Nº5 : NANA BOATENG
SUITED AND BOATENG
PHOTO BY JASON “ EAGLE-EYE” FORDE
With a sturdy and noteworthy career spanning 12 some odd years, creator and menswear designer, Nana Boateng has made himself an in-demand worldwide entity in the fashion and entertainment world with his brand Akua Adoma. His rare eye for colors and textiles is ever apparent in all he cultivates. From showcasing his wares in full-length feature films like the Spider-Man franchise (both 2 and 3) and Duece Bigelow to keeping the likes of Forest Whit - taker and James Franco looking dapper, Boateng is clearly a forerunner for being a household name in the world of fashion. He was kind enough to sit with A.R.T.S.Y Magazine and dish on his rise to stardom, his colorful upbringing and gave us samples of his Fall 2013 collection. At his suggestion, we keep his interview at the well known Sarabeth’s restaurant nestled in the southern nook opposite Central Park South; a sleek spot for young professionals and hip well-to-do grandmothers. He arrives with a gracious dash, looking most impressionable with his chic sunglasses, Louis Vuitton man clutch and donning all black with a meticulously cut beard.
“Did I surprise you with the beard? I wanted to trick you,” he said and laughed. “This is the second time in my life I have grown a full beard, the last time was years ago. I’m a man who gets bored quickly with the notion that things stay the same. I love evolvement. I love to change on a daily basis.” Straight to business as per usual.
He moves as if Sarabeth’s is his offsite office, he greets the waitress and hostess warmly. Everything is “please” “thank you” “madame” and “God bless you”. He praises the establishment’s simple gourmet. When it comes to meetings over meals he insisted, “Norma’s at Le Parker Meridian Hotel, that’s where you can find me but Sarabeth’s obviously as an alternative.” He also shouts out the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, one of his favorite New York hideaways.
As the haute couture breakfast makes its way to our table, Boateng wastes no time, “I was never based in Brooklyn.” A common misunderstanding due to a publication released some time ago. “I used to live in Brooklyn when I was a teenager. Cybil Sandy and Rick Davey had me open up for some shows in New York for Brooklyn Fashion Week. Afterward, I was interviewed by Good Morning America. But I have been based in Hollywood for about nine years now.” Boateng originates from Kumasi, Ghana, the Ashanti region. He was raised primarily by his entrepreneur mother and uncle. Just before saying grace he takes a meditative pause, “From the out start of this interview, I wanted to pay a dearest acknowledgment to my uncle, Elvis Yaw Agyapong who was just laid to rest,” he said. “He was my mentor; he raised me and my twin.” After grace, he perks up saying, “That’s exclusive for A.R.T.S.Y. magazine. In all the publications I’ve done interviews, it’s an untold story, but I’m a twin. Her name is Akosua. [The funeral] was the first time I saw her in 11 months. There are times I don’t see my mum for a year. That’s my life you know? My life is tentative. I can’t say three months from now what I’ll be doing. I don’t know what God has in store for me.”
Feasible words from a man who didn’t know if he would initially be a menswear designer until receiving an initial nudge from a college sweetheart. “I was already very fashionable just being West African. We always wanted to look exuberant in terms of our dress and style. But I went to structured institutions, where we had to wear uniforms. So when I went to a university that was actually my first time I was able to be free, express myself and dress how I wanted. I was a bit of an overconfident dresser. I wore fur coats to school. Minks. I started designing fur coats while in college. I had furriers in England and New York that I would customize furs with and I actually designed some furs for the 504 boys and Kay Gates.”
Not many new coming designers garner courtship from multi-million dollar recording artists, especially while still enrolled full-time in collegiate studies. Even fewer can build an international fashion brand but Boateng maintains, “I’ve never worked for a boutique or a fashion house. I’ve been self-employed and sole proprietor since graduating from college.” He graduated college after September 11 happened and therefore he was forced into entrepreneurship because there weren’t any jobs. His journey to the top was accelerated and fortunately but he said he learned the hard way.
Djimon Hounsou, Boris Kodjoe and James Franco are just a few of the countless actors that have sported his luxurious suits and shirts. His start in Hollywood at 24 years old was humbling, to say the least. ”The catalyst to my involvement in the film industry was Sony Studios. I started designing and manufacturing for the costume department,” he said. Before he became a success story, Boateng was sleeping on Sony Studio’s film editor, Mon - trice White’s floor for two years. “I was sleeping on his floor but I was designing and selling suits for $4 thousand and $5 thousand apiece.” When asked how many movies he has worked on he gives a nonchalant air as if he has never really taken notice. “I can’t keep count but Spider-Man 2 and 3 were my claim to fame. I went from zero to 60 in Hollywood.
