Ozwald Boateng at the Apollo

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was one of the most revolutionary and creative eras of black history. Harlem, New York became the pinnacle of black intellectual, artistic and social movements, forever changing black culture and putting the merits of black artists on display. Needless to say, even modern-day black contributions to creative industries owe themselves to the work of those who made the Harlem Renaissance happen from Langston Hughes to Countee Cullen to Zora Neale Hurston.

The influence of this movement is still remembered today on a global scale by black creatives around the world, including fashion designer Ozwald Boateng. Boateng is best known for being the first black designer to ever have his own shop on London’s Savile Row in addition to being a former creative director of menswear for Givenchy. For the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, the designer decided to not only stage a show at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre, but also launch womenswear as well, which took a see-now-buy-now approach.

In April when it was announced that the designer would be doing a show based on AI, everyone assumed that he meant Artificial Intelligence. As the runway show began, it was clear that this was not an homage to the future of fashion and technology, but, rather, an ode to black arts and culture past, present, and future. In this case, AI stood for “Authentic Identity.”

Boateng, who is of Ghanaian heritage, stayed true to his identity by infusing West African design influences, including tribal prints, in his clothes while blending them with Harlem Renaissance influences. Although womenswear is new for Boateng and a big divergence from traditional Savile Row tailoring, his knowledge of textiles, color, and silhouettes were front and center throughout the collection with his cohesive approach to color and the tailoring of the women’s pieces.

Notably, the majority of the models in Boateng’s show were people of color, an approach that has been bandied about in the fashion industry where diversity and inclusion has become hot topics. And true to form, Boateng’s models reflect the sassiness and sexiness of his designs.

Boateng’s show was truly groundbreaking, not only for him as a designer launching womenswear, but also as a moment in history for Black designers, many of whom go unsung or never reach these merits of notoriety. Remember, the Harlem Renaissance is not only noteworthy for great literature and black arts explosion, but also for the great fashion that the era produced.

Images courtesy of vogue.com

Boateng’s Apollo show was a renaissance of sorts for black models, black designers, and the black fashion intelligentsia, calling for a new age of black fashion in the fashion industry (Note Edward Enninful at British Vogue, Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, and the rise of Pyer Moss, Laquan Smith, and Romeo Hunte, all garnishing an international audience.)The beauty of black culture received the celebration it deserved, and Boateng didn’t disappoint his audience with this once in a lifetime experience. Ozwald Boateng welcome back to New York City!!

—Kristopher Fraser

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