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.

Requirements for Instagram: Style and Good Looks

“You want to know why she has so many Instagram followers?” chirped a colleague, in an irritated fashion “because she’s a skinny model. It has nothing to do with her style.”

My ears pricked. An intense discussion was breaking out in my immediate vicinity. The subject of discussion: Chelsea Ciara – a model and Instagram sensation.

“It’s just because she’s famous” someone else added, conclusively while another contended that “she only became famous through Instagram.”

They flicked through the pictures on her account, emphasising their negative viewpoints on her style with grunts of faux-shock: “Ugh!”, “No!”, “What?!”

“She’s attractive though” a deeper voice exclaimed.

A man had entered the conversation with an unwelcome remark. It silenced the critics suddenly.

“See!” said the initiator “She’s pretty, and skinny. It has nothing to do with style.”

I recalled this conversation when I noted GQ’s recent list of “The 50 most stylish men you don’t yet follow on Instagram.”

Like most content from Generally Questionable GQ, I put my tongue firmly in my cheek when reviewing it. There’s always an angle, always a filter applied (no pun intended) that makes these suggestions fit with the publication’s ‘aspirational’ image.

The 50 men were indeed a stylish bunch, with an impressive range of ages; there were rapscallions in their early twenties and world-weary gents in their late 50s, proving once more that male style transcends age groups and generations.

They were positioned as second division style influencers, after the premier league of powerhouse contributors like Johannes Huebl and Adam Gallagher, due to the fact that they “hadn’t yet broken 40,000 followers.”

However, their style is most certainly not second tier.

A mixture of tailoring aficionados, casual streetwear kings and denim lovers, they live in Miami, Hong Kong, Naples and Sydney – as well as the inevitable London and New York. They have different approaches, different side interests; a number also tread the well-trodden Instagram path of hashtagging travel and food, but others are passionate about their local town, types of coffee or artworks.

However, despite their age differences, their diverse tastes in clothes, their multitude of interests and variety of facial hair, there was one common feature that united these men beyond their undeniable style: their looks.

Whether 22 or 42, long haired or high and tight, street-styled or sartorial, each and every one of these ‘must follow’ individuals were well above average in the looks department. Indeed, many of them are models – or have modelled for brands. They aren’t just confident dressers; their desirability goes beyond their ability to pair a pocket square with a patterned tie. They are the living mannequins, the real-life muses. They look good in a way that others could not.

Admittedly, some of these individuals are so stylish that it makes them even more attractive than they are, but I think the fact remains that all of them successfully dodged the ugly stick.

Typical and predictable? Well, yes and no.

It’s certainly typical of the Instagram age. While these men are undoubtedly more talented with a wardrobe of clothes than the average #WIWT punter, complete visual fulfilment is a real concept that women have become all too familiar with over the last three decades. Classically good looking people look more stylish than average or ‘ugly’ people because their entire image is worthy of imitation. People want to look like them – mainly because they, and other people, find them attractive. Their looks become entwined with their style and convey a lifestyle image that is multi-dimensional and vivid. People want to embody them.

I saw a comment made by a follower of a stylish male Instagrammer that alerted an acquaintance of the benefits of following the user in question: “This is who I was talking about, u [sic] should follow; just pics of good looking guys in suits.”

However, as typical as this might be of an increasingly visual, Tinder-obsessed generation, it’s not that typical of men in general.

For a straight man following lots of good-looking guys because they just happen to be ‘very stylish’, there is an awkwardness that is undeniable. I have seen countless, less conventionally good-looking men on Instagram whose sense of style is positively epic. They don’t have the body of Michelangelo’s David, impossible cheekbones, insanely alluring eyes or a ruthless jawline but they do the best with what they have. They might not look semi-model like in every selfie, but they have an amazing ability to combine colours and textures; and despite not being a double of David Gandy, many of them dress far better than he (or his stylist) could.

Is it impressive that Adam Gallagher has over a million followers when nobody I ask has any clue who he is? Undoubtedly. Do I think his celebrity on social media comes solely from his sartorial craft? No way.

Do I think ‘attractive’ people look better in the same clothes? Sometimes, yes. Do I think it’s fair? No.

But neither is life.

The simple rule for complete Instagram domination, for men as well as women, is simple: be famous and good-looking. You only have to look at the most-followed for verification of this.

And let’s be plain about this; this is not a case for ‘it’s subjective’, the ‘eye of the beholder’ nonsense. A spade is a spade. If you are not famous and happen to be stylish, you’d better hope you have looks on your side. Instagram is no friend to the average-looking man.

The Sartorial Season: Henley Royal Regatta

Second in the series – after last year’s introduction to Royal Ascot – Henley is the most famous rowing regatta in the world.

It takes place in Henley-on-Thames, approximately 1 hour from central London on the banks of the same famous river that flows through the capital. The regatta was established shortly after Queen Victoria assumed the throne, in 1839: the year in which Belgium, as a kingdom, was officially created.

Taking place over five days at the beginning of July, the Royal Regatta is smack bang in the middle of the Season – and the middle of the summer. Despite Britain’s reputation for its euphemistically named ‘mild’ warmer season, this is still the time of the year most likely to experience temperatures above 80 degrees Farenheit. This has some bearing on Henley, as soaring Mercury is the greatest catalyst for Britons to adopt a state of undress.

