The imagery that inspires me, by Oliver Dannefalk

Monday, December 21st 2020
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This is a guest article by Rubato designer Oliver Dannefalk, explaining what the hell he was looking at all the time on his phone. And then showing to everyone. It is a description of how he works, what inspires him, and what keeps him de-stressed. I hope it has some of the same interest for you.

"My girlfriend told me the other week that she’s never known anyone who can look through their pictures on their phone so many times, and come back to real life rejuvenated and inspired.

I didn’t think of it much at the time, I sort of grinned, felt slightly ashamed and took it as a hint that I’m on my phone a lot. Then I thought about what she actually said, and realised she was absolutely right: I look through my pictures a lot, it does inspire me and yes, I’m probably on my phone too much as well.

In these days and this age, you’re fed tons and tons of unwanted information in form of pictures, tweets, articles and news. News travels fast, as the old saying goes, but right now it travels faster than ever because the means of transportation are so much greater. We live in a world where we’re attached to our phones for the better part of the day, acquiring a lot of unnecessary information - and this can come off as distanced and anti-social.

But as we all know, there are two sides to every story. I’d argue the same amount of information can nourish you in the form of things you like.


Tapio Wirkkala glass
Fred Astaire
Berndt Friberg

I accumulate pictures on my phone daily. Predominantly though, these are not ones I’ve taken. These are not social gatherings, a beautiful sunset, a cute dog, a nice car. Don’t get me wrong, I take those pictures as well – but when it comes to that type of picture, I’m more likely to look through them, disregard a bunch and in most cases erase them all. This certainly doesn't apply to the other type I’ve accumulated over the years.

This is an inspiration collection, including glass objects, vases, ceramics, vintage workwear, furniture, interiors, fashion, architecture, football, menswear, old actors and actresses, art, plus design in all shapes and forms. These I revisit frequently: they all have a specific reason for being in my 'permanent stock'.

The inspiration might come from the way a specific painting is hung in a room. It could be the way a staircase handle curves, or is covered in braided leather. The Fred Astaire tuxedo; Emperor Akihito playing tennis; the cast from The Philadelphia Story; photographs by Todd Hido with that special light shining on a seemingly abandoned house.

The late great Franca Sozzani’s editorials for Vogue Italia - I mean, come on. The grandeur, the delicate finger on the pulse, the groundbreaking statements, all within a fashion magazine.


Franca Sozzani for Vogue Italia
Todd Hido
Emperor Akihito (and top image)

I often go through phases in this collecting. Sometimes it’s art: at the moment I’m really intrigued by Jean-Baptiste Besançon. His art is modern yet feels like it could’ve been around forever.

His use of colour is often muted, in tune with what I like. But sometimes he throws in a dash of colour or leaves a space hardly painted, or covers the canvas in what seems like black paint, but on closer inspection turns out to be deep navy or green.

Those colour schemes are perfect for inspiration in dressing. The greens, the blues, the beige and off-white, they’re all colors I have in my wardrobe and his art encourages me to try different ways of wearing them.


Jean-Baptiste Besançon
Richard Avedon
Robert Frank

Other times I’m stuck in black-and-white photography, Richard Avedon or Robert Frank. Masters of catching what seems to be everyday life and people, and in one shot telling a complete story.

Sometimes it’s pictures from a bygone era. Francis Wolff’s huge collection of pictures from the Blue Note era not only show a photographer with a really keen eye, but also the greats of jazz in their heyday, looking cool in that way only jazz cats can look cool.

I recently started shooting analog and Francis Wolff’s pictures are a great inspiration. Although I don’t have as many cool subjects, it still gives me insights into angles, lighting and composition when trying it on my own.


Wayne Shorter by Francis Wolff
Lee Morgan by Francis Wolff
Max Roach by Francis Wolff

I tend to see something I like, a photo, a movie, something or someone in a movie, and immediately my mind sets off. I want to know more.

I see a painting of an artist I didn’t know in an endless flow of pictures on Tumblr (yes Tumblr, I still use it) and I want more: I search, I find a name, I go deeper, I find more pictures, get more on the life and work of the artist and go further, consume everything interesting about them. Save more pictures.

This will often branch off into other interesting people, or things around or within the same category, and off I go again, down another trail.

I remember seeing a movie with William Powell for the first time, The Thin Man, and realising that I’ve had pictures of him saved on my phone for years, back when I had no idea who he was. He just seemed a superb dresser. In fact, he was the reason I commissioned my first three-piece suit, a beautiful navy flannel that has been worn heavily.


William Powell
Oliver, shot by Yuko Fujita
Jaroslav Drobny

All of these pictures give me feelings of joy and inspiration, practical advice for combinations in clothing, ideas for how I want to live and ways to furnish my apartment.

They also give me reassurance, in an odd way. I find them useful in situations when I need visual stimulation - for work, a photo shoot or anything else based on aesthetics.

It calms me down when I feel stressed, knowing I can go back to my own library filled with everything I love and admire. The way it’s shot; what it shows; the way it’s styled, situated, lit or portrayed. It’s colour, shape, texture and depth. And sometimes just a nice outfit.


