With first-hand access to some of the world's best sartorial artisans and ateliers, one would assume Alessandro Sartori reinvents and updates his wardrobe staples every season, if not every week. The artistic director of Berluti, however, alters his cherished pieces before going on a new-season shopping spree.
"Every year before the new season starts, I love trying out all my old suits, tailored jackets, pants and shoes," Sartori says. "I do my own fitting with pins and a little notebook in hand. I alter the styles [in trend] for the coming season, such as tighter pants, shorter jackets or different cuffs before I go shop for my new key pieces."
Sartori's wardrobe curation philosophy, which blends the old and the new, is in sync with how he approaches his designs.
"I adore the contrast of a rich heritage and a modern approach in [design]," Sartori says. "Having a strong archive [as foundation] and employing innovative design methods, for me, is the best way to reinvigorate a traditional brand."
Sartori joined Berluti in July 2011, soon after luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton's acquisition of the heritage brand which was founded in 1895. The appointment was made by Berluti CEO Antoine Arnault, whose father Bernard chairs the board of the LVMH group.
The veteran designer, who formerly worked with Ermenegildo Zegna to launch its Z Zegna line, was put at the helm of Berluti not only to revitalise the traditional maison's shoe designs, but also to expand product offerings to leather goods, accessories and ready-to-wear according to market demand.
"We noticed that many customers were asking [for] clothes to complete their wardrobe," Sartori says. "We honestly felt that there's a demand in the market for a collection that's handcrafted with top-quality fabrics."
To support Berluti's ready-to-wear expansion and further the brand's influence in the sector of high-end men's fashion, LVMH acquired French made-to-measure men's clothing company Arnys in 2012. Arnys, founded in 1933, has been a Parisian institution for sartorial excellence. Sartori works closely with the artisans to develop collections in the atelier at Arnys and also in Berluti's new factory in Ferrara, northern Italy, which opened in January this year.
The experience of working alongside artisans with combined knowhow which is centuries old fuels Sartori's creative inspirations.
"I have a unique opportunity to express myself [creatively] since we have 50 artisans in our workshop dedicated to the development of new models, creating prototypes and samples," Sartori says.
"I just spent a few days in Ferrara with my team, and we were creating for the new collection directly with the artisans. Every moment of this artisanal and unique process was genuinely enjoyable."
Berluti's ready-to-wear features classic silhouettes with top-quality fabrics and craftsmanship that are indigenous to the maison. Backed by the expertise of artisans, Sartori is bold with colours and details when it comes to designing, from a treated silk trench that looks like leather from afar but is lightweight, to ultra-sleek wool tailored jogging pants dipped in forest green.
"On top of these, my trademark in terms of silhouette is a mix of volume with oversized outerwear worn over fitted narrow suits and jackets. This kind of contrast is my expression of modernity," Sartori says.
The successful launch made Berluti one of the first few traditional accessories brands to expand to ready-to-wear. For example, there's Tod's collaboration with Alessandra Facchinetti, who used to work at Valentino and Gucci, and Coach's sought-after fashion collection by creative director Stuart Vevers.
The main challenge in reinventing the luxury shoemaker as a high-end men's lifestyle brand has been to find the perfect balance between innovation and heritage, Sartori says.
"The perfect balance is to offer an innovative alternative while remaining firmly rooted in the Berluti ethos," he says. "Staying true to our traditions, paying attention to details and complying with the rules of cutting and assembly are the cornerstone of Berluti expertise."
Berluti's contemporary yet classic ready-to-wear collection appeals not only to its existing loyal clientele, but also a younger generation of connoisseurs. Sartori infuses modern designs for the shoe collection, such as the Playtime sneakers and the Alessio Lace-up Oxfords, unveiled this year for Berluti's 120th anniversary.
"For sure the new fashionable and chic styles are attracting new clients, but for me, a Berluti man could be in his mid-20s wearing a three-piece suit or a 65-year-old gentleman pairing jeans with a leather jacket," Sartori says. "The style and attitude of the man is what I'm looking for, not his age."
Born in Biella, Italy, Sartori developed a passion for craftsmanship during childhood. "My mother was a tailor and she had her own workshop," he recalls. "She has always been my teacher. Since I was a kid, I had enjoyed watching her work and tried my own [skills by] cutting, sewing and ironing fabrics. I was enchanted by craftsmanship and fell in love with the idea that from a sketch and with a small piece of fabric, you can dress a person and create his style."
The Berluti man, for Sartori, has a strong character, pays attention to details and craves for his own style identity. "Jeremy Irons and Maurizio Cattelan are representing our ideal man at the best," he says. "[The Berluti man] has a personal way of interpreting the [trend] without following [the crowd]."
Catering to detail-oriented connoisseurs, Sartori stresses the importance of bespoke services that set the maison apart from its competition. "More customers are looking for uniqueness," he says. "They want exclusive products and personalised treatments. Our client can create his shoes with details from the fabric to the last, the construction and more. Each meeting with a bespoke customer provides an opportunity for unfettered creativity inspired by our values and the personality and wishes of the shoes' future owner."
The sought-after "Tattoo" technique, for example, requires veteran artisans to hand-paint with tattoo guns onto shoes and other leather accessories.
"I believe that luxury is the time you spend on designing and manufacturing a [well-crafted] product, and the expert hands behind it," Sartori says.
Born in Biella, Italy
Earns a degree in fashion in Milan
Joins Ermenegildo Zegna and becomes creative director of Z Zegna
Z Zegna makes its debut runway presentation at New York Fashion Week
Is appointed artistic director at Berluti
Shows his first collection at École des Beaux-Arts