As it was established long before rowing federations existed, Henley has its own rules and its own way of hosting rowing races. Each race is a knockout draw, with only two boats racing in each heat – a rather uneconomical and laborious process, but one which enables the consumption of Pimms to be prolonged.

In many ways, watching a series of rowing races is very much like watching a series of horse races and, like Royal Ascot, there are ‘enclosures’ for elite spectators; much in the same way that the Royal Enclosure at Ascot dictates the attire for fellow racegoers, the Stewards’ Enclosure sets the tone for the rest of the Regatta.

The dress code for the Stewards’ Enclosure states:

“Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits, or jackets or blazers, with flannels, and a tie or cravat.”

Of all the qualifying garments, it is the blazer that recalls the spirit of Henley most vividly. Rowing teams all wear their team blazer whenever they are not out on the water. In many cases, this blazer has a very colourful striped pattern, with the rowing club crest emblazoned on the breast pocket. Many ex-rowers bounce along in rowing blazers too, as well as those who are members of rowing clubs, school and university affiliations or even private members clubs.

As such, it’s difficult not to feel left out if you aren’t wearing one; few are the times a man would yearn for a jacket he would never use on any other occasion. And general etiquette dictates that a man should not ‘adopt’ a club’s colours simply because he likes the pattern. For corroboration, you have only to ask the nearest Scotsman his opinion of non-Scots wearing tartan.

However, it is possible to ‘do Henley’ properly without resorting to wearing what the rowing fraternity are wearing.

Firstly, it should be clear that this is no occasion for City suits. Those dark grey wools, charcoal pinstripes, and natty Glen Plaids are not appropriate, even if they are accepted. This is an English summer sporting event in the countryside.

If you choose to go for a full suit, then summer fabrics should lead the way. A crisp linen (or wool-linen) suit in mid-blue, navy, caramel or creamy white would sit perfectly against the preponderance of three-button rowing blazers to continue the theme of charming, antiquated Edwardian design.

However, the easiest solution may be a simple navy hopsack blazer with patch pockets, worn with cream or light grey flannel trousers – a summer stroller, very much in the spirit of Henley.

To achieve the full inter-war Henley aesthetic, accessorise using a light blue shirt with a contrasting white club collar, a repp tie and a brass tie pin. Henley is no place for black shoes. Instead, wear Chestnut Oxfords or – even better – semi- or full brogues.

Should you be inclined to millinery, this is the ideal opportunity to wear a straw boater from Olney – pretty much the only serious boater you can find. They are made of proper, multi-ply Coburg straw rather than simple wheat straw. Those squeamish of skimmers might prefer a Panama.


Underrated Assets: Suit Texture

I’ll probably get ridiculed for saying this by die-hard classicists, but navy suits are vastly overrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike them. I will always feel obliged to own one; in certain situations, both professional and personal, nothing else will do.

But their proudest owners are so doggedly attached to them, so reluctant to wear anything else that they have begun to irritate me.

“They’re the smartest suits, and the most flattering” one acquaintance argued.

“Precisely” chimes another “you can wear any colour shirt or tie with them. They’re faultless.”

It’s true that navy is an excellent border for colourful shirts and ties. The darkness of the tone brings the brightness of other items to the fore.

But the real problem of navy suits is that the fabric always looks cheaper than it actually is. Particularly on a bright, sunny day.

I met some professional acquaintances recently on a warm, clement day in Mayfair. The women were strutting the streets in oversized white sunglasses; the Gulf-plated Rolls Royces had their roofs down, and were wafting through the streets like Rivas down the Grand Canal.

It was an idyllic day. However, it was also a working day and unfortunately, we were obliged to talk shop, so decided it might make it more bearable to lunch al fresco.

Both men were wearing navy suits in fine super wool and neither of them lost any time in telling me that they had them made at the same bespoke tailor. They were obviously well cut; the shoulders smooth and well-shaped, the waist sculpted and flattering.

However, aside from the cut, you couldn’t tell these suits cost in excess of £1000. In the bright sunshine, the smooth texture of the super wool reflected the light, making them look shiny. The navy, which in darker interiors and on a cloudy day was richly saturated, looked washed out and the fabrics – which were, they informed me, decent quality VBC – looked far cheaper than they actually were.

On the way back from the lunch, I walked past an elderly gentleman in a hopsack navy suit. The shoulders on his jacket were a little off, and he was about two chest sizes smaller than the garment, but somehow, the rougher texture married well with the bright sunshine. There was no shine, just a deep, matte blue.

In short, the super wools that proliferate and dominate the inventories of entry level online tailors aren’t as sophisticated as they sound. In fact, they can make a beautifully made suit look rather cheap. The fineness of the weave creates a smooth surface that is more reflective and under the harsh scrutiny of a midday sun is distractingly glossy.

There are two solutions I would advocate; wear a light grey sharkskin or Glen check – which look far superior when the sky is blue and the sun is high – or only purchase navy suits with a texture. A textured fabric also has the added benefit of utility; looking less like a suit orphan, it can be deployed as a blazer.


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.