Sam Raimi allowed me to use my expertise and passion in those two films. From there, I went to work on several sitcoms, All of Us, Second Time Around. Many of my clients are high profile actors like Djimon Hounsou, Forrest Whittaker, David Beckham and Paul McCartney from the Beatles. A lot of football (soccer) players in Africa and Europe. “I’m a person who dreams. I always tell my clients I design dreams.” Although Boateng stresses the fact that he enjoys his privacy, he also stresses he can get bored with himself. Part of the reason he has seven Instagram pages. “I typically like to have a different outlook on myself,” he said. “My ex-publicist, baffled, asked me, ‘Nana, who has seven Instagram pages?’ and I said ‘You finally understand there is a difference between me and every other man in the world.’ What I do is a part of a luxury, a type of lifestyle in terms of the flamboyancy of the suits, the client profile, and the films I have worked on in Hollywood and it can be over the top.” He also carries on his person seven phones, ranging from the typical Blackberry, two iPhones and a solid gold Vertu phone, complete with Arabic letters and numbers. He swears by their necessity. “My phones are like my girlfriends. Some of them get jealous of others. Some of them, i pay more attention to. Every phone is a headache phone. I know whatever phone rings what problem that is and where it is coming from. I also have 11 emails.” As outlandish as it is to hear, the “seven phone theory” works like the search for the perfect fabrics for his suits is a 24/7 business liter - ally choosing from a universal cata - logue of textiles. Boateng always has to produce and keep working; therefore often he goes months without seeing his L.A. home. “I wear myself thin, globally, because I’m between London, Hollywood, and Ghana. My time is spent trav - elling. I’m manufacturing, picking textiles and I have many luminary clients that keep me busy.” He explained he grew up without a social life and started his business young. His nightlife consists of film premiers and private parties but he said he never really has time to fully enjoy life or have a girlfriend. By natural habit, Boateng has a straight-laced regimen of self-maintenance and presentation that never deviates even when jet setting across the earth. “I give myself a facial every week. I have a remedy that I was given, it’s banana and oats mashed up and left on the face for a while. The mask has acidic qualities and when I put on the mask I also put cucumber slices on my eyes. I also do it before I go to an event or premiere.” Boateng personally does not like the term metrosexual, either. “I just like taking care of myself,” he added. “It’s not nice to be with a lady or giving an interview and your nails are not groomed.” Trading off of his time has made him even more so cultured, “I appreciate all different dynamics of the world, culture, and ethnicities.” It surely didn’t hurt his conversation skills for he speaks French, Italian, Thai, Spanish and his dialect Twi.
He considers Asia his backyard since he spends three to four months a year there and has done business throughout Southeast Asia for 10 years. A shopping district in Tokyo called Shibuya was one of the first places to embrace his clothing and where his clothes were purchased, he mentioned. “So Tokyo has my heart,” he said. As not to be rude, Boateng sent a couple of quick texts, asked me why I haven’t touched my Pumpkin waffle, and offers me some of his omelets. As is a tradition in his country, it is customary to offer your food while dining. I graciously accepted the invitation. Jokingly, I say, “There are 2 kinds of men; pancake men and omelet men” to which he responds, ”I’m a ladies’ man.” He managed to cough twice before replying when asked if he had several love interests. “I wouldn’t say. That sounds like the answer to an unanswerable question,” he started off. “I cannot speak intelligently on that at this time.” Fair enough. His idea of the perfect woman, however, was far from the expected answer, “The mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary,” he admitted.
I was stuck as to what to say next, thankfully he continued, “and I mean that truly and this is why,” Boateng then removes five small depictions of the Virgin Mary on individual strings that are tucked underneath his button-up. Boateng goes on to reveal he is a Christian and understands none of his accomplishments in life would be possible without Jesus. “I don’t take any accolades for myself I give everything to God. He is my maker of all things. I prepare for the worse and accept the best.” Clearly thankful for his rise to stardom, his ability to maintain in the ever-fickle world of fashion, he knows as a designer one must stay tread well ahead of the curve and forever find new ways of making one’s brand distinct. “Now the fashion world is like the wild wild west with Instagram, Vine, Facebook, and Youtube. You can be an overnight success now. There are so many different outlets. I like that it gives everyone their own platform and you don’t have to be from America, you can be from South America, the Carribean, Asia. You have a chance and a voice. Those things allow the [creative industry] to be an even playing field for whatever you want to get into, there is no hierarchy now.” He pretty much scoffs at the idea of a designer thinking they are legitimately sanctioned in the world of fashion after 10 years, “It’s hard for you to be out for 10 years and think of yourself as ‘official’. There are so many other keynote menswear creators in the world that have so much history such as Gianni Versace, Tom Ford, Yves St. Laurent, Paul Smith because they have 25-40 years in the business and they are still surviving. I would like to think of them as ‘official’.” When asked where he would like to be ideally in 10 years he rattles it off his brain as if it is already in motion. “I would like to have flagships across the world but I would also love to change over to humanitarianism. I’m a cheerful giver.” For now, he is prepping for the debut of his fall 2013 collection. He likes to do solid tones and explains creating an outfit where everything is one color but in different tones of the color. “It brings a bit more simplicity. It also spotlights the ethnic background of the person in regards to skin tone because we usually match textiles to various complexions. It brings out a different vibrancy of [the wearer].” Boateng, very familiar with the style, mentioned that he always tried to evolve his brand with textiles. He understands creators have to be distinct in how their brand is recognized and following trends is a big no-no. Once the interview has ended with closing statements and gratitude, I look for the waitress to settle the bill. Boateng clears his throat and says in matter-of-fact kind of way, “A man dining with a woman, any woman, the woman should never see the bill. She should think the meal wasn’t even paid for even though it was. This is not a rule; this is when you have the class of a tycoon.” Well said.