Best of the Best 2011: Footwear: Berluti

Olga Berluti is the kind of talented footwear designer who can reinvent the classics simply by changing the materials and finishes. The fourth-generation French shoemaker did just that this year with the Triptych, a series of high-style variations of Berluti’s classic Pierre cap-toe oxford. A variety of skins, textures, and tones are manipulated like pieces in a chess game, which was the inspiration for the collection. To wit, the Fianchetto (named for a maneuver to free the bishop) is made from the company’s signature Venezia leather, an untreated hide that easily absorbs dyes to expose the skin’s myriad nuances. It is then buffed to a shiny two-tone, black-and-chestnut finish to achieve a serious business look. The same decidedly slim-profile shoe becomes the sporty Cavalier (knight) when made in suede and given a multihued antique finish. The Roi (king) is constructed of solid-hued suede and has the presence of a velvety formal lace-up.

The brand’s colorful, texture-rich designs require as many as 250 individual processes—”as many as for building a cathedral,” says Berluti. That craftsmanship is evident throughout the designs she introduced this year, including a decorative perforated-toe oxford with striations of color, and a new variation on the famous Andy Loafer—a contrary bit of footwear made in 1962 to the specifications of Andy Warhol—that laces like a dress shoe but wears like a moccasin.

But it is the Triptych series that best illustrates Berluti’s creativity and versatility: “The Pierre shoe, by a sort of mysterious alchemy, becomes for a man what the little black dress is for a woman,” Berluti says. “Perfect for all occasions.”

Berluti, 212.439.6400, www.berluti.com

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