"I Am Passionate about Where Africa Goes and Should Go": He Is Known for His Flamboyant Fashion Sense and His Perfectly Tailored Suits Loved by the Rich and Famous Worldwide Including Hollywood Royalty Will Smith and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Virgin Boss, Richard Branson. but as He Reveals to Our Deputy Editor reGina Jane Jere in This Exclusive Interview, Ozwald Boateng Is Taking on a New Mantle-And It's Far from Glamorous
Jere, reGina Jane, New African
IMPECCABLY DRESSED IN A SHARPLY TAILORED, DEEP olive-green suit--which I presume is one of his own, it's easy to concur with the widely-held public assumption: the menswear designer Ozwald Boateng is a walking advertisement for his brand.
As I am ushered into his office with my photographer (who is politely asked to leave by his PA because the interview appointment said "journalist only") I am drawn to the massive oil painting (also in green) of Boateng himself which hangs imposingly just behind his gleaming, clutter-free desk. I am tempted to ask about the painting, but Boateng is, on this day, a man in demand for press interviews and there is no time for such pleasantries.
I have 30 minutes to find out why the man--famous for designing suits for the rich, famous and for Hollywood royalty, as well as being the youngest and only black man with African roots on London's famous and exclusive Savile Row--is suddenly making headlines in the name of Africa. One British newspaper even described him as an activist for Africa. What is all that about?
"Really? Activist? Like George Clooney is an activist?" he reacts, somewhat perplexed, when I put that to him.
"I understand the word activism, but that is not the right word for me. I don't see myself as an activist. I see myself as someone who is just very passionate about where Africa goes, and should go. But I am not alone on that. There are so many thousands, even millions of Africans who feel the same way," he says rather collectedly, but with a tinge of excitement.
At only 27 years of age back in 1994, Boateng made his name when he became both the first black tailor to open a store on Savile Row. Born in London to Ghanaian parents in 1968, the award-winning designer was obsessed with sewing and fashion from a very young age. Indisputably, today he is one of the designers of choice for everyone from Hollywood stars to the British political elite. His cheapest suit comes at no less than [pounds sterling]1,000 and can cost as much as a mind-boggling [pounds sterling]20,000 a piece.
But I am in his opulent office--which is buried in the basement of his exquisite store (No 30, Savile Row)--not to talk about the glam and glitz of fashion, or his label.
As he sits down opposite me, next to his PA, who gives him a small nod that says, you are ready, his gaze as he looks directly at me commands immediate attention and I go straight to the crux of our interview--his interest in facilitating what many are calling Africa's "Marshall Plan", spearheaded by infrastructure development plans on an unprecedented scale. Infrastructure building is Boateng's other great passion outside his fashion business.
At the moment, the African "Marshall Plan" buzz is in overdrive following the African Development Bank's (AfDB) announcement last month, to float Africa's first infrastructure bonds to member nations to raise up to $22 billion for investment in Africa's much-needed infrastructure projects, in areas such as ports, railways, roads and energy. It is a move that has filled Boateng with confident exuberance:
"This announcement is just music to my ears," he gushes and suddenly, his stern-seeming posture relaxes and he radiates optimism. "This is key to unlocking Africa's potential. Lack of infrastructure is one of the major obstacles that has been holding us back.
"I believe everything about Africa today is about momentum. Whereas historically there hasn't been big interest in terms of investment and even interest in culture, fashion and the arts, today there is vast momentum in Africa's favour. One of the key things about the Made In Africa has been to change perceptions about Africa and we welcome and support infrastructural development."
In 2011, Boateng, Nigerian businessman, Kola Aluko, in collaboration with the Nigerian oil and gas company Atlantic Energy, set up the Made in Africa Foundation (MIAF) with a very ambitious plan. …