Idris and Sabrina Elba Show Up for Ozwald Boateng’s Fashion Show at the Apollo

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Sabrina and Idris Elba.

Jamie Foxx, Jesse Williams and Dapper Dan were also in the audience for the designer’s homage to Harlem and the debut of a new women's line.

Idris Elba might technically still be on his honeymoon, but he wasn’t going to miss Ozwald Boateng’s runway celebration Sunday night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Just nine days after Elba’s April 26 wedding in Morocco to model Sabrina Dhowre, the couple was in the front row — off to the side in a nook with just two seats, as though it had been planned for a romantic moment — to support the man who often dresses the actor, including the suit for his nuptials. “He’s supported me for so many occasions, so I just want to see him fly tonight,” Elba told The Hollywood Reporter.

Other fans eager to catch the show included Jamie Foxx, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams and Dapper Dan, men who appreciate the British designer’s deft hand with tailoring and rich, saturated color palettes (Elba’s purple Boateng suit was one such example).

“Each designer needs a message around their brand, and for me that’s taking traditional tailoring and infusing it with a modern sensibility, and one of the tools I use is color,” Boateng explained to THR. But the British designer had another evolution in store for Sunday night’s audience: the launch of his first women’s collection. Female fans have Boateng’s 19-year-old daughter, Emilia, to thank for the introduction of women’s clothes. “I’ve been making clothes for my son [16-year-old Oscar] for many years, and finally she said, ‘Dad, when are you going to do something for me?’ Everyone knows it’s very difficult to say no to your kids,” Boateng said. A show in Lagos, Nigeria, soon followed, and he saw an opportunity to add some women’s looks to the mix.

“As I was casting the show, I realized the women I was seeing were really good, really strong,” he said. “Instead of showing three pieces as I originally thought, I showed 20, because the weirdest thing happened: My clothes had become genderless. I found myself suddenly in this world where I thought it needed to be a whole new consideration.”

How to follow up that moment? An American debut, and not in just any location. The iconic Apollo Theater is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural movement that transformed the neighborhood into an artistic and social hotspot from 1919 through the 1930s, with influences ranging from the Cotton Club to poet Langston Hughes. “I knew a year in advance that I wanted to do this show in Harlem, but at that point it was intuition,” Boateng said as he took a break from fittings the Friday before the show. “Once I realized the timing aligned with the anniversary, I knew we were going to create something special.”

Judging from the reaction of the Apollo audience — always a tough crowd — that might be an understatement. The Harlem Orchestra was split up among the Apollo’s side balconies; a short film about Africanism followed their intro, and then 60 models hit the stage, including surprises such as singer Jidenna and The Wire’s Michael K. Williams. The theater aisles were pressed into service as the runway — all the better to get an up-close look at the clothes, a melding of Boateng’s signature Savile Row tailoring, luxe hues of spicy tones of cinnamon, saffron and mustard, as well as a beautiful peacock blue, and Africa-inspired prints, in dressing that managed to feel both polished and easy at once.

That idea was true of both the men’s and women’s looks; this was equal-opportunity refinement, suiting mixed with the flow of an easy print underneath a jacket, though there was one undeniably feminine standout, a maxi dress in a peacock print, with a dramatic feathered headdress to match. If time machines existed, the look would be tailor-made for Josephine Baker.

Indeed, that nod to Harlem’s past was meant to be combined with a look toward the future. For this show, Boateng promoted the idea of AI, but don’t assume that means Artificial Intelligence. “I want to redefine what AI means, and to me the key more than anything is Authentic Identity,” he said. “I want to explore what it means to be in touch with yourself and the best way to actually live — that’s what I want to say all the time, but especially with these clothes. With this collection, I’ve ventured a bit further down that road.”