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Shoe master Berluti’s perfect patina


Paulina Szmydke discovers the unique style and innovative spirit of Berluti’s chic footwear for men

Paulina Szmydke ,

On the day that Global Blue visits Berluti’s boutique on rue Marbeuf in Paris, a bright red Ferrari is parked outside – a lean machine with a sophisticated silhouette, a car with charisma. But outside Berluti’s Parisian headquarters, the competition for attention is tough: as impeccably stylish male passers-by of all ages stop to admire the car, their eyes are irresistibly drawn to another example of Italian chic. The distinguished shoemaker’s elegant shop windows, framed in sumptuous butterscotch oak, show off a brilliantly coloured selection of the house’s most emblematic models in an enticingly rich range of blues, greens and purples: the Alessandro lace-up court shoe named after Berluti’s founder and the Andy loafer originally designed for Andy Warhol by Olga Berluti.

As creative director of the Berluti Art range, Olga Berluti has catered to the world’s most fashion-forward feet while developing exclusive products for the house’s most loyal customers. Back in 1962, when Andy Warhol knocked on her door, she famously opted for ‘the hide of a defiant cow that liked rubbing against barbed wire’ to match the American artist’s quirky taste. The shoe became an instant hit. ‘You have to tame leather,’ she points out today. ‘Cows are always rebellious.’

The forward-looking grandniece of the brand’s founder was not only equal to taming hides, she is also a master of colour. Olga Berluti is credited with inventing Venezia leather, which has a natural finish and great suppleness, and can be dyed particularly successfully. Like an alchemist, she experimented with various mixes of essential oils before finally obtaining the recipe for the perfect patina, which is today this prestigious shoemaker’s single most outstanding characteristic. The colours are imbued with such depth, a sheen so distinctive, that every pair of shoes is unique. At a time when most footwear for men came in either black or brown, Olga Berluti proved herself a visionary.

This is not the only way that the Berluti brand stands out. ‘We consider our customers – who are friends and ambassadors – unique. They all have a strong point of view, and that personality is really at the centre of our project,’ explains Berluti’s artistic director Alessandro Sartori, who previously lent his luxurious touch to Ermenegildo Zegna and is now building Berluti’s ready-to-wear line from scratch. ‘Since 1895, Berluti has been the most prestigious shoemaker in the world. Its renown, its history and the quality of its creations are unrivalled in the men’s universe.’

Berluti shoes are still produced in Italy to the highest standards. Each pair requires 250 different operations – six months of work from a team of extraordinary craftsmen. The last-maker, the pattern-maker, the ‘clicker’ (cutter) and the stitcher all lend their skill and talent before the shoe’s upper is coated with layer upon layer of bespoke dye, creating Berluti’s signature subtle transparency. A bespoke pair of Berluti shoes is said to last a lifetime if cared for properly. The art of working leather has been at the core of this Paris-based bootmaker since its humble beginnings more than 100 years ago – but Berluti’s mission also includes combining traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design. The Andy loafer, crafted in 1962, remains a best-seller and is a timeless classic.

Olga Berluti insists that ‘the first part of elegance is comfort. Shoes are the last piece of armour of the modern man.’ Men as diverse as Yves Saint Laurent, Frank Sinatra and the Duke of Windsor have worn this armour with style after falling for Berluti’s masterly formula. As one loyal client, who owns a custom-made pair as well as models from the prêt-à-porter collection, puts it: ‘Bespoke or not, Berluti is the Ferrari of shoes. It speaks to me in terms of comfort and design. And once you have experienced the pleasure of wearing a really good pair of shoes, it’s impossible to go back to something less than perfect.’

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