By following British designer Ozwald Boateng over 12 years, filmmaker Bonicos vividly captures his subject's personality on screen while recounting his rather astounding life story. But the film remains oddly dry and superficial.
Inspired by Armani, Boateng emerged from his childhood in riot-torn 1981 Brixton to become the first black tailor on Saville Row. As the creative director of Givenchy, his influence spread out through the fashion world, even as he juggled his work with his own label and two strained marriages. By 2005, he was at the centre of the Oscar red carpet, teaching American men to stop dressing like boys and reinventing the suit with shape and colour. He was awarded an OBE from the Queen in 2006.
Narrated by the director, the film follows Boateng through the highs and lows of his career, both his triumphant, groundbreaking shows and the shattering moment when his entire collection was stolen. The cameras capture hilarious moments, such as an icy event in Russia featuring vodka, chocolate and cheese, when he made a rather striking entrance into Red Square, where people aren't used to seeing 6'4" black men. And yet we never feel like we properly get under the surface either of the designer or the fashion industry
Boateng emerges as a very cool dude who combines intelligence, charisma and stunning good looks to get pretty much whatever he wants. And it seems almost accidental that the film captures Boateng's darker side. He admits that he neglected his family in a strangely offhanded, unapologetic way, and there are eerie references to both Mugabe and Gaddafi as the film traces his humanitarian work in Africa. But Bonicos lets these things just slide by.
Fortunately, he adds artful/wacky touches (one sequence is shot under water) to the interviews, archive footage and behind-the-scenes sequences. But a lack of depth makes the doc feel overlong and repetitive. So it's a bit deflating that the most revealing thing Bonicos finds about Boateng is that he isn't hugely introspective. Indeed only thing Boateng gets excited about is conquering the world with his work, enthusing that "it's all about the experience". So while the film's lively and informative, perhaps another editor could have found the real story hidden in the overabundant material.