Past & Present

Creative director Kris Van Assche presents SIGNATURE, Berluti’s first pattern canvas

The House of Berluti, and the family that established it, is one marked by innovation, entrepreneurship and artistry. Alessandro, Torello, Talbinio and Olga Berluti each contributed something vital to the craft of shoemaking, revitalising their offering during the Roaring Twenties, post WWII, heady late 60s, 80s, and beyond. As a young Talbinio once noted, “The spirit of the House lies in the craftsman’s respect and the artist’s disobedience.” Now, creative director Kris Van Assche looks back at over a century of work to create Berluti’s very first pattern canvas printed with a unique seal.  

The former artistic director of Dior Homme joined the Maison in 2018, and with his debut collection back in 2019 translated the brand’s iconic artisanal leather and marble workshop tables into prints for silk shirts, tailored jacquards and a patinaed leather suit. This same homage to heritage, one that fluidly mixes past and present, is apparent in SIGNATURE. Inspired by extensive archives, Van Assche has created a motif combining Berluti’s new logo – taken from the shoe tree of the very first pair of shoes made by Alessandro Berluti – and the elegant strokes of the iconic Scritto motif, a nod to the calligraphy of Olga Berluti.

At the close of the 19th Century, a teenage Alessandro sought his fortunes in Paris, quickly earning a reputation as a talented bootmaker skilled with wooden lasts. The brand’s spiritual and physical home is paid tribute to in the line’s palate of black, slate and lead grey – reminiscent of a muted Parisian landscape – while the pattern canvas is applied to the brand’s infamous hand-patinated Venezia leather (a supple material which owes its existence to Olga, who first developed it using natural and mineral tanning), finished with trademark leather details and bootmaker studs.  

“My idea was to design a printed canvas that would look as if it had always existed in the archives”, explains Van Assche. “The more I think of the future, the more I want to anchor it in a historical context. SIGNATURE Canvas creates a bridge between the past and the present.”

In addition to belts, trainers and wallets, the line offers a variety of briefcases, cross-body bags, clutches, totes, backpacks and a sailor bag. And, although international travel currently remains a dream for many, Berluti has collaborated with British luxury travel brand Globe-Trotter to create a complete travel capsule – eight hard cases in different formats – using the SIGNATURE Canvas. Formed of hand patinated leather handles, corners, and leather straps, the suitcases’ hardy but lightweight base is achieved by compressing 14 layers of Japanese paper to create an organically textured shell. Here’s hoping that lockdown is lifted sooner, rather than later.

The SIGNATURE Canvas collection is available in Berluti stores and online

Fade to Black

George Upton discovers the inspiration behind Berluti’s AW19 collection for our latest issue 

In Berluti’s manufacturing facility in Ferrara sits a wide, square marble table, stained with intersecting rings of colour – semicircles of blue and orange and yellow, arcs of pink and green, dark circular smudges, sunk into the stone. It’s a hard, cold surface, smooth and unyielding, a visual record of the work of the brand’s master colourists, who are responsible for applying Berluti’s distinctive patina to the shoes by hand. It is also, for Kris Van Assche – the creative director of the Italian-founded, Parisian maison – a source of inspiration: His collection for Berluti this autumn centres on a print made from an image of the table, repeated across shirts, suits and coats, the smudged colours providing the palette for the rest of the collection.

Developed in the ’80s by Olga Berluti, who inherited the brand from her grandfather and uncle, the patina is a closely guarded secret involving a combination of solvents, essential oils, pigments and dyes that are applied to the leather. Designed to age with time, to evolve as the shoe is worn, the process creates unique shades and nuances in the leather, as well as, under Olga’s direction, facilitating the introduction of a new, vibrant spectrum of colours to sit alongside the traditional black and brown.

One of the master colourists at the Berluti factory took Port through the process:

First and foremost, it’s vital to use good-quality products. The material we use, Venezia leather, was developed by Olga Berluti. It is full grain and uncoated, which makes it a perfect base for the patina. We start by lightening the shoe, stripping it back, before we massage it with essential oils that are imbued with natural pigments and different types of wax.

Then, using brushes, sponges and cloth rags, we start colouring. The patina effect we often apply, which we call ‘cloudy’, requires two types of colour, one that is transparent and another that we call ‘smoky’. The transition between the two has to be as smooth as possible; to find the perfect balance can take well over an hour.

Lighter colours are more difficult to master, as even the slightest flaw shows up, and multicoloured patinas can be particularly demanding as many different colours are needed to achieve the best transition. The biggest challenge, however, comes with dramatic colour changes, such as brown to red, on a pair that has already been worn a lot. On Kris Van Assche’s SS19 collection, he introduced ‘reversed patina’: a base of very dark black on to which brighter colours are added (blue or red for this range). The colour placement has to be carefully considered, depending on the shape of the shoe, so the transition to black remains beautiful.

Photography Piergiorgio Sorgetti

This article is taken from issue 24. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here