Ozwald Boateng, 32, was born in London to Ghanaian parents. He began selling clothes while studying fashion design. He sold his first collection at the age of 19 and later moved into bespoke tailoring. In 1994 he became the first tailor to hold a catwalk show at Paris Men's Fashion Week. He is known for his use of bright colour
MOMO: We met at my restaurant in Paris when Ozwald was just starting to make a name for himself as a young hip black guy in a very traditional market. When my girlfriend introduced us I hadn't heard of him, though his use of colour was sending shock waves through the world of bespoke tailoring in Savile Row.
He was bringing the warmth, colour and design of his African roots to a grey world. We instantly bonded. Here was this guy, very friendly, open, talks a lot. In my business you meet so many people and I get tired of being the one who has to talk and talk. Then when you come home you think: why? Why should I do all this, bubbling all day? If I want to bubble I want to bubble with real people, to bubble simply.
Ozwald and I, we laugh, we joke. We talk about dancing, girls, life, sunshine, holidays. Not about his clothes or my restaurant. We never talk business; we talk about nothing - everything and nothing.
When you reach a certain level, people expect from you. If you don't recognise someone they say, "Before, he was a simple man. Now look at him." But I don't do that on purpose. I have a small success. But don't forget it's as a result of hours - hours of work, hours of stress. In my country we sit outside, smoke and watch the girls go by. We laugh and make jokes all day. I never talk seriously. Here, sometimes I don't go out because when I do I spend my time talking with people who depress me. I go out to have fun, to dance, to sing, to move. And what I like about Ozwald is that when I meet him he's dancing and laughing.
I have many famous customers. When you have Robert de Niro, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, you need to take care of them. But all my customers, they may only spend pounds 20 a head, but for me they're superstars, and when they leave they need to be happy. It kills me when they tell me they've not had a good night. They need to learn to have fun. To stop drinking and try to enjoy themselves first. I don't want business suits in the bar. I tell them to go home and dress in Ozwald.
With customers it's, hello, how are you, mwah-mwah. With Ozwald, we grab each other, we don't kiss. I feel very, very proud to see an African who's so chic. Like a noble tribesman. When we live in Europe we need to show our roots and tradition. But we need to find a way, as Ozwald and I try to do, to fit. Like his suits, traditional cut with a bit of sunshine in them.
In 20 years' time I'd like to see Ozwald selling his suits on Savile Row not as a black man or new designer, but firmly rooted in the tradition. Italy was considered the place to be but there's been a shift recently and colour's been accepted. You can see it on the high streets and that's due to Ozwald's influence, so it's a question of time before his designs are considered classic.
I love England. It grabs me, it's civilised. They queue, they're polite, I was not like I am now when I arrived. They gave me the right to work here, to be successful. I teach my staff to share, give your heart, serve them happy, and they leave happy. People talk about racism, but I don't feel it. When I opened my first restaurant in Paris they said: "Who's this little Arab who plays loud music, dancing on the table eating couscous?"
I'm not a little Arab. I do nice, trendy things without forgetting my roots. So does Ozwald. I'm proud of that.
OZWALD BOATENG: We met at Mourad's restaurant in Paris, at a birthday party for his girlfriend, Donya. He didn't say much that evening, but he had such a great vibe. He was very relaxed. I recognised the spirit in Mourad straight away. What I like about him is his openness, which here in London some can't cope with. He's passionate, he shows everything. It's a cultural thing.
Mourad has great vision. It's beyond what you see now. I've also got vision and I'm very ambitious. So I'm sure at some point we will collaborate on some project. What it might be I don't know. We enjoy each other's company and we're both building something and eventually these things have a way of crossing at some point.
In Paris, if you're sitting in a fashionable restaurant and someone more famous walks in, it's customary that you're asked to vacate the table. Momo is totally anti that, which I think is very cool. He's not impressed by fame. All his customers are treated as VIPs.
Mourad's created this dream of sharing his culture. My trip is probably not as obvious as his. But because I am a black guy from Africa working in Savile Row, it's bringing the whole concept of Savile Row to the new millennium by changing perceptions. I've been successful bringing colour into the mainstream of menswear by bringing a discipline to it. That's probably based on my upbringing and the strong traditional values which I have. My suits are not just cool; they respect tradition.
After our first meeting, he was busy working on his London restaurant. My shop is just round the corner, and he popped in and said, "Why don't you come and see the new site?" When I did, my heart went out to him because at the time it looked like a bombsite. He was going through a nightmare with the developers. I missed the opening, but I started hearing about the restaurant from friends and reading about it in the papers.
I went for dinner and everyone was there. I was over the moon for him. He'd trusted his instincts and was unbelievably successful. It was reasonably priced, and you couldn't get a table. I told him he could easily charge double but he wouldn't do it. If I've had a stressful day at work I can pop in and it cheers me up. You always feel like you're being welcomed into a little family.
When we meet we talk on two levels. On the spiritual level as well. Because there's an understanding there we don't even have to talk. We can communicate in a non-verbal way by the eyes and hands. It's like we share a common culture and have common roots.
I can see my friendship with Mourad developing further. I meet people all the time, but I get such genuine pleasure from his company.Reuse content