The Art of the Sole

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Berluti’s artistic footwear inspires the brand’s design team to dress clients from toe to head.

On a recent morning visit to Berluti’s London shop, the company’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori, observed a well-dressed man sitting barefoot in a leather club chair reading his iPad; the following week, he noticed the same man seated again in the same position. Further investigation revealed that the British businessman has such an affinity for Berluti’s artfully polished footwear that he visits the store weekly en route to his office to maintain their lustrous patina through a service known as glacé

Such devotion on the part of its clients is nothing new for the brand, which was established in 1895 and boasts a long list of prominent loyalists including Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent, and a wide variety of fastidious international personalities with an appreciation for exceptional craftsmanship. One of these admiring individuals is LVMH’s chairman, Bernard Arnault, who—enamored of the company’s quality, classic style, and whimsical touches—acquired the family-owned Parisian company in 1993. Arnault tacitly acknowledged that owning Berluti shoes is an important rite of passage for the discerning gentleman when he gave his son Antoine his first pair at age 17; the young man, for his part, demonstrated his own reverence for the brand by waiting until after he had completed college to wear them—a point in time when he felt he had earned the privilege. Last year, the younger Arnault was given the opportunity to put his own stamp on the company when his father appointed him to oversee Berluti’s expansion from footwear specialist to supplier of a full range of deluxe menswear. 

Berluti now applies to its clothing and accessories the same level of nuanced artisanship that has long induced clients to spend thousands of dollars on a pair of shoes or wait up to a year for bespoke footwear. While the clothes are not obviously attention grabbing, each garment possesses subtle attributes—the rich, saturated color of a cashmere jacket, for instance,  the fluid line of a topcoat, or the elegant cut of a suit—that signal that it is anything but an off-the-rack purchase. “Our client isn’t a fashionista, but he also doesn’t want to wear the same suit all the time,” says Sartori, an Italian-born designer who honed his skills at Z Zegna before joining Berluti. Wary of trends, Sartori prefers to define his apparel through the use of exceptional fabrics (most of which are developed exclusively for the company) and extraordinary construction that enables the wearer to move freely and comfortably yet still project a sophisticated image. 

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