Berluti: Treading a New Path

When it comes to tailoring or ready to wear, Berluti isn’t exactly the first brand that comes to mind.

“Shoes, isn’t it?” someone vaguely acquainted with the name correctly guessed.

Yes, indeed. Shoes. Very beautiful shoes. Very colourful and expensive shoes.

Very, very special shoes.

Special because Berluti is a special brand. The founder Alessandro Berluti was an Italian perfectionist who made last-making an art, crafting beautiful shoes for the beau monde of Belle Epoque Paris, but it was Olga Berluti who turned the brand into the icon, introducing hand-finished patinas in an alarming array of colours.

Indeed, Berluti’s unconventional, almost fantastical footwear (rose accented toes, green and yellow patinas) shines in the undeniably traditional array of, rather staid, brown and black Northampton shoes. In that, they have become the household name for exotic, formal men’s shoes; “men’s Manolos.”

Owned for 22 years by LVMH, the world’s most formidable luxury group, has both blessings and curses. Chief amongst the former is the financial muscle to supercharge product development and marketing spend; most significant amongst the latter is the incontrovertible and relentless expectation for growth and profitability.

The big problem is, artisanal shoemaking, on it’s own, isn’t exactly a massive moneyspinner. For one thing, it is a craft which takes time; hours and hours of fine handwork goes into making each pair of shoes.

Secondly, as this time-consuming and very human process isn’t scalable, the costs associated with producing one pair are very high, resulting in a low volume business where the only profitability is in a hefty margin – far more difficult in an increasingly competitive environment.

The vision for Berluti since the acquisition has remained focused on its specialism of working with fine leather. Briefcases, wallets and belts joined the fabulous shoes on the shelves; a logical extension – and a less costly one.

However, the appointment of the fortunately named Alessandro Sartori as Artistic Director in 2011 spelled big changes for the brand. A former creative doyenne of Ermenegildo Zegna’s successful “Z Zegna”, his pedigree as a designer is undeniable. Since the launch of its ready to wear collections three years ago, Berluti has been quietly infiltrating the world of fine menswear, buying Arnys tailoring business (who made jackets for Le Corbusier) and turning heads with some spectacularly colourful ready-to-wear collections.

Though always punctuated by shoes – typical of LVMH who never forget the power that heritage can bring to a collection – they are looks that have suggested Sartori shares Olga Berluti’s talent for working with colour, and an appreciation for structure and form that underlines the tailoring credibility of the brand.

The 2016 Spring Summer Collection, shown in an elegant courtyard, emphasized both the playfulness and seriousness of the brand. Playful for its irreverent use of bright colours; serious for its unswerving adherence to sensible proportions and lack of unnecessary, tasteless experimentation. There is nothing bizarre or unwearable in Berluti. It isn’t pretentious or self-consciously ‘artistic.’ The Berluti man may be more European than a Purple Label man, probably more creative too, but he’s no fashionista.

Sartori’s “looks” for Berluti aren’t entirely conservative either. They combine the formal with the casual. There is a suede leather blazer with sweatpants but, unlike previous experimentation in ‘high fashion’, these looks actually work very well and are entirely street-ready.

The other thing is, genuine customers of luxury fashion brands tend to be a little older and a little less gaunt than the ‘boys’ who parade the oversized jumpers, skinny black denim and clumpy shoes of your garden variety Paris-based men’s fashion designer. So much so that the idea of anyone older than 23 wearing any of the creations seems preposterous.

And this is where Berluti really shines; you can actually imagine your father, even your grandfather, wearing most of these looks.  And that’s a big compliment. The tailoring is sensible, harsher critics might even say formulaic, but it is this seriousness that is worthy of respect.

It takes a long time, a lot of money and a sartorial realist with the imagination of a child to turn a Parisian cobbler into a global lifestyle brand but, by the looks of it, Sartori (and Berluti) might be halfway there.

Sartorial Stereotypes: Beards

The Darwin

The Darwin man is a serious soul. A ‘transport entrepreneur’ (he sells vintage tricycles to commuters) and a ‘professional mixologist’ (he runs a pop-up bar on the river), he would never admit that he follows anything as frivolous as a ‘trend.’

His beard is a work of art to some, a trimmed hedge to many others. However, it would be foolish to deny that such a growth takes dedication, concentration and a good deal of patience. And don’t you dare call him a hipster; beards run in the blood.

“My dad had a beard” he says “when he was lecturing in East London.”

Despite being of intellectual stock, and not without resources of his own (his grandmother came from an old manufacturing dynasty), he doesn’t appear to believe in bourgeois Britain. He shuns benches and pub tables in favour of concrete steps and kerbs and he gave up an inherited Marylebone flat to live “amongst his people” in an ex-Local Authority building in Hackney.

