A new footwear hybrid
Berluti, known for classic tailoring and shoemaking, has just released its first sneaker. But don’t worry: as artistic director, Alessandro Sartori assures Esquire that the usual high standards still apply…
This is the first time Berluti has made a sneaker shoe. What makes it special?
Well, it is entirely made by hand, using the same production process as with everything else we do. We use the same Valencia leather that is used in our other formal shoes.
And this colour can be changed?
Yes. A customer can come into a store and ask for a particular colour, or once bought the colour can be refreshed or completely changed as well. It is presented in four different colours with tonal laces but you can choose between one hundred shades. There are 100 colour palettes available, and this process makes our shoe a unique product.
What else makes this shoe special?
There are no cuts of leather on the shoe as it is created using one big single piece of material. This is for two reasons: the quality of leather for this shoe needs to be the best in order for us to be able to change colours. The best selection is also used. We reject it if there is a little cut to the animal’s skin or even a mosquito bite.
We do this because if it not perfect then we cannot open the pores of the leather — or what we call the flower of the skin — and close it in order to create and change the colour. Using one piece of leather is also important from a technical sense because after the shape is given, the leather is warm and humid and can be pulled into the perfect shape. Thirdly, the final shoe is very soft and light. It makes it very comfortable because we are using the same techniques as we do with our classic Oxford and Derby shoes.
The inside sole is completely handmade and natural leather. Where you would normally have pre-made rubber, we have made it with leather. The only rubber is on the sole.
I’ve got so many pairs of shoes with leather soles. They’re slippy and they wear fast as well.
Exactly. This sneaker was made this way to prevent slippyness and to make the shoe last longer. With a sneaker you need this utility aspect. It needs to be hard-wearing and you need to be able to grip. You also need a flexible shoe [bends the very expensive shoe almost in half to demonstrate], which you normally only get from rubber, but we have done by using slivers of very light leather.
It’s a lot lighter than it looks, considering it is so sturdy.
Absolutely. I wanted this idea of a masculine, bold, beautiful and sharp shoe that at the same time is very light.
When I design anything, I think about the construction that was lost from the 1970s to the 1990s. For example, with a suit if you open a jacket from the 1950s, there are all these hidden details. The inside of a suit used to have a 4cm gap in order to be flexible to movement and body shape, hard wearing and also allow the suit to be taken in or out according to changes in body size. Today there is typically only a 1cm gap. In the industrial process that took place from the ’50s to the ’90s, most of these hidden details were removed because of the cost. That’s why when you take a tailor-made jacket in the 1950s compared to a jacket made in the 1980s, the jacket made in the 1950s looks like it was made to last forever. So at Berluti, I take the most beautiful details from the past and design products that are meant to last forever.
But you need to maintain a modern outlook too…
Yes, of course. In this case the flexibility needs to be like a running shoe, the fabric needs to be 300g and not 500g. And with a suit the content of the fabric can’t be 100 percent, it needs to be a mix of material to give it a crispiness and a performance aspect that is not too rigid. I also design much more narrow to the body than a classic silhouette, so it’s modern classic, and this is my idea of tailoring.
Why do you think that after the ’90s, the classical ideas and the heritage traditions were reborn?
I think there are moments in life where naturally you go back to something different. So after the super-industrial, almost plastic-made fused jackets or rubber shoes, we went back to beautiful, cultural products. We were bored of cheap products. Second,
I think the taste today is much more about the craft — real human work and real quality. It’s not just about a value factor but also the design process. So it’s a coming together of these factors. I started working 20 years ago and until 10 years ago, you didn’t see any 30- to 50-year-old tailors in the ateliers. Most of the tailors were all very old. Now, over the past few years, the younger generation has started to get interested in craft again. Now you see old and young tailors together, and there is a missing generation in the middle.
That must be nice to see…
Yes, in my generation we thought doing manual work was less important, less interesting. Today the young generation think it is something we should keep. One good example is a French employee in our atelier who is young, 33, and a doctor. When he finished university he told his parents he wanted to work at Berluti. But not in the offices, he wanted to make the shoes. This generation wants to go back to real human quality.
”When I was 12 or 13 I made my first suit. It looks very silly today but I still have it”
I imagine, just from meeting you now, that you know the people working for you.
Si, si, si, I know all of them. Our designers also go to check on the quality of the construction at the factory. They visit their colleagues every week to look at the progress being made. So we all know everyone. Every detail counts.
Do you think that gives your product more soul?
Yes, it does. We design our products for collectors, not for people that use products for one season and throw it away or leave it in the wardrobe. We are designing for people who care about what they buy and what they wear. It’s more of a collector approach rather than only purely about fashion.
Because you were steeped in this craft from such a young age, that must appeal to you?
Absolutely. I have this maniac approach to design and it is something that I recognise in the customers when they are going to buy. For instance, I have had these boots I am wearing now for years and I spent a lot of time recently changing the colour just a little. Put it this way, imagine that you have your perfect wardrobe, it’s not about the quantity but about the quality. I always like it when something is fresh and the emotion of something you wear for the first time. So make your vintage pieces fresh. Maybe before you had a jacket that was boxy but now you want to change it. Go to the tailor and make it shorter, tighter, not just because you changed your weight but because you want a different style. Work on your pieces. Work on your wardrobe and blend it with your new pieces. So when I design I think about this kind of character.
Your mother had a dress-making workshop…
Yes, she was a tailor. I remember I was very young and we were living in this really nice apartment. My father trusted my mother in her career. The house was also an atelier and it had a lot of energy. I was three or four. I used to sketch and colour things and read books and I stayed in that environment.
Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would do anything else?
Not at all. I liked to play as every other kid did but when you do something that you really like, you don’t think, you just do it. When I was 12 or 13 I made my first suit. It looks very silly today but I still have it.
Finally, do you have the unfortunate habit that the first thing you do when you meet someone is look at their shoes?
You know, I am addicted. First I look at the feel of someone, then, yes, the second thing is the shoes.
Playtime sneakers, Dhs5,850, available at Berluti at Level Shoe District and the Berluti boutique, Mall of the Emirates