Ozwald Boateng recently said that though the suit is usually perceived as a uniform, he wants to make it a choice — meaning there’s room to make a subtle, intentional statement within a well-trod framework. This same logic applies to Boateng’s career more generally. The designer has consistently innovated within the bounds of tradition. His decision to open his boutique on Savile Row in 1995 — he was the youngest tailor to do so and the first Black designer to set up shop on the historic street — was also by no means unintentional. Boateng set out to breathe new life into Britain’s centuries-long tradition of bespoke menswear, incorporating his Ghanaian heritage into his colorful, bold designs. And more recently, he’s brought this decades-long instinct for revitalization to Poltrona Frau; the Italian design company’s CEO Nicola Coropulis has said that the collaboration is a way to “make tradition alive in a contemporary key.”
Boateng’s collaboration with the Italian design brand spans candles, a chic version of a mancala game, wool rugs, and pillows, but it’s the leather processing in the fabrics of the pieces of furniture Boateng’s revamped — the iconic Chester and Vanity Fair armchairs — where Boateng’s signature sense of innovation shines through. To accomplish the chairs’ swirling Kente patterns, a modern take on the traditional Ghanaian textile, Boateng and Poltrona Frau developed a new technique in nubuck leather processing where the leather pieces are pressed between a metal surface and a bakelite plate. The hand-embossed patterns create a 3D effect, which makes Boateng’s vibrant purples, dark greens, and rich reds pop even more; design lovers can see these up-close this month at Poltrona Frau’s Miami flagship, where Boateng’s collaboration will be on display as a preview for the American market. It’s a technical, deeply material trick that only a world-class tailor could help think up — yet another testament to Boateng’s skill at spinning au courant styles from old yarn.