He is famous for silently hating the broadness of the beard trend, and loathes the thought that someone will confuse him with one of the ‘bow tied, tattooed masses’ from the Kingsland Road.

This serious-minded stance doesn’t prevent him from strutting around in Thom Browne shirts, selvedge denim from Chimala and Brogue boots from Grenson.

The Tsar

The Tsar is a man of antique grace.

Though somewhat sartorially defiant and resistant to trends, he was ‘jolly excited’ when the whole ‘beard thing’ caught on, because he’d always craved a regal chinstrap of hair.

A bulky former rugby-playing man-mountain with a subscription to ‘The Chap’ and a wardrobe of three-piece tweed and flannel suits – most with double-breasted waistcoats – he embodies the sartorial zeitgeist that marries tailored elegance and beery masculinity.

A barrister in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, he tells hearty stories of ‘dodgy foreign clients, blackmail and backstabbing’ to eager young pupils and delights in swigging claret with his politically incorrect head of chambers over a roast at Simpsons-in-the-Strand.

He now has a sharp, Edwardian beard with a sensational moustache, waxed by Trumper at the tips, that recalls the fashion of European monarchs before the First World War.

The Zangief

The Zangief man is a big kid – a lamb in the form of a grizzly bear.

Being something of a programming genius, he ‘hasn’t had to grow up’ and face the realities that others must subject themselves to, which makes him a bit of a softy.

A late-night loner and gamer, he found easy work in a Silicon-roundabout startup and took the 10% equity offer as a bit of a gimmick, and couldn’t care less; as long as he earned enough to pay for his ‘insane’ 70” flatscreen, Sonos soundsystem and Star Wars collectibles.

His introverted, geeky and naive nature is belied by his impressive frame, his severe haircut and his substantial facial hair, which he modeled on the Street Fighter character Zangief – ‘he makes beards look awesome!’

With his striped t-shirts from J Crew and his rolled up chinos from TopMan he appears trendier than he actually is, and is often surprised to be approached by women he considers to be above him.

The Beckham

The Beckham man is a man of trends. A dishy insurance broker with a penchant for cheap girls and expensive watches, if it’s ‘in’, you can guarantee he is already doing it. And despite his previous rants about beards being ‘hilariously fugly’ and for ‘unsuccessful hippies’, he now has a facial growth of which he is proud.

Initially worried that his youthful looks would be obscured beneath the uneven tufts of a scraggly beard, it was when David Beckham wore it to Wimbledon last year, with his neat blazer and high-and-tight haircut that really sold it. He discovered the girls in the office gushing over the pictures saying how they had ‘always wanted to date a man with a beard.’

Bollocks, thought the Beckham man.

Still, since then, he has carefully cultivated a facial growth something between that of a 17th century French cavalier and an Acqua di Gio model. An awkward mix of contrived overgrowth and meticulous trimming.

He loves mixing this look with his trademark three-piece Reiss suits and monkstraps from JM Weston.

 

Sartorial Skiing

Winter sports are without doubt the most glamorous thing about the colder months.

When your nose is running, and your pasty, dry skin is occasionally coloured beet red by a cruel northerly wind, the lapping water, linen shirts, Ray Bans, and Negronis of a glamorous July seem as far away as those brightly twinkling winter stars.

Christmas and the New Year yield some champagne-fuelled merriment and excuse for sartorial grandiloquence, but once January aggressively greys out the bright colours of the festive season, glamour recedes and sickness and quiet, indoor living take hold.

But then it comes: “Fancy some skiing?”

Instantly, the mind drifts to the scenery of the mountains, a montage of James Bond, spectacular views, hot tubs, tumblers of whisky and the iridescent mystique of the wonderful, but truly strange, sport of downhill skiing.

It’s not just Bond who goes skiing.

What yachts are to August, chalets are to February. The international jet-set jets down – literally, in their own jets – as near to the pistes as they can manage and fire up the Range Rovers to Verbier, Courcheval and St Moritz.

Of course, there is the other side to skiing; vomit stained salopettes, shots of pear vodka, screaming ski schools and high-altitude hangovers, but much like the burnt out Brits on Benidorm’s beaches; beer cans often follow where champagne leads.

And sadly, when it comes to style, it seems that beer has the greatest influence. I must admit when I last went skiing, I wasn’t particularly critical of the sartorial side of things. There were these ‘things’ you had to wear; ski jackets, salopettes, ski goggles. It wasn’t a fashion show, it was survival; you were trying not to freeze to death, trying desperately not to break your neck.

