LONDON — The Savoy Theatre on Strand was packed Monday evening as Ozwald Boateng put on his first London show in 12 years.
Despite a one-hour delay, the show was a beautiful tribute to Black excellence and featured musical performances, poetry readings, dancing to the song “Back to Life” and 100 looks worn by a diverse cast, led by Golden Globe winner Idris Elba, British actor Nicholas Pinnock, rapper Dizzee Rascal, Goldie, Pa Salieu, Rapman and Unknown T.
Notable attendees of the show included Tinie Tempah, Noel Gallagher and his daughter Anaïs, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Tom Dixon, Thea Carroll, Roxy Horner and Phoebe Torrance.
The British Ghanaian designer, and former creative director of Givenchy Homme between 2004 and 2007, showed dresses, kimonos, velvet tuxedos, wide-leg trousers, tailored jackets and outerwear in his signature prints, inspired by Kente fabric and Adinkra symbols from Africa.
Speaking to WWD prior to the show, Boateng explained that the London show is the third installment of his Black Authentic Identity celebration, as well as an occasion to celebrate his birthday, which began at midnight after the show.
Boateng also wanted to use this opportunity to pay homage to his father, who passed away in 2020.
“Last time I showed here in London, I ended the show with my father. This is quite an emotional moment because it reminds me that I don’t have my father today,” Boateng said.
The first chapter of Black Authentic Identity took place in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2016, and the second one happened in Harlem, N.Y., in 2019, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance in the Apollo Theater.
The designer said he decided to come back to the British public eye now because he realized that our time has truly changed.
“Tinie Tempah took me to a fashion dinner about five years ago. I haven’t really been going to those dinners for years and he said to me: ‘Look, you really need to come.’ I think: ‘Really? You’re gonna invite me to a fashion event?’ Anyway, I went and he’s got a table with all Black people. Then I turned and looked around the rest of the room. I saw more Black faces.
“Tinie then said to me: ‘That’s why I wanted you to be here. These are the people who inspire. This is the change. I could not believe it because, for the longest time, I was the only one in those rooms,” he said.
Boateng is now “very optimistic” about this new phase.
“There’s a real opportunity for Black culture and Black talent. I’m excited for myself because I have a very particular set of skills developed over the decades. The timing couldn’t be better for someone with my heritage and skill set.
“I know how to play the two worlds of tradition. I really understand my fabrication and also the language of simplification because sometimes in this game of fashion and design you can chase new ideas to a point where they exhaust you. The truth is, it’s not about the chase. It’s actually just knowing what you want to say,” he said.
Another purpose the show served is to introduce Boateng to the TikTok generation, who probably has no idea who he is.
“I’m fascinated by the new generation because there’s such a freedom of expression. They can make films. They can take pictures. When I started to communicate, I had to go through gatekeepers. There are no gatekeepers for this generation.
“I’m excited by being able to communicate with them. But the one thing I would say, and this is what’s really important for me in this collection, is that I want them still to remember their spirit. I don’t want them to be so trapped on the devices. The algorithm does not determine who they are. I’m sure people will get their phones out and film [the show], but I’m also hoping that what they feel makes it not take it out as much,” he added.
The London-born designer studied fashion at Southgate College in London in the mid-1980s. He established his first design studio on London’s Portobello Road — by which point he had already dressed the likes of Mick Jagger and Spike Lee — held his first runway show in Paris, making him the first tailor to hold a show during fashion week, before opening his first store on Savile Row. In 1996, Boateng won the award for Best Menswear Designer at Trophées de la Mode.
After Givenchy, Boateng received an honorary degree from The University of Creative Arts and an honorary doctorate from the University of Arts London, as well as the Harvard University Veritas Award. He also designed pieces for Marvel’s “Black Panther.”