an Interview by Lena von Zabern
Gentleman's Blogger, Connoisseur and creative jack of all trades: Ato Yankah Jr.
“Predict the future by creating it,
dream bigger than life,
There are not many men who can live up to their own motivational quotes. Ato C. Yankah Jr. is one of them. Born in Kiel, the son of a Ghanaian heart surgeon lived in Germany, Africa and America and worked with everybody, from Pierre Sarkozy to famous Hollywood A-list youngsters. But the Nephew of former UN General Secretary and Nobel Peace Prize Laureat, Kofi Annan, has more to offer than just an impressive CV. Whether it is consultancy, music industry or fashion: the man of action is used to make a name for himself. Starting off with writing and producing the German Boyband Bed & Breakfast in the 90’s, he now is the founder of the well-known Gentleman Blog Gentleman’s Essentials and I am Ato. Barons & Bastards gets the chance to meet this creative jack of all trades for an exclusive Interview and discovers what it takes to be a real gentleman.
Ato, you describe Gentleman’s Essentials as an online platform for gentlemen to exchange their lifestyle, thoughts and thinking. How did you come up with that idea?
Gentleman’s Essentials came about when my wife got pregnant and I decided to settle down in Hamburg. When I was a kid my dad was always out. I wanted to do that differently with my kids. I wanted to see them growing up. I developed the actual idea at home, around Christmas, while looking for presents for my relatives. Who knows my family, knows that they’ve been everywhere, they have everything. So, what do I want to get them? I started looking on the internet for gentleman’s stuff. I was amazed how many sites there are for women but for men there is nothing. I said to myself: That’s not right. I typed in essentials for gentleman and the site came up blank. That’s when I started thinking about it.
Your social media channels have now over 700 000 followers and over 1 million visitors a month. What’s your secret to success?
When I started, I really wanted to learn from scratch. I learned about Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr. I started out with one picture and got affected by it. In four years, I collected over a million pictures.
It’s like a drug. I signed up a Facebook page, designed like a motivational diary. Being the greatest James Bond fan in the world, I wanted to show exotic places. I wanted to depict the most beautiful and gorgeous women. I wanted to show quotes that resemble the life and lifestyle of a gentleman and I wanted to show products and gadgets that boys love.
Because boys will always be boys. I also wanted to highlight manufacturers that are really doing a great quality work, but don’t have the money to brand themselves. I wanted to be the gateway between industry and the consumer, in such a way that makes it fun, being on the internet.
What makes Gentleman’s Essentials different from other inspirational blogs?
There are a lot of luxury blogs or inspirational blogs on the web. But for me, Gentleman’s Essentials is embodying that emotion that I get from watching James Bond. I see that gentleman who embodies that codex of gentleman rules, but who also messes around in the best places. I wanted people who love this lifestyle and mindset- because for me lifestyle and mindset need to go together. I deeply believe in having virtues and values, mindset and behavior. If Gentleman’s Essentials would be a product, I would see it, as a handmade refined, quality product.
Quite recently you launched your official blog, I am Ato on Instagram and on Tumblr. What can we find there? What’s the message or the idea you want to share with the world?
People started to think of Gentleman’s Essentials as an institution. I wanted to give it a name and a face. Everything that I’m showing on Gentleman’s Essentials, I am showing on my blog in a personal way. I am wearing the stuff, I am using the stuff. It’s a quote that I am enjoying in a personal way. It’s like a diary.
You are clearly a source of inspiration and identification for a lot of people. Do you see yourself as a role model?
I prefer to call it inspiration rather than role model. Although role models become very important when you live in a world where there are no role models, in terms of a cardashianized, trumpized world. If these are the role models, I think we have a huge problem. And because of that, this gentleman’s site, this lady’s site, this breakfast at
Tiffany’s site, must show other qualities. After all, Gentleman’s Essentials depicts a virtue- based lifestyle that is set up to inspire you, day by day. Gentleman to gentleman. The other great thing is that 50% of our followers are women. My mum was a strong woman. And women will always be a driving force behind what we wear. I mean, we are doing this for women. She’s the administration. She is running your country.