But a good deal of time has passed. And in the cold light of a London winter it’s plain to see that skiing, glamorous as it might be, is sartorially repugnant.

It’s not just the swish-swish of Gore-Tex shell. Most of the attire, and indeed the brands, associated with skiing recall the frosted-tipped Nineties; meaningless technical terms, sand-coloured Timberland boots, beanies and Oakley sunglasses.

Of course, there are exceptions to this nonsense. It’s all too apparent now that Remo Ruffini’s investment in and continual development of Moncler aimed to conquer all that was wrong with winter sports back in the early Noughties – and take advantage of large swathes of newly rich Russians, booting up in the Alps glamour spots.

Moncler’s aesthetic takes advantage of its own heritage, and that of downhill skiing. When health and safety were two entirely separate words in the English dictionary, ski boots were made of leather and most ‘ski trousers’ had pleats in them, the alpine look was considerably different.

Fair Isle sweaters, chunky roll necks and lambskin mittens presented a tasteful, see-you-back-at-the-lodge casualness to winter sports – believe it or not, it was possible to make it down the mountain without gear that makes you look like you’re about to attempt a moon-landing.

The bizarrely shiny, down-filled jackets started creeping in by the 1960s – a retro aesthetic that Moncler milks to kingdom come – and by the 1970s, the preppy colours and alpine knits had given way to yellow all-in-one ski suits. The less said about the 1980s ski fashions the better (although just to mention that many designs looked like something out of an Empire of the Sun video) and in the early 1990s, a ski outfit looked like a shell suit made out of sherbet candy.

Then, along with the advent of snowboarding, came the straggly haired potheads – and the ‘surfer dude’ brands.

There’s no getting around it, skiwear – like most outdoor wear – is very ugly.

Few aesthetically motivated brands have taken on the challenge of producing gear that is both practical and attractive. One of the only attractive down ski jackets I could find was at Uniqlo; I laugh in the mirror every time I don a pair of salopettes. Where is the design? Where is the elegance? It’s bizarre for a sport classed as one of the most popular for High Net Worth individuals that there aren’t more brands clamoring for the attention of their wallets.

Canada Goose, Moncler and another brand Bogner are the unchallenged kings of the slopes because they embody the sleek, simple chic that so many of the most elegant skiers seek. And in truth, only the latter two brands can claim to have revived a lot of the past glamour of the sport.

 

New Year’s Sartorial Resolutions

“Have you got any ressies?” someone asked me recently.

“Ressies?” I winced.

“Yea, you know resolutions. New Year’s. I’ve got a few. Need to go to the gym I joined – last January!”

Groan.

I’m not much of a ‘ressie’ man. For me, things like going to the gym and eating healthily don’t really require the New Year ‘spell’; my formidable year-round vanity sees to that.

I could make some weak self-promises around work, some attempt to ‘correct’ my personality – whatever the hell that means – and I could probably set-up a direct debit to a dog charity but I am not so woolly-minded that I can’t see them as mere bait for the bandwagon.

After all, to “resolve” is to ‘decide firmly on a course of action’ and, thinking about it at length, I realized there was very little that would cause me to firmly commit to a course of action, save a few personal business ideas I have been mulling over.

Also, ‘New Year’s resolutions’ are meant to be silly and breezy – at least everyone else’s seem to be. So the only resolutions worth considering are sartorial ones, and given that I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, writing, window-shopping, reviewing, admiring, lusting and dreaming about all things sartorial, it’s clearly an area in which I can make some sensible changes and some firm commitments.

Well, firm-ish.

1. Steadily build my suit collection with MTM and (maybe) bespoke

The suit is king, long live the suit.

Not only do I need good suits for work, I also enjoy wearing them more than any other clothing. It’s a point of mystery to me that many others take no pleasure, or pride, in acquiring and wearing suits.

It’s true that I used to advocate a more substantial collection of odd jackets, trousers and waistcoats. There is no doubt these are useful, but purchasing a three-piece suit gives you all the elements in a single package that, when combined, is the apogee of elegant masculinity.

On the cards: a dark grey flannel three piece for winter and a dark blue linen three piece for summer.

2. Tailor all of my favourite trousers

I have several pairs of trousers that I love wearing, but are slightly off in some way. I have lost weight over the past year, so many are too generous in the waist and thigh. Also, some of the legs do not have the exact taper I would like, and I always feel slightly incomplete when I wear them. Having recently had a pair of suit trousers slimmed and tapered, I have resolved to take the plunge and have all my favourite trousers (including some daring ones in black velvet) tailored.

This improvement to my wardrobe will also mean that I have more reason to…

3. Avoid impulse purchases

It’s long been a part of my philosophy to value quantity as well as quality of clothing. I love variety and feel somewhat dejected at the thought of wearing the same outfit twice. I am therefore what I would charitably term a “good shopper.”

