ALWAYS ONE STEP AHEAD. With its unyielding pioneering spirit, Berluti is still very much a game changer after 120 years in business. DA MAN Style caught up with Alessandro Sartori just before he stepped down as creative director
Luxury in the world of fashion may take many forms, but at its very core, it undeniably boils down to fine craftsmanship. Constantly setting the bar for exemplary craftsmanship in shoemaking for over 120 years is Berluti, a global brand that finally arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, this year.
Since 2012, the Parisian house has embarked on a new yet very exciting journey: ready-to-wear collections. This is when Alessandro Sartori, who had previously sat as creative director for the Z Zegna label, came into the company. Known for his ambitious sartorial concepts, Sartori not only reconstructed Berluti’s DNA as a brand but also, at one point, molded it anew by infusing couture—like touches—mainly through an impressive blend of new materials. Furthermore, and perhaps more interestingly, he also added a sexy sporty zing to the brand’s cuts and styling. In his own words, a Berluti man is one that’s not constrained within any particular age group but has a very strong style. And that is just the beginning.
This season couldn’t have been more appropriate to introduce those unfamiliar with the brand to the particular kind of luxury offered by Berluti. It also presents one final chance to see Sartori’s trademark style in the brand’s seasonal offerings, as he has relinquished his position as of early February 2016. Just like the brand’s exquisite footwear, Berluti leather jackets employ a variety of plush material. But more than just generic leather options, Sartori used a new type of super-thin baby calf and the lightest kangaroo leathers ever produced, to craft what is perhaps the airiest, most comfortable luxury wear this spring/summer season has to offer.
No less striking is the collection’s palette—the blue is neptunite navy blue and the gray is calcium gray, for instance. The coloring techniques employed are painstakingly complex, born out of Sartori’s most intriguing concepts revolving around a city in India. These, and many other touches, exemplify Berluti’s reputation as a timeless pioneer and Alessandro Sartori’s eternal imprint on the brand’s aesthetics.
DA MAN: Berluti is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. Are there any big celebrations or perhaps special collections planned to mark this special milestone?
Alessandro Sartori: We had just launched our first book celebrating our 120 years of history by bringing to light iconic shoes designed for or inspired by twenty-six of Berluti’s most emblematic customers, including Andy Warhol, Dean Martin, Patti Smith, Yves Saint Laurent and Zinedine Zidane.
DA MAN: Berluti’s ready-to-wear collection is now entering its fifth year. How has this initiative progressed so far?
Alessandro Sartori: What I like the most is the mix between heritage and a very modern approach. I actually do that in my own life, too. We have made the brand evolve a lot, thanks to a long history of know-how and very creative and innovative design methods.
DA MAN: Seeing how Berluti was previously known as a footwear brand, how did you develop the ready-to-wear collection? And what is the core aesthetics of Berluti’s ready-to-wear?
Alessandro Sartori: Many Berluti customers were asking about clothing and textiles to complete their wardrobe. So, when rebranding the house, we already felt that there was a space in the market for a well-crafted, quality handmade collection. So, we started creating the new Berluti silhouette from the bottom-up.
DA MAN: Could you take us through the inspiration behind Berluti’s spring/summer offerings in 2016?
Alessandro Sartori: With our ateliers, we have been working with the latest innovations in textile technology to create the most lightweight performance materials and fashion them into a modern summer wardrobe that is both hardwearing and as light as a feather.
DA MAN: What are these innovations you mentioned?
Alessandro Sartori: We have developed a range of new materials to be as lightweight, durable and waterproof as possible. These include a technical, ultra-light, rain-resistant silk-paper blend; rubberized paper-touch cotton, which has a crisp, light feel that is perfect for summer; a mohair-wool blend for suiting; the lightest kangaroo leather ever produced, a mere 0.3mm thick with a linen-like feel.
The collection also introduced a new type of powder-coated leather: Vitello Opaco, super-thin calf leather sealed with a waterproof membrane, which is then treated to produce a completely matt, densely pigmented finish. All the fabrics are as close to weightless as technology allows. For example, some jackets weigh as little as a shirt because they are made in light paper-touch blends and have had all their internal construction stripped away.
DA MAN: There is a rather unique palette of outfit colors shown on the spring/summer 2016 runways, from the vibrant green and the azure-like blue to the beautiful slate-gray. What was it that you wanted to express with these hues?
Alessandro Sartori: The collection is inspired by the modernist architecture in the city of Chandigarh in northern India, designed by Le Corbusier in the early 1960s. I wanted to reflect the crisp delineation between the concrete structures of the city and the verdant parkland that surrounds it in the bright colors and sharp silhouettes of the looks. The collection’s range of colors reference those used by Le Corbusier and extend the mineral palette that I have established in previous seasons: iolite violet, neptunite navy blue and onyx black, and meteorite or calcium grays.
DA MAN: The Victor shoes and the Playtime sneakers are both made of a single piece of leather. How did you come up with the idea for these two designs?
Alessandro Sartori: Actually, they are inspired by the first shoes created by Alessandro Berluti in 1895. The shoe called the Alessandro is one of our most emblematic models, and it has always been made with one single piece of leather, which was quite a little revolution at the time.
“The collection is inspired by the modernist architecture of the city of Chandigarh in northern India, designed by Le Corbusier in the early 1960s”
DA MAN: When you design an outfit, do you start from the shoes or from the clothes first? And does it start with color, cut or material?
Alessandro Sartori: We travel with my team and get inspirations and find new ideas. From then, we decide what the colors, style or theme of the season will be. We also work closely with our workshops and artisans to develop the best products using their expertise. I could also get inspiration from every artistic, creative or tasteful atmosphere that I have the pleasure to see, but definitely modern art and new artistic techniques are making me dream.
DA MAN: Some clothes are designed as statements, and some for comfort. What goals do you usually go for when designing clothes for men?
Alessandro Sartori: My goal is simply to dress the Berluti man I have in mind. He doesn’t have a specific age, but has a very strong style. He’s sharp and romantic at the same time; he adores details, loves leather and strong colors. He has a very personal way of interpreting styling without coming off as clichéd while displaying his own identity.
DA MAN: Given the expanding market of global men’s fashion these days, how do you see the current state of men’s fashion and men’s footwear?
Alessandro Sartori: It is evolving a lot and men have more and more choices. They are getting more and more demanding and are now looking for brands with a strong identity and extreme quality.
“All the fabrics are as close to weightless as technology allows. Some jackets weigh as little as a shirt, and are made in light paper-touch blends”
DA MAN: With regards to the brand’s extensive history, does it actually encourage contemporary innovations or does it limit sartorial and shoemaking creativity?
Alessandro Sartori: At Berluti, I have a unique possibility to express myself since in our workshop we have 50 artisans dedicated to new models, prototypes and samples. For the new collection, I was in Ferrara with my team designing details for the collection, and we were doing it directly with our artisans without any intermediary between us. I sincerely enjoyed every moment of this very crafted and unique process.
DA MAN: What is the most important thing that you have learned from working at Berluti?
Alessandro Sartori: Attention to detail and compliance with the rules of cutting and assembly, which actually are the cornerstone of Berluti’s expertise.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style spring/summer 2016. Get your copy here.