Here’s how Berluti does its signature patina on its iconic leather shoes

COAT OF PERSONALITY. Berluti invites connoisseurs of fine leather and shoe aficionados to discover its mastery of the art of patina

Look at a man’s shoes, they say, and you can tell what kind of man he is. Leather shoes, in particular, can say a lot about a person’s tastes, his artistic flair and his appreciation for fine artisanship. Of course, this also means that shoes can be the perfect medium to express your personality, especially with shoes that are truly your own and decidedly unique. This is where Berluti’s art of patina comes in.

The Patina, Explained

When we’re talking about leather shoes, a patina refers to the soft sheen that develops on the surface of the leather. A good patina would gleam like Japanese lacquer and is the result of coloring and bleaching of the leather through the application of solvents, essential oils, pigments and dyes. The techniques used by Berluti to achieve patinas on its shoes was perfected by Olga Berluti herself in the 1980s and remains a carefully guarded secret—one othat is frequently copied but never equaled.

In Olga Berluti’s eyes, nothing was more beautiful than a shoe that has already been worn and whose color has already started to wear away. These are the only kind of shoes that, in her words, “possess a soul.” To further enhance these soulful footwear, she invented a startling palette of colors (which was a major departure from the usual black and brown common during her time) with varying contrasts and transparencies that gives each Berluti shoe its own unique signature.

Another invention of Berluti that comes into play here is Venezia leather, for which credit goes, once again, to Olga Berluti. Immaculate selection and a special tanning process gives the French house a full-grain, uncoated leather that is incredibly supple and fine. This, in turn, permits a wide range of creative expressions; it also creates a suitable base—or the perfect canvas to be more poetic—to produce an excellent patina.

The Patina, Created

One of the best parts of Berluti’s art of patina is observing the brand’s colorists at the patina bar of the brand’s boutiques. These artisans work with various brushes and cloth rags to apply pigments, play with dyes and use essential oils much like a painter in front of a canvas. Interestingly, the actual coloring comes later. First and foremost, the shoes are stripped—or lightened—and then massaged with essential oils that are laden with natural pigments and different types of wax. This part of the process takes an entire day, and only then does the colorist start to play with colors.

For this next step, the painter analogy once again becomes relevant. Much like an artist holding a brush in one hand and a palette in the other, a colorist at Berluti will mix complementary pigments, apply a transparent coating to the tip of a shoe and then accentuate the seams using a cotton swab. From here on, the patina can be “tortured” (enriched with color gradations), “flamed” (with light streaks) or given a “cloudy” (with smoke-like effects) appearance. More importantly, these techniques can be applied to the entire shoe or only to specific areas to highlight signs of wear and create a truly one-of-a-kind piece of footwear.

Further personalization comes with the choice of color, and in this area Berluti offers a range of precious gradations (bearing intriguingly evocative names) that are emblematic to the house, from Autumn Leaf and Caviar to Saint-Emilion Red to the famous Tobacco Bis, which pays homage to the warm amber hue of the Alessandro shoes from 1895. More recently, the brand has started to offer a Golden Patina, which gives a shoe (or any other leather product from Berluti) a charming antiquated gold sheen.

The Patina, For You

The art of patina by Berluti opens up an entire new world of leather appreciation. For one, there have been many stories of fans ordering shoes the way one would order pieces for an art collection, as clients would request, say, something in “the color of wood fire” instead of simply “bright orange” or perhaps “in the style of a Shanghai night.”

Also rest assured that when you’re wearing a Berluti shoe with a custom patina, you’re in very good company. One particularly notable wearer of these creations is none other than Yves Saint Laurent, who owned a very dark blue-brown pair invented by Olga Berluti for him.

The first step of this journey is, of course, purchasing a pair of shoes from Berluti, upon which you will be presented with a First Patina card. This acts as a reminder and guide to one of the house’s oldest care rituals: The eponymous first patina, which is best applied after the shoe has been worn about fifteen times and before any shoe cream has been used in order to stabilize the shoe’s color and immortalize the wearer’s first impressions on the leather—an indelible stamp of ownership.