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Ozwald Boateng gave London Fashion Week a ‘celebration of the culture’

The Savile Row pioneer returned from a 12-year absence with a star-studded celebration of Black British excellence.

At 28, Ozwald Boateng became the youngest tailor to open a shop on London’s renowned Savile Row. On Monday, February 21, the now 54-year-old designer returned to where it all began, ending a 12-year hiatus from London Fashion Week with a celebration of Black British excellence at London’s Savoy Theatre.

Designer and advocate Ozwald Boateng
Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for The Birley Clubs

“This is a celebration of the culture, the Black culture, here in this country for 30, 40, 50 years,” Boateng told Business of Fashion (BoF) ahead of the show.

Now over 30 years into his career, the London-born Ghanaian designer is embedded in that culture. In 1994, Boateng became the first tailor to present at Paris Fashion Week. In the decades since, his bespoke suits have been favored by celebrities like Lawrence Fishburne, Spike Lee, Will Smith, and Jamie Foxx and eventually garnered Boateng a stint as Creative Director of Givenchy Homme. By 2006, he was awarded the title Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Also a film director, documentarian and sometime actor, his designs have also been seen on the big screen in projects like Mo’ Better Blues, Marvel’s Black Panther and the James Bond franchise.

Given Boateng’s history-making influence in England and beyond, it’s somewhat surprising the designer hadn’t shown a collection in his native London since 2010, opting instead to stage presentations in the United States or during Africa’s multiple Fashion Weeks. But as BoF explained, it made his homecoming all the more stunning.

The show opened with a video montage of portraits of Black creatives in music, fashion, art and film, their names flashed up on screen in time to a crescendoing drum set. Models in sharply tailored suits and flowing silks mixed with a long list of celebrities — including actors Idris Elba and Nicholas Pinnock, and musicians Dizzee Rascal and Kojey Radical — on stage at London’s Savoy Theatre. There was drumming. There were trumpeters. By 9:30 p.m., the entire 100-strong cast was crammed together on stage, dancing to a live a capella rendition of Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.”

Credit: Business of Fashion

In case you’re wondering, no, it’s not Black History Month in Britain—that’s in October. However, as both a pioneer in his own right and an observer of how race, anti-Blackness, and anti-racism have returned to the forefront of international conversations, Boateng told BoF he wanted to seize the moment.

“It feels like the world is just about to open up again,” he said. “I just know how we tend to move too quickly and maybe forget what happened before. And I want to punctuate the moment and say: ‘Look, this culture has contributed, and we contribute beautifully.’”

Notably, despite his decades of success, the collection and presentation also allowed Boateng to express more freely his own experiences as a Black designer. That ethos extended to his gender-fluid collection of over 100 made-to-order looks, which, according to Vogue, included “expertly-cut silk two-piece suits adorned with the spiritual Adinkra symbol patterns, to weighty velvet separates in the form of evening jackets and wide-leg pants.” BoF simply characterized the collection as “the perfect marriage of Boateng’s British and African heritage.”

“When I made the decision to create clothes, I never spoke about the issues I faced, because I didn’t want my race to define what I do, especially as the only person of color in the room,” the designer told Vogue magazine. “Now, we’re in a world where we can finally have these conversations, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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