Meet the Man Who Turned Berluti Into a Menswear Giant

For well over a century, Berluti has been synonymous with quality leather footwear. Since its founding in 1898, the historic luxury house has crafted exquisite dress shoes for the likes of Dean Martin, Andy Warhol and the Duke of Windsor.

But in 2011, the label decided to move beyond its established niche. It hired Alessandro Sartori — the brainchild behind the sporty Z Zegna line for Ermenegildo Zegna — as Artistic Director, and tasked him with carving out a full ready-to-wear identity for Berluti. The 49-year-old Italian was more than up to the task: in the four years since his appointment, Berluti has gained a cult following for its easy tailoring, unorthodox use of colour, and, of course, incredibly covetable leather goods—with shoes still very much at the forefront.

Sharp caught up with Sartori in Toronto to discuss his superlative Spring/Summer ’16 collection, the distinctive textiles the brand is known for and how the Berluti man has evolved since he first took the reins.

What were your main points of inspiration for the Spring/Summer ’16 collection?

I took inspiration from the fantastic work of the architect Le Corbusier [Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris] when he worked with the Indian government to design a city — the most modern city at the time, Chandigarh. He used a lot of concrete, creating a grey sharp background with dry colours. It was a strong inspiration for the collection as far as the shapes, the colours and these ideas of grey and beige. So all the pieces in the collection were dyed in grey before being dyed their final colour. If you see blue, green, red it was grey before, not white.

How did this inspiration influence the silhouettes in the collection?

The shapes are kind of simple yet boxy, both for pants and for jackets. But mostly I wanted it to be light, whether it was a boxy top or a full fit bottom. So the second innovation aside from the dyeing tricks was that we were working very hard to find very light leather and fabric and yarns that are very sharp. So basically there were very sharp blousons or coats but then the weight was almost nothing — like 300 grams or 400 grams. The reason why is because we are working with a lot of new materials such as kangaroo, cotton and paper.

How do you work with paper as a fabric?

What I really like is that the paper reacts in a similar way to linen, or linen and cotton without being so easy to wrinkle. It was very interesting to blend completely different fibers because the final feeling is that you have something that is sharp and at the same time super light yet water repellent.

Other than it reflecting your inspiration from the city and the architecture, why do you think those looser, boxier silhouettes feel modern?

I like the idea of this sharpness yet a relaxed attitude, still being easy and cool for summer. Some of these materials treated that way were giving the feel of being comfortable and sharp. Or some of the designs with those materials were sharp, comfortable, light and modern. And at the same time, I really like a sharp silhouette for summer because I have a feeling there’s a lot to the final look. Bold, light and sharp to me is the way to go for the summer season.

There’s still a big focus on suiting and tailoring but it feels a lot more casual than ever before, why do you think that is?

I really like the idea of styling everything more simple yet deeper. I prefer to go fresher with T-shirts and with knits instead of going shirt and tie and other accessories. I find it more right and more modern, personally.

Looking at the accessories, what was the reason behind the matte treatment on the grey bags?

We did two treatments; both came from the idea of giving this concrete feeling to the leather. One you can see on the green items in the collection, which is a glossy finish on super light leather and it’s water repellent and beautiful to the touch. We did the same treatment in matte, and that one is the matte that you’re mentioning. We did it for jackets, leather shirts, leather jackets and mostly leather bags.

You’ve ultimately defined the ready-to-wear identity for Berluti since your appointment in 2011. Is the Berluti man the same since your first collection, or has he changed?

He is definitely evolving, and I see young people becoming attracted to the brand more and more. This started mostly from Japan and Paris and is becoming a really strong base for the brand. Our customer evolves and the collection itself is deeper and bolder as a result.