Tagged as one of London’s freshest creative fashion forces, this Anglo-African began his career as a tailor but began showing his wares in runway collections in the mid-1990s. Boateng was born in 1968, in London, England. His parents were originally from Ghana, and came to London in 1950s. The family, which included Boateng’s two older siblings, lived in the Muswell Hill area of north London, but his parents divorced when Boateng was eight. In Ghana his mother had worked in the fabric business, and took in custom work as a seamstress in England. Boateng recalled that as a five-year-old, his mother made him a purple mohair suit that quickly became his favorite outfit. His father, once headmaster of a school in Ghana, was a strict but not authoritarian parent. At the age of 16, Boateng began dating a girl he met at a London technical college, where he was studying computer science at the time. She showed him how to make clothes and Boateng soon began making clothes for himself. Soon Boateng had switched his major to fashion design at Southgate College, and he began working out of a studio in London’s East End and selling his wares. He found the program at Southgate difficult at times. By the time he was 18, Boateng’s clothes were selling at stores in the King’s Road section of Chelsea, and in 1993 he opened a store on another trendy street, Portobello Road. He found his true calling, however, when he began haunting the austere but pricey tailor shops of London’s Savile Row, where British kings and prime ministers, international heads of state, and wealthy men with impeccable taste in clothes had been having suits custom-made for generations. Switching the focus of his business to making custom, or bespoke suits for men, Boateng attracted notice when he became one of the first-ever British tailors to stage a fashion show. Referring to the 1994 London show, but the publicity helped him find a backer for a ready-to-wear line and to open a more formal retail venture, a store just off the famed Savile Row, on Vigo Street, in 1995. Soon his ready-to-wear line was selling at Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York in the United States. Between 1996 and 1997, Boateng’s sales soared 150 percent worldwide, and he was even invited to dine at No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair. In early 1998, however, a looming financial crisis in Asia caused two large orders from Hong Kong and Japan to be cancelled, and Boateng lost his backer. His ready-to-wear business went into receivership in the spring of 1998, but he saved it by entering into a deal with a British department store chain, Debenham’s, to design a moderately priced line of men’s clothing. In 1999 Boateng suffered another setback when his entire collection was stolen, and in 2001 found himself in an unusual battle with Sean “P.Diddy” Combs over scheduling concerns at the New York spring menswear collection shows. Boateng’s Bryant Park event was scheduled for 7 p.m., while Combs’s “Sean Jean” line was going to be shown at 8 p.m. Combs’s representatives, however, overwhelmed by the media attention surrounding the rap mogul, asked that all invitees be seated by 7 p.m.–which meant that many important buyers and tastemakers would miss Boateng’s collection. Representatives from both sides met, and peace was made. Despite such flamboyant wares, Boateng remained an accepted presence among the more staid Savile Row tailors. When his store opened, many brought him welcome gifts. British menswear designer Ozwald Boateng has been called “the peacock of Savile Row” for the exuberant fabric colors he uses in his ready-to-wear collections and line of custom suits. Smashing Pumpkins, Mick Jagger, Seal, Herbie Hancock, and Robbie Williams
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