However, this singular fondness has often led to wastefulness; silly items I have worn but a few times. No more, I tell you, no more.

4. Only buy ties on eBay

This is a bit of a cheat resolution as I have long resorted to online auctions for second-hand silk and wool ties.

The reasons are simple; I prefer older silk, I prefer older patterns and they are exceptional value for money. There are some lovely new ties out there, particularly those by Drakes and Ralph Lauren, but they are ludicrously expensive by comparison.

5. Make more significant investments

There are a number of things I should spend more money on, a few key pieces for which I should opt for a little more quality and durability, not just style. I have a habit of choosing on the latter alone.

However, there are some things I am looking for – a good Panama hat, a more capacious washbag – that require more than prettiness. They are long-term pieces for the next decade or so, not fly-by-night fashion.

Punching Up in Party Season

lapo-velvet-jacket

Hold onto your hats; party season is here once again.

Between the middle of December and the first birdsong of the New Year, the world turns into an alcoholic, tinsel-and-firework merry-go-round, wringing out the remainder of our leftover greed, wantonness and impropriety. I have only one Christmas party to go to but one acquaintance of mine has three work-related functions to attend; “One’s a divisional thing, the other’s a group company party” And what’s the third? “Oh. I’ve got an invite to the girlfriend’s work ball – can’t be bothered to go.”

It’s a shame that we get so used to such things, we never learn to appreciate them sufficiently in the moment. Life, after all, is about contribution and being part of something greater than mere survival. Being invited to balls and parties should excite us; fill us with that keen sense of anticipation.

It should also fill us with inspiration – and not lead us into the temptation of skimping on a black tie ensemble by wearing a dark grey lounge suit with a clip-on poly bow tie.

I received a frantic missive from a chum recently, asking me how to dress for a ‘terrifyingly trendy fashionista party’, set to take place in a glittering ballroom in one of Mayfair’s grand dame palace hotels. He had a grosgrain silk bow tie and Marcella cotton shirt but what could else he possibly wear to cut a dash and avoid looking like the rest of the rent-a-tux crowd?

The Jacket

I would recommend a velvet smoking jacket style.

Ultra-traditionalists would sniff that this is ‘normally only to be worn in your own residence’ and is not appropriate for an ‘out of home’ black tie function, particularly balls.

Well, balls to that.

It’s difficult to cut a head-turning dash as a chap without looking a little unconventional on such occasions. And given that female fashion has long dispensed with the length requirements dictated for ballgowns, to shun a fabric like velvet, that catches the season’s aesthetic so wonderfully, is frankly silly.

I would opt for a colour rather than black velvet, due to the fact that coloured velvet is infinitely better at reflecting light. Burgundy is elegant, if a little old school, bottle green is currently trending, although not for the light hearted, but the ultimate in sleek smoking chic this season is, perhaps unexpectedly, brown.

In certain light it has a warm, chocolate tone that contrasts deliciously with the cool, crisp white of a starched shirt-front. Black bow ties appear more authoritative next to it and it has an old-world, distinguished charm to it, like a fading label on a great Bordeaux. Or Robert Redford.

Suit Supply and Gieves & Hawkes both have excellent shawl-collared, one-button options available, with black silk-faced lapels and jetted pockets. Paul Stuart Phineas Cole has an all-brown option, with brown-grosgrain peak lapels.

The Trousers

Given the slightly outré jacket suggestion, one might expect me to suggest sober, black Barathea trousers.

These would certainly work very well, however, black Barathea has never really made much of a statement. It fades into the background (quite by design) and, on this occasion, is only for the unimaginative.

You could go all brown velvet like Lapo Elkann. However, velvet suits make me think of Austin Powers.

Instead, I would either recommend black silk trousers, the shine contrasting with the lush matte of the velvet pile, or – if you are feeling brave (and Tom Ford circa 2010) enough – some tartan trousers, with a Scandinavian uber-taper at the ankles. Hackett have some options to oblige.

The Shoes

I always favour patent Oxfords or opera pumps, but this is a look that deserves something a little more dangerous, like Paul Stuart Phineas Cole’s houndstooth evening slippers.

If these go too far, perhaps a plain pair of black, Albert velvet slippers from Brooks Brothers would be more approachable.

Anything other than evening slippers or pumps in this ensemble adds unnecessary ‘clump.’

The other essentials

The usual routine; shirt studs, black silk socks, and a black silk cummerbund. Add a pocket square if you feel it is needed, but keep it fairly conservative. Remember, keeping the small things trad lets the big things go mad.