Why Berluti’s creative director wants women to feel at home in his menswear designs

Haider Ackermann says he set out to make the French fashion house’s autumn-winter 2017 collection offer an attitude for men and women without dictating their choices

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 4:58pm

Berluti creative director Haider Ackermann says he doesn’t like variety, but you wouldn’t know it from his debut for the revived heritage brand.

“You know there’s a word that I hate nowadays: ‘diversity’ – I find it quite an ugly word, but that was actually the case for the show because I wanted to reach an audience that the clothes all fit,” says Ackermann.

It’s a day after his debut (autumn-winter 2017) show on the Paris Men’s Fashion Week catwalks and he’s looking dapper, though a little exhausted, sitting behind his desk at the brand’s Paris headquarters.

“With my vision for Berluti, you could be a shaved guy, a long-haired guy, a more romantic guy or more rough. You can be a business guy with those more classic guys I sent down the runway, but also [I want the clothes to work] on women too. The collection belongs to everyone. I give an attitude but don’t want to dictate your clothes.”

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And true to his words, it was a critically lauded Berluti debut with a wide variety of men and women modelling. (“There’s nothing sexier than a woman in menswear,” he says.) The show was a statement of inclusion and individuality that’s not always easy to pull off with such aesthetic cohesion on a catwalk.

The mood was inspired by the sensuality of night, “a man waking at dawn after a wealth of nocturnal experiences”. Francis Bacon paintings inspired peculiar colour contrasts for a line-up that included a deep mustard, textured, impeccably tailored coat and a pale pink, lightweight parka. The look is edgier than Berluti clients are used to, such as a long-haired guy with a leather guitar case thrown over his shoulder, but Ackermann is careful not to alienate more traditional men.

“I don’t think that we want the Berluti man to be the edgy man,” he says. “I think it was just a way to democratise the whole thing and open up. It’s a question of styling and casting on the runway, which is a projected vision – but I would love the old client to still be there. When you look at the pieces it’s still very relevant and Berluti.”

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Other covetable pieces included a bomber jacket in grey cashmere and a black leather aviator jacket with red crocodile lapel detailing. There’s a fantastic royal blue velvet tuxedo relaxed for daywear and lush roll neck sweaters, accessorised with lace-up boots of the deepest green, or masculine oversized croco bags.

“I think luxury is when you say ‘Hi ‘to someone, touch his coat and just love the feeling – so much it makes you stop for a second,” Ackermann says.

A Parisian cobbler and shoemaker founded by an Italian in 1895, Berluti was acquired by LVMH in 1993, then revamped and revived after Antoine Arnault, son and heir of LVMH owner Bernard Arnault, stepped in as CEO in 2012. The famously deep, almost jewel-toned patinas that are a defining feature of Berluti leather shoes provided a starting point for the men’s fashion line when then-creative director Alessandro Sartori (who left to helm Zegna) launched it in 2013 as part of the brand’s transformation.

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For Ackermann, the obsession became how fashion, like these patinas, could develop over time. So there’s a luxuriously worn-in aspect to his collection. The point is never to create for a season or two, but to transcend trends for something more permanent or timeless.

“The world of fast fashion is not something that interests me,” he says, shaking his head. “I bought designer clothes 10 years ago that I’m still wearing. That’s very nice, the intimacy that you have with your clothes.“

Intimacy is right. At the small VIP dinner the evening after the show, a scattering of celebrities including Usher and Tilda Swinton lent some star power, but the focus was clearly on Ackermann – the man of the moment.

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“I honestly think that he was happy,” the designer says.“That was also the whole purpose of Monsieur Arnault putting his trust in my hands. It’s quite a challenge, I think there were other candidates in the running who were perhaps more entitled to have this position. But he went on the edgy side, it was not the most obvious choice.”

What Ackermann is bringing to this LVMH brand is enticing. But what the designer really wants is much more concrete. “Figures”, he smiles – as in bigger sales and commercial clout.

“I would love that. If we could increase sales I think that’s when we win the game, because at the end of the day, the biggest compliment is when real people buy and wear your clothes on the street. There’s nothing more touching than this.”