Film: A Man’s Story – Ozwald Boateng at the Ritzy

The Ritzy held a special showing of A Man’s Story on Saturday, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Varon Bonicos and subject Ozwald Boateng. But is he a misunderstood man, or an impeccably dressed monster? Heloise Wood went along to find out. 

Boateng was the youngest and first black tailor to open a shop on London’s Savile Row. The documentary covers twelve tumultuous years of his life including two marriages, two children, a spell as creative director of menswear at Givenchy, and more suits than you can shake a stick at.

On the same day as the screening, a controversial interview came out with Boateng where Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead was rather unimpressed by the designer. The critical interview certainly gave an added frisson to the Q&A session where someone asked if Boateng had read it. Aitkenhead said the designer appeared to be someone who “considers the permanent presence of a camera a fitting signifier of his status”.

When asked by an audience member if he had read the offending article in the Q&A session, Boateng shifted slightly in his seat as he admitted he hadn’t but said he was “aware of it”, adding: “That’s life – sometimes they understand it and sometimes they don’t.”

So, does the film show Boateng as a misunderstood man or an impeccably dressed monster?

He does not always come off as a sympathetic subject and there are some uncomfortable scenes of him shouting at people at fashion shows.  Boateng admitted that, after seeing the final edit, he hadn’t spoken to the director for two weeks. Bonicos said there was a vital moment he wished he’d caught on camera where on Boateng’s first day at Givenchy, “he started going off on one because they didn’t have black tulips.”

To his credit, Boateng laughed along with the rest of the cinema at this and the two of them are good friends. Indeed, there are moments in the film where he is both candid and funny. One of my favourite moments is an early scene showing him trying trousers from a new collection. Boateng starts off angrily trying to tighten the trousers, blaming everyone around him for them being too tight implying there must be some problem with manufacturing. After many seconds of painful struggling with the flies before eventually admitting that perhaps, yes, there is the possibility he might have put on a tiny bit of weight.

He laughs and dances round the room before grabbing one of the people he was shouting at moments before into a gangly bear hug.

It’s good to have the dictatorial mask slip once in a while and see a giggling schoolboy underneath.

A Man’s Story is showing at the Ritzy until March 21st.