Givenchy couturier Ozwald Boateng has his work cut out for him reinventing the French gentleman Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy is a legend and a trailblazer in the fashion world. When he opened his Paris maison in 1952, he launched a line of clothes that included light skirts and puff-sleeved blouses made from raw cotton - traditionally used for fitting only - to display his vision of the imminent trend of relaxed chic and the democratisation of luxury. Two years later he became the first major fashion designer to showcase a luxury ready-to-wear collection - Givenchy Universite. After more than 50 years Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy retired in 1995, leaving a huge gap to fill. One contender is 37-year-old Ozwald Boateng, creative director of Givenchy menswear, the first to be appointed in the maison's history (previously, the chief designer was responsible only for women's collections and menswear was cared for by a design team). Boateng is also a pioneer. The first tailor to stage a catwalk show in Paris, his first collection for Givenchy hit the runway in July last year. But Boateng sees himself as more than a tailor and more than a designer. He is, in his words, a 'bespoke couturier', definitely the first in history. Born to Ghanaian parents in Archway, north London, Boateng was a computer student when he was inspired by his then girlfriend to design clothes. He began designing and making clothes with his mother's sewing machine and sold them to his classmates. At the age of 16, he sold his first collection to a menswear shop in Covent Garden, London. By 23, he had set himself up in business full time. Boateng's career has been a smooth ride since. He was the first tailor of African descent to open a business on Saville Row, and he has accumulated a list of clients that reads like Oscar nominees, among them Daniel Day-Lewis, Will Smith, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Pierce Brosnan, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes. Bernard Arnault, chairman of the LVMH group, the luxury conglomerate to which Givenchy now belongs, also availed himself of the designer's tailoring. He was so impressed by Boateng's talent that he invited him to be the first creative director of menswear at Givenchy. After months of gentle negotiation and wild rumours, Boateng took the role at the maison on Avenue George V. The industry looked on with excitement and curiosity because a carousel of designers - John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Julien MacDonald (who headed the women's department) - had come and gone, often amid controversial circumstances. The signature style of Boateng seems to contrast with that of Givenchy, but Boateng rebuffs the idea. 'LVMH and Givenchy are incredibly respectful of creative talent, and I've been supported 100 per cent in my vision,' he says. 'I carried out extensive research on the maison to identify its origins. You can, of course, see my personal design DNA in certain aspects, such as the cut, the fabrics and the way I use detail, but I really tried to adapt my British tailoring approach to the French masculine style and create accordingly.' No doubt his collections for Givenchy are markedly more conservative than his own label, which often consists of clothing such as shiny gold jackets with black lapels. One of the tasks Boateng gave himself when he joined Givenchy was to 'reinvent the French gentleman'. 'I think I succeeded,' he says. 'For autumn and winter, I further developed and defined the wardrobe of the French gentleman, which I began doing with the spring/summer 2005 Givenchy collection. 'Fashion for men in France is more about attitude than the actual clothing style. For fall/winter I tried to emphasise French men's strong attitude and their unique way of co-ordinating, with a sophisticated yet natural elegance.' Boateng asserts that a Givenchy man is more personality-driven than clothing-driven. 'It's someone who's sure of himself and who takes care of his image but without overdoing it. He is a stylish man who wants to look and feel beautiful in his clothing and who appreciates quality, but he is not a fashion victim.' He sees French actor Alain Delon as having a 'distinctive French masculine attitude'. The trilby in his latest fall/winter collection was inspired by Delon. Boateng also sees Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy as a style star. A cape has been designed for the new collection in a tribute to Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy, who often wore capes in winter. 'Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy is a very elegant, stylish and refined French gentleman, and definitely encapsulates the French masculine style,' he says. Boateng cites French star Vincent Cassel as an example of the 'rawness of the French man' . The outspoken designer, who is famous for his blunt, no-nonsense criticisms of the tawdry, finds the inhabitants of Hong Kong 'very stylish, with a strong sense of fashion'. He believes that may have to do with a combination of colonial history and Chinese culture. 'I love Hong Kong. It's a phenomenal place. You are in a city that is extremely visually inspiring, and where you can find everything you need. You also have wonderful views overlooking the city, which in the evening seem surrealist. Hong Kong is a fascinating place.' Boateng sees no difference in how an Asian man or a European should choose to dress. 'It's very important to feel good in what you are wearing. It shows immediately if a person doesn't feel comfortable and secure in what he's wearing. That is why I stress the importance of the person's strong attitude as well as the clothes themselves.'