The men’s market continues to evolve in dramatic ways, and luxe heritage label Berluti wants to play a major role in that revolution.
Creative Director Alessandro Sartori is leading the charge at the 120-year-old brand, infusing the collection with a more youthful, modern look — an approach that extends down to the shoes.
“It was very interesting this season. I worked a lot on more playful shoes,” said Sartori, who recently presented the collection at Berluti’s New York store on Madison Avenue. “I see two different trends in menswear: The classic, chic gentleman is buying bespoke, made-to-measure shoes, and for the new customer, I see everything going more sporty and casual.”
Berluti’s spring ’16 shoe assortment, ranging from $700 to $2,130, is produced in Ferrara, Italy. In addition to updates of the brand’s classic dress shoes — such as the Alessandro and Alessio — casual styles include a multimaterial version of its new Playtime sneaker, as well as laceless oxfords.
Overall, the collection was inspired by the city of Chandigarh, in India, a concrete jungle designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.
“He received a project from the Indian government to design the most modern city at the time, so he did everything in concrete and painted a lot of the walls bright colors,” said Sartori.
The stark reference resulted in more contemporary styling for the brand, such as unlined suits and leather slip-on sneakers. But don’t be fooled: The more informal product didn’t diminish Berluti’s unabashed luxury.
Sartori’s detail-driven aesthetic included leathers treated several times during production. “I loved the idea of building a collection on the base of a matte gray,” he said. “So 95 percent of the fabrics have been dip-dyed in a lighter gray and a concrete gray — even the shoes.”
As the brand broadens its collection, it also aims to diversify its customer base, as LVMH’s Spanish label Loewe and English bootmaker John Lobb have done.
In pursuit of that, Sartori recently visited Holt Renfrew in Canada, where he was surprised to see men he thought were more classic shoppers buying bright blue jackets and sneakers.
Although the creative director will continue to produce a more varied collection, he insists that Berluti’s fresh footwear focus has evolved out of a need for practical, well-made shoes — something that remains true to the brand’s roots.
“When we do the shows, the reason the guys are going so fast on the catwalk is that I ask them to walk fast,” said Sartori. “I try to have them crossing each other because I imagine the streets. If they walk at a slow speed, it looks fake to me. This experimentation is daring, but it’s also very real.”
Buyers are drawn to this thoughtful craftsmanship, a Berluti signature, as well as its new contemporary aesthetic. In addition to being in retailers Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Mr Porter, Berluti currently has three U.S. stores, in New York, Miami and Costa Mesa, Calif.
“Berluti has developed a larger range of products that continue to appeal to men of all ages,” said Laure Hériard-Dubreuil, founding partner and CEO at The Webster Miami, which collaborated with Berluti on sneakers last year. “It’s such a strong heritage brand that resonates with all generations. The [last] collection was immediately bought by our top clients, including athletes, musicians and businessmen.”
“Alessandro has instilled a more contemporary vision into the brand,” added Sam Lobban, Mr Porter’s buying manager. “He’s updated its historical style without distancing the brand from its original customer, while also gaining momentum with a new base. In addition to their boots and loafers, the luxury Playtime sneaker performs very well.”
Meanwhile, to mark the brand’s 120th year in business in 2015, Berluti rolled out unique projects to highlight its exclusive client list.
In September, the label released a short film directed by André Saraiva that looked inside a gathering of the Swann Club, Berluti’s invitation-only group of elite customers who meet once a year to discuss all things shoes.
In February, the brand will also launch a Rizzoli book, “Berluti: At Their Feet,” which explores 26 custom shoes created for 26 VIPs.