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Chivalry isn't dead: Interview with Bernhard Roetzel - Part 2

Tuesday 5th July, 2011 by Daniel Johnson

Following on from part 1 of my interview with Bernhard Roetzel, author of 'Gentleman - A timeless guide to Fashion' we speak about the current attitudes to the throw away culture and the current trends in mens tailoring.


Q. Ozwald Boateng is seen recently by many as a man who’s re-introduced tailoring to the younger generation in the UK. Would you agree that with the ‘throw away’ culture and the rising number of budget fashion chains that bespoke tailoring is a privilege reserved for the elder and the gentry of society?

A. I have met Ozwald Boateng and he is a nice man. Still I think that there are many tailors in and around Savile Row who have done more to promote tailoring among younger guys. I find that the younger generation usually prefers a very high degree of conservatism.  

I think that it is a cliché that the gentry of society is still well dressed. The older generation still has wonderful old suits to wear but the younger men wear terrible suit. Just remember the recent Royal wedding.

Q. If you had to decide on one style of tailoring, which style would you most prefer; Italian, American, German or British?

A. Viennese. The answer is not really meant seriously but Vienna has a great tailoring tradition just like Paris. Both are located between the more famous ones that you have named. 

I believe that the best tailors produce very similar suits no matter where they are based. I remember doing a two day lecture on the London style of tailoring for an audience of bespoke tailors in Munich. I had invited John Coggin to demonstrate how he cuts and makes a suit. There was one tailor in the audience who was Hungarian from Vienna. He said that John made the jacket just like the old tailors in Budapest. John agreed because he was trained by a Hungarian tailor at Anderson & Sheppard's in the early sixties. 

It is rather easy to guess the origins of a bespoke suit by the size and shape of the buttonhole in the lapel but sometimes very difficult if you go by the cut. The origins of ready to wear suits are more pronounced. Just look at suits from Hackett, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren or Kiton. You will always be able to tell which suit comes from which country.

 Q. Have you noticed different attitudes across different countries towards the ‘throw away’ culture or is the throw away culture very much a UK thing?

 A. The throw away culture can be found everywhere in the world. Maybe you think that it is a UK thing because the difference in the attitude towards having old things that are well made versus owning cheap stuff that doesn't last is so clearly divided between upperclasses and lower classes. I think it is still very much a part of being upperclass in the UK to love old houses and old suits. In Germany the upperclasses are very much into modern quality products with the exception of aristocrats who prefer oldness to newness too.

Q. It was Paris fashion week last week and the menswear section seems to be growing larger and larger every year. What’s your take on the current tailoring styles on display?

 A. The 1930s are coming back which means that suits will have a bit more drape and trousers will be a bit wider. The double breasted is popular with designers once again though I doubt that men will buy it.

Q. What are your thoughts on the future of men’s tailoring? Would you agree with the statement that the secrets are in the past, in heritage, or would you say the best is yet to come in men’s tailoring?

A. There are two sides to tailoring, the cutting and the making. The craft of making suits has been perfected in the 1920s and 1930s and there is nothing that needs to be improved about. Cutting is a different story. It has been improved by new systems in the 1950s and 1960s. German tailors have always been very good at creating exact patterns. But in this side of tailoring no real inventions have been necessary since then. Tailoring is similar to cooking. There is nothing to be improved on the classics. What could be better than Dover sole? What is better than a double breasted blue flannell suit?

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