Last year, Ozwald Boateng closed the SS11 season with a blockbuster of a presentation. As an army of models marched across town, the Savile Row tailor provided an all singing and dancing sartorial extravaganza to help celebrate his twenty five years in the business and mark his return to the capital. Twelve months on and the designer chose a more reserved but no less impactful way to present his SS12 offering. Located in the House's flagship Savile Row store, Boateng let the clothes take centre stage whilst taking us on a journey to Kenya.
For SS12, Ozwald Boateng invites us to relive his personal experience on a family safari in Kenya. Rather than sit us down in front of a slideshow, the seasoned design talent offers a dazzling reimagination of his experience. In a nod to an emotional journey, Boateng presents an assortment of weary travellers, pioneers and revolutionaries outfitted in looks that perfectly balance leisure and refinement. Inspired by the essentially masculine and functional dressing of the expedition, the collection weaves through tradition and innovation whilst showcasing the House's iconic understanding of detail and sense of colour. Traditional pieces including the safari jacket and stone shirt are adapted to the practical needs and luxurious style of the modern explorer and reinvigorated with a popping spectrum of colour. There's very little khaki or stone on Boateng's safari and true to the house DNA, colour is explored and represented in innovative ways. Here, the vibrant palette reflects Boateng's vision, painting a picture of the vast African landscape. Terracota and orange hues recall images of the burnt red soil under foot, whilst rich greens inspire images of lush vegetation and deep indigo of the huge African sky. Take my hand and lets go on a Boateng safari...
After snapping away at Boateng's reimagined expedition, I caught up with the stalwart of British tailoring to hear more about the trip to Kenya that sparked the collection, his thoughts on the evolution of menswear in London and his impending film documentary...
SS: Now, the starting point for the collection is quite obviously safari but what was the trigger?
Ozwald Boateng: I went on safari last year with my kids to Kenya. It was actually the first holiday that I had been on with the kids without anyone else being around, no air support, no ground troops and it was quite something. It was an amazing experience. I had my own tent and they had their own and there was a definite sense of being alone and yet surrounded by wildlife. It was down to me to instill the confidence within them that they could do it. Then it was all about getting up before the break of dawn, driving in to the unknown and patiently waiting. I bought both of my sons cameras and we all snapped away. At the tail end of the trip, I took all of our images and made a little book of the whole experience. That was the backdrop of why. Also, there was a number of personal connections. Firstly spending time with my children, secondly going to Kenya which is a place I've always wanted to go to on Safari and also the realisation of the important role of colour within the whole concept of safari. The moment of realisation came when I was sitting there in my beige shorts and khaki top and I looked at my guide, a Masai warrior dressed in an amazing array of rich colours, from emerald green, vibrant turquoise blue to lion red and I was blown away. We are conditioned or told to dress in a certain way but there was our guide who is going to track down these animals and I realised that it was all nonsense, it means nothing. Why not have as much fun as the guide? So, I threw away the obvious colour palette and introduced all of these colours to create a new rule book. With the local backdrop, huge sky and the ever changing soil combined with an exciting colour palette, everything just pops. That was the driving force for the season.
SS: What else influenced your designs?
Ozwald Boateng: In terms of the concept itself, I looked at the practicalities of being on safari and the uniform that you wear. For example, the need for pocketed sleeveless zipped tops but pushed it that bit more with the colours used and with my background in tailoring introduced layers. Tailored thin lapels, shirt jacket hybrids and finding clever, intelligent uses of colour to alter shape and aesthetics without working too hard to get there. When I started as a creator I was always running so fast, it was so important to be at the forefront but with the benefit of experience, the real skill lies in being in control of your creativity in such a way that there is always a fascination in what could be missed. For example, I was preoccupied with moving the notch on the lapel and something so simple can be interesting. There is a beauty in subtlety. Just by looking at a shaped collar for instance, there are so many collars but to create a new one in just a single movement is hard but when you do it The Nile chiseled shirt seems familiar yet different and that is a great place to be, I always strive to create garments like that. I've always been known for my texture and fabric and that is a key identifying feature and dynamic of the brand but the real focus is, and always has been on the detail of the cut. When you really look at one of my garments that is where the depth really lies.
SS: Remarkably, last year marked your twenty fifth anniversary in menswear. How has London menswear changed in your time?
Ozwald Boateng: The simple way to define is that when I started, there was no platform to show your work and this has only changed recently. I had to show in Paris, Milan and New York before I had to show anything here as part of the official calendar. For me, that says everything. The fact that designers can say that they are part of the British fashion week experience is huge. From a purely stylistic point of view, British menswear has always been grounded in tailoring and I've certainly played my role in continuing this tradition but it is always evolving. What is interesting for me is that men are happy to be fashionable again, the younger men in particular are expressing themselves in such a way that I can only remember occurring in the 80s. There's a real confidence and enjoyment about dressing again. I have always been interested in the masculinity of fashion, how you can rework a traditionally feminine in such a way to transform to appear masculine. I have seen men wearing fashion in the street and even though it has an element of femininity it is worn in such a way that makes it looks more masculine. It really reminds of when I started out and that whole Buffalo movement and when the Face just started out, it was really a time when men could enjoy fashion and I finally feel we are back there again.
SS: What's next for Ozwald Boateng?
Ozwald Boateng: Firstly, I'm keen to open more stores. We are in a really strong place as a brand and now is the right time to expand. Also, we've got a documentary film coming out next years and that is going to be a joint release both here and in the States. It is a twelve year documentary film of my life and the response has been really positive. I've refocussed the business in recent years, moving away from the wholesale side and concentrating on the core. This was a tough decision because in one sense you are losing revenue but it was important for me to control the core elements of the brand, to have everything on my terms. It felt like a return in a way. Following the twenty five year anniversary, I felt as though I had come full circle. It is a hugely promising time and I'm excited.
To supplement my eager shots from the presentation, I'd like to take another look at a few of the key looks. Thanks to the Jimmy Hansen shot look book we can...
SS12 Look book shots by Jimmy Hansen.