Obviously, the term “Gentleman” is a key element in you work. What’s a gentleman for you and what does it take to become a gentleman?
Ato Yankah Jr. in a Barons & Bastards tuxedo; 1000 €, bow tie, Albisotti; 75 €
If you want to be a true gentleman you should be engulfed in having real manners. Not only living out chivalry of the 1900’s. I want to be the reflection of a modern gentleman, in my case, a modern black gentleman. By having good manners, having respect. By loving and respecting myself, to be able to love and respect others. To be an example. What I teach my son is to say “Please” and “Thank you”.
You are a father of two children. Do kids change the way a gentleman sees the world?
In the biggest possible way. The thing is, if we talk about being a gentleman, we talk about mindset. If we talk about mindset, we talk about love. See with kids, you open a room in your heart. You know that it has been there, but you don’t know what’s inside. This room is so full of love, that everything that you are gets amplified. It’s like the metaphor of “money doesn’t change people, it amplifies what was already there”. It’s the same thing with love, especially with kids. You really start living what you preach. You start to be an example. The way they see me, treating my wife, is teaching my daughter not to expect anything less and is teaching my son to be nothing else.
As we know the term gentleman always goes along with a certain lifestyle, but also with style itself. How would you describe your own style? What’s “typical Ato” ?
I like to dress good. Maybe because I’ve been to schools who had school uniforms my entire live. Even though I said: “no dress down jackets!” after I finished school it became part of me. I feel comfortable. You can wear anything that you like, as long, as you feel comfortable. I don’t think being a gentleman requires you to wear certain clothes. Not every gentleman wears suit and tie and not every gentleman in suit and tie is a gentleman. For me that means: I don’t like jeans. I’m funny. I used to love them in the years when I was doing music. But to be honest, it was always more chinos than jeans. I love suits. I think suits are the modern gentleman’s armor. The suit transforms your posture. It may kill others or break them. That’s why I say: Not all people are made for suits and not all suits are made for you. But I love suits, Tom Ford designs, three-piece tuxedos, the classy stuff.
We can now find the Barons & Bastards Online Shop on your blog. What is it about Barons & Bastards that you can identify with? What makes the shop and the brand special to you?
Barons & Bastards has become my favorite shop. And I’m not browning up because Maurits [Barons & Bastards founder Maurits van Heyst] is here (laughs). When I started the blog, I was thinking of a world like this. It has the colors, it has the interior decoration. The couch, the carpet. Maurits has created a shopping experience for people who love this kind of lifestyle. For gentleman, for the refined adult male. If you walk into Barons &Bastards, you listen to the best music in f****** town. Yesterday, I walked into Barons & Bastards, got my espresso, the music was on and I’m on a vacation. It took me right off my everyday routine. You are relaxed. If you are dealing with fashion for quite a while like I did, you develop a feeling for that. The range of clothes is awesome. This store is so dangerous that you get from one espresso to the other. Then comes the gin, and with the gin comes…. “Ok let me get that and that and that.” It’s a very clever concept (laughs).
Last question: That’s something we are asking everybody who we interview. It’s about our brand name itself: Barons & Bastards. As you may know Barons & Bastards represents the duality inside a man. Every man consists of both, the gentleman, the decent and polite baron and the (lucky) bastard- the charming daredevil. So Ato, if you had to choose, are you a baron or are you a bastard?
You know what, I have a feeling that there is no side without the other. I got this flip coin from Maurits. One side is baron the other side is bastard. Being cheeky I would say: daytime a baron and nighttime a bastard. That’s what a gentleman is: you’re a philosopher by day and a poet by night. You’re a baron by day and a bastard by night.
Two sides of a true gentleman