece bespoke suit will cost you about £2,200.

His style isn't about being eccentric, but it does, as he says, "break every rule in the book" - certainly at the level of the fabrics used. "I've refined my fabric design. I've designed about 95 percent of the fabric myself. I take a traditional fabric like a bird's eye, which usually comes in grey or navy worsted, and introduce colour and make it mohair so you get a two-tone effect," he told a German website. But Boateng knows how to be flamboyant without making his designs seem outdated the next season and his attention to detail marks him as a true Saville Row tailor, and a maker of some of its most covetable clothes.

He's been making headlines ever since becoming the first black fashion designer to open an outlet in Saville Row, but things weren't always smooth sailing. His £3 million fashion business went bankrupt in 1998 when orders from Hong Kong and Japan worth over £2 million were cancelled. The papers were full of headlines like "Boateng goes bust", but a week later he was up and running once again, determined to take more interest in the financial side of the business and, after six gruelling months, his turnover was back to £1.2 million.

Boateng is also going mainstream - he signed a licensing deal with Marchpole, a menswear manufacturing group, and will design a formal and casualwear range, as well as a new jeans line which will hit the shops in September 2003.

And he isn't just interested in making men look good - he also took part in the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraising event whose proceeds go to the Save the Children Foundation. The event is based on an exclusive collection of nine unique Designer Christmas Trees, which are auctioned to raise money for the charity. Individual trees have raised between £3,500 and £20,000 each. He also designs the O-Z range for Debenham's department store.

Fashion tips from Ozwald Boateng

Do

  • experiment with different shirt and tie combinations from the same colour palette
  • use cufflinks to reflect something about your personality
  • add a handkerchief if you want a more formal look
  • use a good dry cleaner
  • polish your shoes

Don't

  • wear an ill-fitting suit
  • wear shirts without boned collars
  • wear trousers with turn-ups

"The worst mistake you can make is wearing an ill-fitting suit." This sage bit of advice comes from Ozwald Boateng, the innovative menswear designer based at 12a Saville Row, the fastidious epicentre of London's centuries-old craft of men's tailoring.

Born to immigrants from the Asante region in Ghana, Ozwald discovered his talent for tailoring by accident when helping his then girlfriend to produce a fashion show. In the intervening two decades, Ozwald has set about rewriting contemporary perceptions of menswear and tailoring. Ozwald's international sales base includes such prestigious venues as Selfridges in London and Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

As influential commentator Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has observed of Ozwald, his designs strike a balance between bland assimilation of English traditions and a strident racial self-assertion. His striking sense of form is meticulously complemented by a deliciously bold sense for colour. "A big believer in being Asante," Ozwald's designs capture the contradictory energies of England's emerging multiculturalism.

Awarded the title Best Male Designer at the 1996 Trophées de la Mode in Paris, and Top Menswear Designer at the 2000 British Fashion Awards, his bespoke tailoring is worn by the likes of Will Smith, David Coutlhard, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Robbie Williams and Matt Damon. Even London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, is a Boateng regular.

Ozwald Boateng's trendy tailor shop is not quite the type of shop you would expect on London's Saville Row, the centre of traditional British tailoring. But then again, neither is his style of tailoring! His suits come in everything from a traditional navy pinstripe to purple velvet. Of course, style doesn't come cheaply: a two-piece bespoke suit will cost you about £2,200.

His style isn't about being eccentric, but it does, as he says, "break every rule in the book" - certainly at the level of the fabrics used. "I've refined my fabric design. I've designed about 95 percent of the fabric myself. I take a traditional fabric like a bird's eye, which usually comes in grey or navy worsted, and introduce colour and make it mohair so you get a two-tone effect," he told a German website. But Boateng knows how to be flamboyant without making his designs seem outdated the next season and his attention to detail marks him as a true Saville Row tailor, and a maker of some of its most covetable clothes.

He's been making headlines ever since becoming the first black fashion designer to open an outlet in Saville Row, but things weren't always smooth sailing. His £3 million fashion business went bankrupt in 1998 when orders from Hong Kong and Japan worth over £2 million were cancelled. The papers were full of headlines like "Boateng goes bust", but a week later he was up and running once again, determined to take more interest in the financial side of the business and, after six gruelling months, his turnover was back to £1.2 million.

Boateng is also going mainstream - he signed a licensing deal with Marchpole, a menswear manufacturing group, and will design a formal and casualwear range, as well as a new jeans line which will hit the shops in September 2003.

And he isn't just interested in making men look good - he also took part in the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraising event whose proceeds go to the Save the Children Foundation. The event is based on an exclusive collection of nine unique Designer Christmas Trees, which are auctioned to raise money for the charity. Individual trees have raised between £3,500 and £20,000 each. He also designs the O-Z range for Debenham's department store.

Fashion tips from Ozwald Boateng

Do

  • experiment with different shirt and tie combinations from the same colour palette
  • use cufflinks to reflect something about your personality
  • add a handkerchief if you want a more formal look
  • use a good dry cleaner
  • polish your shoes

Don't

  • wear an ill-fitting suit
  • wear shirts without boned collars
  • wear trousers with turn-ups
Part of the Magazine:
Quarter 04 / 2002

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Ozwald Boateng OBE is an English fashion designer of Ghanaian descent, known for his trademark twist on classic British tailoring and bespoke style.