Refinement & Artistry: Berluti’s Gaspard shoes and accessories collection
One of the most surprising and counterintuitive realities of these economic times has been the market-defying success of luxury fashion houses. It’s as if many of us have purchased our Hermès silk ties, Vuitton monogrammed luggage and Tom Ford suits in pursuit of reassurance. The world is so unpredictable, we seem to be asserting, that we need to clothe ourselves in articles of consummate craftsmanship, exquisite quality and proven pedigree- Berluti’s Gaspard collection of shoes and accessories is high fashion as triple-ply cashmere security blanket.
Berluti’s latest Gaspard collection is technically innovative
For those of us who are, indeed, steadying ourselves with the ballast of luxury, it comes as a relief that LVMH, having bought the Franco-Italian house of Berluti back in 1993, have launched a ready-to-wear collection alongside their signature shoes and boots. Under the helm of LVMH’s heir-apparent Antoine Arnault, along with Creative Director Alessandro Sartori (formerly of Z Zegna), Berluti is repositioning itself at the very summit of men’s luxury clothing and accessories. And it’s the sort of place where a man’s coat will be layered with black mink and his briefcase comes lined in Testa di Moro calfskin.
The reinventing of Berluti’s DNA is best seen in their Gaspard collection of shoes and leather accessories. Made from the ‘Venezia’ near-patent, high-shine yet pliable leather that’s become a signature for the house, each piece — be it belt, shoe or briefcase — has a deep fissure or slash inspired by the work of the mid-century Italo-Argentinian avant-garde artist Lucio Fontana.
Taking a plain, sometimes boldly monochromed painter’s canvas, Fontana would use a Stanley knife to slash lines through its surface like an antibourgeois anarchist occupying a gallery. The resulting artwork was often surprisingly beautiful, serene even, the plainness of the canvas clashing with the aggressive cutting by the artist. In 2008, one of Fontana’s slashed canvases known as the Teresita, dedicated to the artist’s wife, was sold at Christie’s for £6.7 million.
Far from producing the punk effect that the idea of slashing might imply, the Gaspard range — like Fontana’s works — looks elegant and unique. It’s as if the slashed line across the back and front of a briefcase, for instance, is an opportunity for showing the craftsmanship of the house, rather than a dismissive commentary on fashion implied by, say, the Occupy movement. The cut is hand-topstitched at either end to secure the fissure and the folded leather inside. The depth of the cut is given greater emphasis by the darker gradations of patina supplied by the colour and finish.
The supple hides ensure that the slash incision will be as fine and neat as if applied by a surgeon’s scalpel.
The shank and waist of the shoes have been reworked, giving a lengthened, leaner line to the foot as if to say, ‘I may have an artfully plashed slash across the point of my patent oxford shoes, but I’ll still look damn elegant while I go about my business!’ For Berluti, this contrast between anarchy and elegance is described gleefully as an ‘impertinence’. (A stylish dash of audacity — we approve.) The other styles are a derby and a low boot, and the colours include black, grey and golden tan. Furthermore, these particular shoes are made of ‘Venezia light’, which uses the leather from younger animals, ensuring that the hides are even more supple than the signature Venezia leather. This also ensures that the slash incision will be as fine and neat as if applied by a surgeon’s scalpel.
Clutch cases and briefcases are scarred across the front and back of the bags and secured, like the Gaspard-range shoes, with double handsewn topstitching. Lucio Fontana often placed black gauze behind the slashes on his famous canvases to give a 3D depth to his ‘Concetto Speziale’ artwork. Similarly, by using the darkening effects of a deeper patina along with the slashed surface, the depth and refinement of the cut into each bag is given emphasis in Sartori’s collection, like lowlights in a dramatic painting by Diego Velázquez.
At a recent launch for the world’s first Berluti store-within-a-store in Harrods, London, Antoine Arnault entertained his audience of journalists and buyers with the story of how he was given his first pair of Berluti boots by this father for his 18th birthday. “At the time, I was more interested in listening to Nirvana than thinking about luxury men’s footwear,” he said. “Yet, I kept these perfect boots in their box, and often would take them out and admire them. After a while, I came to appreciate just how much craftsmanship and excellence had gone into their manufacture. And here I am now as the head of the revamped brand.”
Lucio Fontana wrote his ideas on art in the ‘White Manifesto’ of 1946, stating: “Matter, colour and sound in motion are the phenomena whose simultaneous development makes up the new art.” Which could just be a fancy way of describing a man tapping along the street in his Berluti Gaspard-shod feet as his leather soles clip smartly along the city pavements.