“Avoid exaggerations. Keep it simple. Try to dress like a grown up man. Try to dress like a gentleman rather than like a dandy. Look at yourself from a distance regularly. Don’t take yourself and your elegance to seriously. Good clothes should be fun and you should have as much fun in them as you have witout clothes. Always wear knee length socks except when your in bed with someone.”
– Bernhard Roetzel
Tell us about yourself. Who are you?
I am Bernhard Roetzel, born in 1966 in Hannover, Germany. I am a clothes nut who turned his passion into a profession. I have been writing for a living since I was 24. Ads, long copy for PR and also for television. Since my first book „Gentleman“ was released in February 1999 I have slowly dropped all sidelines and focused completely on becoming a menswear journalist. As a journalist I am self-taught just as I am as a style expert. The father of my first wife is Italian, he advised me to call myself „critico di moda“. I liked that a lot. But in fact I am rather a „critico dello stile“. A wine expert is not interested in the latest softdrinks. I specialize in handmade, timeless menswear and accessoires. If you ask me about current trends please ask me about current trends in these fields.
You have been described as one of the biggest classic menswear journalists in the world, often appearing in very prestigious media outlets. How would you describe your own style?
Old fashioned. But in a good sense. I avoid extremes. I also avoid what I call museum style. I appreciate the style of the 1920s, 30s and 40s etc. but I don’t think that we should indulge in a nostalgia that suggests that all men were elegant in those days. This is not true. Despite being old fashioned I recognize the age that I live in. I also try not to to look overstyled. I decide within seconds about what I wear.
Where do you find inspiration for the way you dress?
In the past and in the present, in books and in shop windows. I have been addicted to pictures since my childhood days when the internet didn’t exist. I have studied graphic design before I became a copy writer. My eyes are the eyes of a graphic artist. I notice lines and colours. I still draw by the way but only for myself and for very special friends. When I was 15 to 25 I was mainly inspired by English style. Today I finde inspiration everywhere but seldom in the creations of fashion designers.
What is your earliest memory related to menswear and style?
I spent part of my childhood in South Africa. I was very impressed with the uniforms of the English school which was next door to the German school that I attended. They had green blazers with some kind of stripes while we had grey uniforms. I loved the green blazers.
How did you get the inspiration/idea for the book “Gentlemen” in 1999?
I had never considered writing about menswear until I saw a copy of a book titled „Culinaria Europa“ in 1997. It was about all regional cuisines of Europe and I thought that I should do something similar about the regional clothing traditions of Europe and the US. The next day I sent a concept for my book to Ludwig Könemann in Cologne, who invited me to his office a couple of days later. He trusted me and my concept and I started work.
The book has been a best selling essential worldwide and presented in more than 20 languages. How did this trip effect you during the years and do you have any special memories that you would like to share with us?
The early years of my book took part without the internet. No social media existed and PR happened in magazines and newspapers. My book got some mentions in magazines and newspapers but people only knew my name and not my face. I could walk around PITTI in 2003 without anyone noticing with the exception of the many friends that I have in the world of menswear.
But whenever people realized who I am they reacted very positively. I have heard countless stories of men who’s life was influenced by my this book. It is amazing to think that my book sits in shelves almost everywhere in the world. Today many more people know me because magazines and even local newspapers have printed pictures of me and in the internet you will find dozens of portraits.
Could you mention any people or trips that had a big influence on the book?
London, Paris and Naples have inspired me. Also New York City. I was aware of Vienna but this was hardly reflected in the first editions of my book. Many people have inspired me and shared their knowledge but it would be unfair to single out one one person. There is one man though who did have a huge influence without knowing it and that was Heinrich Zapke. He ran the best menswear store that I have ever seen and that was „Heinrich’s“ in Hannover. Michael Jondral was manager of that shop when I was student and we became friends much later when ours paths crossed in Naples.
Heinrich Zapke was extremely influential as one of the first retailers who brought handmade suits and shirts from Naples to Germany and many brands of Goodyear welted shoes. His shop windows had inspired me as a student many years before I wrote the book. I have told him later about his importance for me but I think he didn’t remember me. Maybe he doesn’t even know my book.
You have today launch a second variation of the Gentlemen book and a completely new book that will be out this month – could you tell us about it?
The first version of the book „Gentleman“ had a red cover. In 2009 it was changed to blue with pinstripes and last years my publisher Ullmannmedien decided to put my photo on the book jacket. I was hesitant but it doesn’t seem to hurt the sales. This month my book „A Gentleman’s Lookbook“ will arrive in the shop. It is a picture book for menswear enthusiasts.
It shows mainly me in various outfits and more than a dozens colleagues from the world of digital publishing in their outfits. The captions name the details of the things we see but this is it. I had suggested this concept for the first time in 2003 to my publishers but it took some time to sell it successfully. I felt that I had written about almost every aspect of menswear in countless magazine articles, columns and the dozen books that I have published since 1999 so for once I wanted to focus on pictures.