Farnsworth House
Vilhelm Lauritzen
Isamu Noguchi

I know we need to be able to let go of technology and interact with each other and the world. We need to shut down and disconnect, enjoy a dinner with friends without gazing at our phones. This is all old news and I’m sure I'm preaching to the choir.

But at the same time, I know my personal gallery enables me to look at the people I meet and the things around me in a different light, packed with interest and with a sharpened eye, searching out the details, and the beauty in everything.

I’m not suggesting we bury ourselves deeper into our phones. But I humbly suggest that when we do, we do it for our own benefit."


Alvar Aalto
Vintage tennis outfit
West Ham football club
Nils Landberg
Poul and Hanne Kjaerholm's house
Slim Aarons
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Well I don’t have a smart phone, but the process Oliver decribes feels like an old slipper to me, familiar, comfortable, warming and life enhancing! I’m not sure you need modern media for this, perhaps it’s more about slowing down and properly looking at things, like the difference between a walk and a car journey.


I’m impressed with the fact you don’t have a smart phone. I struggle to understand how it’s possible to live without one today. And I’m just talking purely practical stuff: banking, payment, communication. Where I live I use the digital bank ID in different scenarios for identification multiple times per day, whereas my psychical ID is rarely used.
I sometimes think back on the days of a slim flip phone with a romantic haze.
Good for you.


He is using his phone as a virtual ‘Mood Board’.
A good use of it albeit I do think that folk spend way too much time on their contraptions.


Inspirational article Oliver. You’re one of the reasons why I got into classic menswear a few years back, thanks for that! Greetings from Sweden


Dear Johan,

Thank you for the kind words! Have a great Christmas.


Hi Oliver,
Thank you for an interesting and enjoyable article. Whilst I do believe we spend too much time on our devices (to a greater or lesser extent), using them as a tool that works for us is to be encouraged.
I do have one question – as a life long West Ham United supporter – is there is any particular provenance or inspiration that you have drawn from the programme cover?
Thanks again.


Hi Stephen,

I’m glad you liked it. I’m also a massive football fan, however unfortunately not West Ham. My heart beats green and white for my team Hammarby. What I like about this picture is the overall layout, the graphic is splendid and it transports me back in time when there were (almost) no maximum capacity at the terraces, smoke laid thick and hats as long as the eye could see…

Peter Hall

Great article.
As a photographer , I agree 100%. I’m also inspired by architecture ,colour, shape and form. Brutalism is a great style for black and grey. Bauhaus for modern symmetry .
Looking back to go forward is always great advice.


This was great. We all need inspiration, and if we can find it in the smallest details during our daily lives, so much the better. This reminded me that style is much more than the clothes we wear. Want to know what cool is? Look at the photo of Max Roach. Want to be inspired? Look at Richard Avedon’s photo of Julian Bond. Want to dress for tennis like Wimbledon winner Jaroslav Drobny? Throw on a blazer and amaze your friends.


Oh boy. Thought I was crazy to keep almost 2000 photos on my iPad. So this explains why. I have that last Slim Aaron’s as well. A little of inspiration and a bit of aspiration.

Kev F

The Besancon image looks particularly helpful; using artists’ choices of tone and colour to guide combinations of outfits perhaps pairing pieces you have that you didn’t think to do before.


Dear Simon,
Thank you for sharing this inspiration – as an art historian I was especially intrigued by you taking inspiration from Jean-Baptiste Besançon, a name that was not familiar to me as of yet.

On a slightly different note, I wanted to ask you for another advice. I am looking to give my wife a voucher for a custom-made blouse (of what white oxford cloth preferably) and I was wondering if you happen to have a recommendation as to whom to trust when it comes to bespoke women’s shirting. Maybe you happened to pick up some accidental knowledge over the years knowing of course that this is not at the very core of what is about..

Many thanks in advance,


That’s sad to hear. But do you at least happen to know which of the shirtmakers you have used in the past have a women’s offering?


I grew up playing tennis and graduating college studying art and design, so Oliver’s sensibilities certainly resonate with me. And since I’m over 70 many of the photos remind me of my youth. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and brightening yet another day hunkered down in this crazy but contemplative time.


Dear Robert,

Thank you for the kind words. They made my day. Stay safe!

Kind regards,



I find myself doing the same. For me it’s a combination of my photo library, Pinterest and saved stuff on Instagram.
Sometimes inspiration isn’t even tangible, it can be something as simple as the way a shadow falls on an object.


The Isamu Noguchi outfit is top notch. Not sure if that’s a Valstarino but that is certainly how to wear one – fantastic nonchalance.

Really nice editorial – I think largely speaking that those of us who enjoy style have a natural tendency for aesthetics – there’s something very rewarding at seeing the inspiration for others, not least because it’s very satisfying to look at but also because it’s inspirational as well, and would welcome more like this.

Thanks Simon and Oliver.


I recognize myself in all this: enthralled by and constantly saving images for later visits.

Albert, Esq.

Simon, I would like to commission a tennis jumper in ecru with the colours of my tennis club. Do you know who takes such individual orders? Thanks in advance, Albert