Mr Bernhard Roetzel you are one of the most well-known style journalist and a great gentleman. How this style passion emerged? Tell me about the cultural and social environment of your youth and the influences on taking this path.
I was born in Hannover, Germany. In my early years my family moved to Berlin and from there for three years to South Africa. I was strongly influenced by the school uniforms that I saw there and also by “Englishness” of many South Africans. My father dressed traditionally when I was a child. Most of the time I saw him in a suit, shirt and tie. At a very early age I was interested in family history and I studied the old photographs in our albums for hours on end. I loved the way my ancestors had dressed from the late 19th Century to the 1960s, the decade of my birth.
How would you recognize style on a Continental guy a British an American or a Japanese?
In the UK it is still considered the height of style to give an impression of old family and old money. This type of style is well represented by Prince Charles. Although his suits are no longer custom made (which is a shame in my opinion) he can still look very elegant in his old handmade suits. In the UK it is better in certain circles to wear a very old suit that was handed down from the grandfather (or bought at Oxfam) than to turn up in a brand new suit from a designer brand. On the continent elegant men are much less flamboyant than the British. Men don’t wear colored hose or loud stripes on their shirts unless they are trying to imitate the English look. American gentlemen have a similar attitude although they are expected to look fit and healthy more than in Europe. Some Japanese men are extremely stylish as you can observe at the Pitti in Florence. Nevertheless I find that they look too much like a perfect copy in the super smart Italian clothes.
With this difficult crisis what chances have the manufacture (tailoring or shoemaking). Shoemakers from Easter Europe complain that without the Russian, Japanese or Arab orders they will need to close the business, their classic clients not being able to cover their expenses. Is there a future of bespoke?
I think that there is a future for bespoke clothes. It would be a mistake though to rely too much on the very rich. The middle classes must be able to afford a bespoke suit too. Many more people can afford bespoke clothes if they were willing to own less but better clothes.
What are the main differences in shoe preferences in Europe as you see it?
Goodyear welted shoes are worn only by a very small group of men. They share the interest in quality and the idea that good shoes are extremely important. Members of this group recognize each other instantly by looking at each other’s shoes. Among this group we find differences. British men are very traditional, they still wear black in town and brown in the country. They prefer traditional models. They are also the only one that the classic Gucci loafer with a suit or a dinner suit. The Germans are similar but some prefer stouter shoes or shoes from the Austrian traditions (which are abhorred by the British). The French are very traditional in business but they do like the light brown shoe very much. They are also into very slim shapes. the Italians are very conservative. I never see as many old fashioned English brogues as in Italy. They also stick to old brands like Church’s (although Church’s is not what it used to be). Outside Italy Italians are perceived as the ones who started to wear brown shoes with a dark suit which in fact the English did long before the Italians. Austrians are proud of their own tradition of shoemaking. Men from Middle and Eastern Europe seem to love black shoes more than brown shoes but this judgment is based on observations of these men abroad. I travel to little to these parts of Europe to give a good judgment.
What are the changes in European gentleman style that you disagree and agree in the last years?
The style of real gentlemen doesn’t change much but there is just so few of them nowadays. Style doesn’t have much to do with money. It is rather an attitude. It’s shaving every morning and getting dressed with a shirt and a tie. It’s clean shoes and knowing how to wear a hat. Most men don’t bother anymore. I don’t mind because style has never been something for everybody. There was a time though when every man wore a suit, a tie and a hat. But this time seems to be over and gone. I don’t like the present style of wearing a suit without a tie. I also got tired of slim fitting clothes. A tight fit doesn’t guarantee a good fit. But tight fit is easy to sell off the rack.
How often do you follow the different rules in classic style? What rules do you think are obsolete?
Personally I am not very much into rules although many people would probably say that I follow the rules all the time. I very much stick to the rule of wearing black shoes in the evening and a white shirt. I also prefer to wear dark suits in the evening.
I don’t follow rules if they don’t make sense to me. I don’t like to le
ave the lower button on a waistcoat undone because I don’t like it. I also don’t follow the rule that one doesn’t unbutton the double breasted jacket while standing up. This is nonsense. We should always be master and not servant of our clothes. Some rules of mine could rather be called habits like for instance the principle that I wear bow ties mostly in spring and summer because I don’t like to wear them under a scarf in winter time.
I like simple rules. I wear black shoes for formal occasions with a grey hat at daytime and a black hat at night.
Why do man do not were hats anymore as they use to do?
Because hairstyles are so important nowadays. You can’t cover an essential part of your style with a hat. With the wrong hairstyle a hat looks silly. If you want to wear a hat you need to comb your straight back or to the side with a part.
What inspires your own dressing?
Every day dress of the 1930s to 1940s, which is in my eyes the golden age of menswear. Fashion doesn’t inspire me at all. I am totally unfashionable and old-fashioned.
How would you describe the Easter Europe gentlemen style?
My idea of the Eastern or Middle European gentleman style is based on imagination that come literature, music and films from the past. I think of Chopin’s dandyism and of Igor Stravinsky’s elegance. I like the style of Karel Schwarzenberg. But there’s not much I can say about the present state of things.
What is your favorite tailor for suits and shirts and what is your favorite shoemaker?
Presently my favorite tailor is Kathrin Emmer from Potsdam. She is just working on another suit for me. I don’t use a custom shirt maker; my shirts are handmade to measure in Bergamo in the factory of Emmanule Maffeis. I mainly use Alumo cloths from Switzerland. I have tried custom shoes in London some years ago but they were not perfect. In the last ten years I have been wearing mainly shoes from Eduard Meier in Munich. Their lasts and their style are the best for me.
Unveil a well kept fashion secret.
There are many secrets that I know but cannot speak about. Many brands who say that they produce their stuff in England, Italy or France use factories outside Europe. What I can say is this: Don’t waste money on famous designer brands. Find good craftsmen, find out what is best for yourself and then stick to it. Don’t worry if people think you are old fashioned. Many old things are beautiful and technically perfect. Who would say that Beethoven’s music is old fashioned? Who would say that Oscar Peterson is old fashioned? Who would say that classical architecture is old fashioned?
And what about future plans?
My new book “Guys Guide To Style” will arrive in the shops in early May. As far as I have heard from my publishers they are printing more languages already. I have just seen a first copy of the book and I must say that I am rather proud of the little book. Presently I work on a book about custom made clothes for men. Several publishers are interested in this project but I haven’t decided who will get it. I am working with the Berlin based designer Erill Fritz who is also a great photographer. We will also use photographs from my archive and images from the photographer Christian Kerber. Erill Fritz will visit the Scabal headquarters at Brussels in March to take photographs of cloths and cloth design. Apart from books I publish regularly in German and in English on my blogs.
Pictures Courtesy Of Mr. Roetzel ; last picture – personal photostock