London Fashion Week swung into action yesterday, with Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Giles among the big names due to show their spring 2011 collections at the event.
In addition to six days of shows and presentations there will be the usual sideshows of competitive dressing – who's going to be wearing label du jour Céline, seat hierarchies – who's been banished to the wilderness behind the front two rows – and of course, champagne-fuelled parties – the Kate Moss and Longchamp bash is one of the hot tickets. The last day of the event is devoted to menswear, and since the showcase was started in 2009 as an experiment it has been a more low-key affair than the women's shows.
However, on Wednesday evening, the designer Ozwald Boateng is set to up the ante with an unashamedly glamorous show at the Leicester Square Odeon. The designer is aiming for a film-premiere feel, with a red carpet, 1,800 guests including sportsmen, artists and musicians (exactly who is unconfirmed but Boateng has dressed Will Smith, Jude Law, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ben Kingsley amongst others) and a show featuring 100 male models instead of the usual 20 or so. A designer like Boateng, who became famous for suits that combine sharp tailoring with eye-catching colour, was never going to mark his first show at London Fashion Week with anything other than a "massive event."
Describing himself as, "a big one for timing", Boateng, decided to come back this season for several reasons. It's the 25th anniversary of his business and A Man's Story, a documentary about his life that has been 12 years in the making, is finally finished. Most importantly, however, he explains, "Finally there is a men's day – a day when I can actually do something. Menswear is a significant part of the fashion industry and the UK is one of the biggest markets for designers."
Born in London in 1968 to Ghanaian parents, Boateng was inspired by his father's suits and received a purple mohair suit himself aged five. He started making waves in menswear in the early Nineties, going on to stage his first catwalk presentation in Paris in 1994 and receive an OBE in 2006. He has set up a project called "Made in Africa" to promote development on the continent, and created suits for President Obama on behalf of the President of Ghana.
In addition to his originality, Boateng has clearly been helped by an ebullient self-promotion. He explains that, for him to show at London Fashion Week, the event needed to have shown that it has grown up. He continues, "There is always an interest among key buyers around the world to come for the creativity, but we haven't had enough significant names to make it commercial. I think that I will be able to stimulate something."
Boateng, who has plans to expand globally, has none of the diffidence typical to many Brits, but he does describe his relationship to Savile Row, where he opened his current flagship store in 2007 as "a love affair with being British". When he started out, he didn't want to open there because, "it was dead, and there were better commercial places".
Now, due to the soaring popularity of heritage brands from Burberry to Barbour, and a renewed emphasis on traditional craft, the street has found itself in tune with the zeitgeist again. Mansel Fletcher, style editor of Esquire, believes that "tailoring is absolutely central to men's clothing, and the thing that Britain gave the world in terms of tailoring is the suit. It should be central to any menswear day."
Asked about any tension between the most traditional companies on Savile Row and more modern ones, Boateng says, "Sometimes, when you take the street as a whole there is infighting along the lines of 'Have you been established for 200 years or haven't you?' but I would say that our strength has to be in us being together. You need the new to sustain the old."
We'll have to wait until the close of fashion week to see Boateng's vision of the new when it comes to tailoring, but he says it will include luxurious fabrics such as very fine wools, silk blends and mohair mixes and a rich colour palette of blues, greens and purple. That's just four days of celebrity spotting, trend predicting, statement dressing, seat envy and – of course – raw creativity, to go.
Fashion Week Schedule
Topshop Unique, Betty Jackson and Twenty8Twelve (Sienna Miller's label)
Jasper Conran, Julien Macdonald, Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson
Christopher Kane, Erdem and Nicole Farhi
Jaeger and Burberry
Menswear day: Hardy Amies, E Tautz and Ozwald Boateng