Ozwald Boateng and Varon Bonicos talk A Man’s Story
With documentary-feature A Man’s Story out in cinemas on Friday 9th March, The Fan Carpet caught up director Varon Bonicos and the subject himself, Ozwald Boateng.
The esteemed fashion designer, and one of the most successful men’s retailers of all time, discussed his apprehensions with the 12-year project, whilst telling us how he overcame a variety of hurdles to get to where he is today.
Meanwhile, Varon discussed his take on Ozwald as well as disclosing where his name originated from, which, as it happens, was from a poodle.
Before we start, Varon, where is your name from? What’s your background?
Varon Bonicos: My parents couldn’t think of a name for me for a long time, and I was nearly a year old and I hadn’t been named, and they were watching Crufts the dog show, and there was a poodle that was called Varon and I responded to it as a baby so they thought, let’s call him that then. So that’s where it came from. But then I also found out later on that it has a meaning in Spanish where it means ‘masculine’.
Varon, why did you begin the movie with footage of Ozwald breaking up with his wife?
Varon Bonicos: I wanted people to understand that I had access to Ozwald, that Ozwald was a regular dude. If we just went in to celebrities, you’d think ‘oh great, this is just a big old fashion thing about someone.’ I love Ozwald, he’s a great guy but I filmed him independently. We are friends but it was very important that I was always one step back from that, but the film started like that so you could always see what access I had to him, that he was very honest. So I’m not saying ‘this is Ozwald, you’ve got love him’, but instead this is the guy that I filmed at this point in his life, so let’s see who he is, so people can make their own decision about whether they like him or they don’t like him.
Was there ever a point when you two came together to discuss how the film was going? Did you oversee the directorial process, or the edit Ozwald?
Ozwald Boateng: No, no, no.
Varon Bonicos: To be fair, Ozwald does clothes best so I thought he could have a say about which bits of footage from the catwalks were used, so he came into the edit a few times to check that bit out.
Was there anything controversial that didn’t make it into the final cut?
Ozwald Boateng: I think it’s as controversial as it gets! When I first saw the film I couldn’t talk to Varon for two weeks, it knocked me for six.
Was there ever a point where you just wanted Varon to leave you alone?
Ozwald Boateng: Oh absolutely. One million per cent. It was five years in and I really wanted him to stop it. I thought I’d take him to L.A…
Varon Bonicos: This was 30 thousand feet up, and Ozwald decides to lose it with me on an aeroplane going to L.A.
Ozwald Boateng: I was going to introduce him to Joel Silverman, a really famous film producer. So I thought if anyone is going to deter him from finishing this film, it would be Joel. But Joel did the complete opposite to what I had expected and encouraged him to film more, so suddenly he’s pushing me deeper in rather than pulling me out of it, so it was a very bizarre thing.
So how did you two first meet then?
Varon Bonicos: I was working for Sky at the time, making documentaries and stuff like that. Somebody told me about Ozwald and that I should meet him and they promised me I’d get a camera, and I thought that would be great, although I didn’t realise this camera would be with me for so, so long. And I met him and thought he was really interesting. I’d never met anyone like him before, he was not in my realm, or world of fashion. He began by telling me about his problems in his life and he’s really okay about it, he’s quite confident and I wondered how someone like that deals with the smaller, day-to-day difficulties, like your phone bill.
So how long was the original project supposed to be?
Varon Bonicos: Six weeks. Just around the time of the first fashion show in the film, when it all goes wrong. There was a whole series of events, like the theft, and everything just felt so difficult and everything that cold go wrong, did go wrong. So many things happened.
Ozwald, when watching the film over do you get surprised at yourself for pulling through such a difficult phase and coming out so strongly?
Ozwald Boateng: When I watch the film I get lose in moments, so when I look at it now I don’t look at it in that context anymore. It’s very hard to answer that one. I watch it like a film now, whereas I used to watch it and get too lost in particular moments, so when that bit comes, I’m lost in something else that happens that I remember. Because you won’t think of this but something will have happened in the background and I just remember the story, like at the fashion show and I’m in white and the producer comes to me and says ‘where’s your wife?’ In that there is so much more happening in that space that I remember, so I watch that and I get lost and I might come up ten minutes later in the film and have missed a whole chunk of time. So it’s a strange one.
But what inspired you to keep going? Because at one point everything seemed to be crashing at one time. Did you ever feel like giving up?
Ozwald Boateng: Belief is a big one and I have to say spirituality. It all goes wrong and you instantly look for something, and I think I even say in the film – nothing else could go wrong.
Are you a religious man then?
Ozwald Boateng: I’d say spiritual. You have to be. Ultimately when you have certain things happen you suddenly go, hang on this can’t be happening. It was my big show, my comeback show. Understanding that by this point I was winning all the time, I hadn’t understood what it was like to lose. So I come back in a strong position in Paris, everyone was there for me, and nothing goes according to plan and it’s a disaster. Something that has never happened to me in my whole life, the lights went off, the monitor in the back, the one tool that I use, and it doesn’t work. I had done, I don’t know how many shows by this point, I was really experienced. So I took a deep breath, and thought, you know what, it didn’t work out as I had expected, it didn’t work. So then that happens and I got back to London, secure in my space, I had been there for years. And my head designer comes in and says “your collections gone”. The collection that I just showed is now gone, it was in the building for, not even a day, right in the middle of the period when I was selling the collection, so now I don’t even have a collection to sell. So at that point you think, come on now, stop it. And then with the car being toed away. There’s a parking permit on my car and it was a day or two out, because I had just done the fashion show I didn’t have the time to sort out the renewal of the permit. So to come down and have to deal with that, on the back end of the collection being nicked, on the same day. I mean come on. You have to look up to the heavens, you get spiritual.
Varon, why did you focus on the man, and not the designer?
Varon Bonicos: I never set out to make a fashion film, I just thought Ozwald was an interesting guy and I wanted you to see what happens on his journey. His backdrop is fashion and he lives in that rarefied world and he’s up there with only a couple other people, and I think fashion is great and everything, but Ozwald is an interesting man and it could have been anybody at all, and it just so happens that it was Ozwald. That’s why it’s called A Man’s Story, because it’s not a man’s story in fashion, or a man’s story as a father, or a man’s story and his wife, it’s not a reality show, it’s something that meant a lot to me, I filmed his life and it’s just an honest look at someone’s life, and someone I really admire. He’s okay to go into personal detail, he is very honest about his life and says what he feels at the time he feels it, and will deal with the situation straight away rather than at a later date, which is what I intend to do with my life.
Ozwald did you feel like Varon and his camera were like therapy for you?
Ozwald Boateng: A couple of times it was a bit of therapy. It was twelve years, although after a while you’re not thinking about it in the same way. So anything that happened, he happened to be there because it happened it that moment.
Do you still out of habit turn and talk over your shoulder before realising nobody is there?
Ozwald Boateng: Oh, I stopped doing that. I call him up now instead. Let me tell you, I used to call him and he would pick up in a second, now when I try, I get answer machine.
Varon Bonicos: Ozwald didn’t even remember my name for the first six months.
A MAN’S STORY IS OUT MARCH 9