Ozwald Boateng has returned to London Fashion Week after a 12 year hiatus. Flanked by a phalanx of black musicians, actors, and changemakers, last night the designer debuted his AW22 collection at London’s Savoy Theatre. Idris Elba, Pa Salieu, Unknown T, Kojey Radical, Goldie, Top Boy actor Nicholas Pinnock, and Dizzee Rascal all took to the stage wearing bold, tailored suits and flowing silks, which paid homage to Boateng’s Ghanaian roots via an abundance of colour, Kente fabrics, and subtle Adinkra symbols splashed across silken bombers and velvet tuxedos.
The former Givenchy designer has not shown in the British capital since 2010, opting to house his runways in New York. This time, however, after more than two years of global and personal loss, Boateng felt it appropriate to make a comeback, citing the death of George Floyd, coronavirus, and the passing of his own father as clarion calls. The show was something of a multimedia spectacle with a jumbo screen proving a poetic backdrop as it iconised influential Black creatives in fashion, art, music, and film, including a tribute to Jamal Edwards who died suddenly on Sunday aged 31. As drums began to crescendo, the 100-strong cast crammed into view, dancing to a live rendition of Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life”.
Seeing Boateng take a bow amidst so many of his peers and emerging talents, it became clear that this collection was an explicit ode to Black talent. Yet the show was not just a moment to take stock of the contributions the diaspora has made to British culture, it was a moment for Boateng to cement his legacy. Born in the late 60s to Ghanaian parents, the designer paved the way for so many, establishing his eponymous label in 1989 before becoming the first British tailor to stage a show at Paris Fashion Week in 1994.
Long before Virgil Abloh, Olivier Rousteing, and so many other designers, Boateng spent decades as the only Black person in many a room. In 2003 he became the first Black person to take the helm of a Parisian fashion house as the creative director at Givenchy Homme, stepping down four years later to focus on his own brand, which has been a fixture on Savile Row and the red carpet ever since. And, despite showcasing a RTW collection, that influence remains at the heart of the label – in tailoring, construction, and a strict made-to-order philosophy. Click through the gallery above to see the rest of the collection.