How do I look?: Ozwald Boateng
Designer, age 41
Saturday 19 January 2008
I remember having my first suit made for me at five years old; it was a dark purple double-breasted BB1 mohair number designed by my mother. This is pretty amazing, as it's that style that I'm now known for. It seems that at this age I was being sent signals – if you want to call it that – of what would happen in my life later on. When the picture was shown to me by my mother – when I was about 25 – I was just in shock. I thought, "That can't be! I'm making that suit now!"
My mother used to take me to church quite regularly and she was very particular about what we wore for the occasion. As a result of always having to dress up for this event, my style started to develop, as did my taste for clothing. As I was only allowed to wear good clothing on Sunday, it already created a value to clothes. If you get something bought for you that you really want to wear and you're only allowed it for a specific occasion, you're appreciation is honed at that point.
My father was a head master and a pure academic, and there was never any suggestion that I could do something creative; my family was geared towards more academic roles. It was like, "Become a dressmaker? No, you don't do that, you become a lawyer!" At college I was studying computers but I had a very good sense of style. In the summer I had part-time jobs and when I had my own money I could buy the things that I wanted. It was very much about expressing my own independence.
When I was 16 I decided to become a designer while I was still studying computers at college. I had a girlfriend who taught me how to make my own clothes. She was doing a fashion show and got me involved to design a collection and make them. When she asked me, I said, "I can't do that! I can design a program but not clothes." She said, "No, no, you really can" and I suppose I just had a natural talent and it grew from there.
As my mother always made clothes, there was equipment in the house all through my childhood, which I imagine subconsciously affected me. But growing up, I never viewed myself as someone who'd make clothes. In that sense I fought against it, or ignored the possibility of it. I'd set myself a different path in life. When I left school I was convinced that computers were going to be the future so I was happy to follow that.
People are interested in my position as a black designer on Savile Row, but I've never looked at colour or creed as making a difference to your destiny. The focus is always to be good. I'm a great believer that if you're destined to do something, it's easy in the beginning – it comes to you. It will get harder, because then you get challenged to see if you really want it, that's the rule in life.
That's true of my appearance. Now I need to work to earn my physique; gone are the days when I didn't have to go to the gym or work hard to keep in shape. Now I have to work for it. It's a series of things, like walking somewhere and then getting a taxi or bus maybe on the way back. Really it's all about being comfortable and confident about how you look. I appreciate good cuts and detail, but I'm not overly fussed by nuances. Style for me is also about how you feel. The feeling has always been at the forefront of what I create. If you feel good, you look good; it's simple really.
A life in brief
Ozwald Boeteng OBE was born in 1967 in Muswell Hill, north London, to Ghanaian parents. A designer and bespoke tailor, he studied IT before pursuing a career in fashion. A former creative director at Givenchy, his clients include Jamie Foxx, Samuel L Jackson and Mick Jagger. Named Top Menswear Designer in 2000 at the British Fashion Awards, The Voice newspaper counted him among their 100 Great Black Britons and he was awarded an OBE in 2006. He lives in central London with his wife and their two children. His new flagship store is located at 30 Savile Row, London W1
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