For a Nordic man, reviewing a book by Bernhard Roetzel is an intimidating task. As I’m a Finn, doubly so. It can be argued that with his book, Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion, it was Mr. Roetzel who opened the menswear movement of a current Finnish generation.
Naturally, there were other factors, as well, as the menswear trend is a global phenomenon. Still, the fact that most of the public libraries carried Täydellinen Herrasmies – as the book is known in Finnish – had many a young gentlemen-to-be to reach out and open it, sowing a seed of style into their mind. I can say this with certainty as it happened to me. The tone of the book was almost philosophical, gently guiding its reader to the feeling of high quality menswear. This was different from the popular “do this, do that” -guide, and gives the book a more timeless feel.
The newest book by Bernhard Roetzel is called Gentleman Lookbook. Instead of giving written instructions, Mr. Roetzel uses an international group of well dressed individuals to show the reader how others approach classic style.
The book is divided in three main stylistic chapters: Business Wear, Weekend Country Style and Formal Wear. I found these names to be a bit vague yet appropriate – after all, life is pretty much divided to work, free time and occasional festivities. Text is only present to describe the origins of the garments and in the introductions of chapters.
This picture-heavy approach is very refreshing, using the time proven “show, don’t tell” storytelling principle as its advantage. It forces the reader to really concentrate on what he is seeing, instead of giving pre-chewn solutions or listing proven combinations. This gives, I think, a deeper understanding about the approach to each occasion on an emotional level, rather than being a blunt technical description of which clothes are appropriate for each different occasion.
I must congratulate Mr. Roetzel for his decision to show the styles of real life gentlemen. This decision makes the book indefinitely more relatable as the individuals are from a variety of ages, stylistic backgrounds and professions. The styles vary through the spectrum of classic menswear from relaxed, youthful style of Nicola Radano to the classically official style of Torsten Grunwald, not forgetting the easily relatable, athletic style of Andreas Weinås.
It is easy to choose an individual or two who reflect the reader’s own sense of style – or style he relates to – and study their approach for applicable ideas. It is equally interesting to concentrate on opposing style philosophies to gain understanding and even inspiration. I personally had a couple of “wow!” and “aha!” -moments in both these ways.
While the well known, classic combinations are displayed, the overall variation within the themes is rather wide. For me, this is a great thing – having lectured about the etiquette and occasion- appropriate wear, I think that these examples illuminate the vast variety of possibilities beautifully. This also makes the so often heard argument of “breaking the rules” to sound uninformed and – frankly – moot, as rules are not as rigid as they are commonly perceived.
The styles that Mr. Roetzel chosen to present are often subtle and understated. While the excellent I Am Dandy and We Are Dandy prominently introduce us to gentlemen that should not be copied – as the failure is certain – Gentleman Lookbook encourages us to copy and succeed.
While the content of the book is solid and very well thought about, there is a small quibble that I find a bit unfortunate. The paper, while certainly being pleasant to leaf through and fingerprint proof in its roughness, might be slightly too coarse for high quality photos, both in factors of print quality and due to its tendency to scatter light. For such an image heavy book, the benefits of proper high quality printing paper would have been unquestionable.
All in all, the Gentleman Lookbook is a valuable addition to any bookshelf. Mr. Roetzel offers a professional curated collection of beautiful looks that is sure to be interesting, whether one is a sartorially seasoned veteran or a stylistic debutant. What is also very important, for me, is that it sets rather loose boundaries, instead of stone set “rules” that are so often and so eagerly given in gentlemen’s style books. Instead of theory, these styles are from the real life.
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Bernhard Roetzel Gentleman Lookbook 2017
H. F. Ullmann Publishing ISBN 978-3-8480-1140-7