He is a pioneer in the world of fashion who has dressed many of the world's leading personalities. Now, 20 years after setting up shop at London's famed Savile Row, the British tailor-turned-fashion powerhouse Ozwald Boateng is preparing for global domination. Not bad for an ex-IT student whose first taste of design came as a result of helping a former girlfriend prepare for a fashion show when he was 16.
Boateng, whose rise to fame has been documented in the film A Man's Story, screening at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, is no stranger to the UAE. "We've actually been guests of the festival ever since it began four years ago," he tells tabloid! "I would love to design something for anyone to wear at the red carpet here.
"We [Boateng and Varon Bonico, the documentary's director] have actually become friends with Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and he was gracious to invite us several times to come and visit."
Boateng, whose collection is available at Harvey Nichols in Dubai, also said he may soon set up shop in the capital. "I'm currently looking for partners to join me in this venture. I'm also in discussions about possibly staging a fashion show or a similar event here."
When asked to highlight some of the men he was most proud to design outfits for, Boateng doesn't hesitate. "Will Smith for the premiere of Ali, Daniel Day Lewis for Gangs Of New York and Jamie Foxx for Ray," he says.
"But the one person that I'm very proud I created a suit for is [US] President [Barack] Obama that the President of Ghana presented to him as a gift during his visit. I think he's a great man who is doing the best that he can considering the situation he inherited when he was elected. People's expectations of him are harsh. Everyone's built him up into a superhero when in fact he's just a man. But he's an amazing man and I'm sure that history in the future will reflect that."
Fashion isn't the only thing on the 42-year-old designer's mind. Boateng, whose parents are Ghanaian immigrants, also has various charitable projects that help provide aid to various African causes, such as Human Energy, which is a tree-planting project in Africa, and the Made in Africa Trust, a for-profit venture for developing projects in Africa.
"I'm currently participating in a project that plans to build a high speed train that will connect various African countries. One of the reasons why I'm very keen to open a store here, is because I'm interested in Abu Dhabi's investment in Africa. I'm passionate about helping to raise Africa's global profile. Over 50 per cent of the world's resources can be found there and it just needs to find a way to unlock all that wealth. The UAE is one of the countries that is helping to build its infrastructure."
Another thing that the designer, an Order of the British Empire recipient, is focusing on is perhaps not as worldly as his other priorities but it's something just as important to him. "I've taken up Bikram yoga a few weeks ago because I haven't exercised since school.
"I've been blessed with a fast metabolism, but I think it's time that I helped it out a little," he says, laughing.
Four questions for Ozwald Boateng
What trends do you see for next season?
For autumn-winter 2011, I plan on incorporating a lot of the materials I enjoy most working with, such as corduroy, tweed and velvet. For spring-summer 2011, I'll obviously be using lighter materials, both in terms of colour and type.
Do you listen to music to put yourself in a creative mood?
Actually, I think I need to listen to music more. My design team usually has something blasting in the studio, but I tend to block out the music when I focus on what I'm creating. Maybe if I let some music in, it might take me in an unexpected direction...
What advice do you have for budding designers?
Fashion is a creative and demanding field, so you have to make sure that you really love and are passionate about designing. But make sure to keep taking everything to the next level so your creativity levels stay fresh.
If given 24 hours to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
I think that I would take my two children on a trip with Virgin Galactic. It would definitely be a fun experience, but it will also give them some perspective to see things from space.
The director speaks
Twelve years after he began filming Ozwald Boateng for his documentary, A Man's Story, on the designer, Varon Bonico has completed his film, which had its world premiere at ADFF. tabloid! caught up with the director.
What inspired you to do a documentary about Boateng?
Someone I know had spoken about him and I couldn't understand how someone could be so confident, so resilient in the face of everything he's experienced… When I met him, I thought he was very cool and wanted to do a film about him.
It took 12 years to complete this journey. Why did it take so long?
All we wanted to do was see what's happening in Ozwald's life. We had over 420 hours of footage, not counting the 80 hours of archived material! Out of all that, we had to create a 90-minute film and it was so hard choosing what to put in, but here we are.
How do you feel about being a participant in this year's festival?
We're very happy that the world premiere took place at ADFF. The festival and Abu Dhabi itself are very special to us. I can't think of any other place I'd want to screen the movie!