READY TO WEAR SHOES
If you are interested in shoes, you will know the name Berluti. Indeed, if you frequent luxury hotels or care about great motor cars, you will also probably be familiar with the look of Berluti – for display cases full of exquisite Berluti footwear are to be found in many of the places you visit. Every time I leave the Ritz in London or pop into the Berkeley Square showroom of Jack Barclay (Authorised Dealer in Bentley motor cars), I admire the lustrous sheen which is a characteristic of Berluti leather.
I thought it was about time my feet had a treat, so I took myself off to Conduit Street – round the corner from Savile Row, on the way to Bond Street, and thus very well placed for we avid shoppers – to the new Berluti emporium. Although I say ‘new’, it has been open several years; but this is a mere blink in the firm’s long history. Alessandro Berluti arrived in Paris from Italy to start his business back in 1895, and since then the rich and fashionable have been wandering through the salons of Europe in his wares. I have been to the Parisian headquaters, now located in the rue Marbeuf in the 8th arrondissement, and very pleasant they are. Yet the London shop is better by far.
The street door is discreet. Upon your first entrance you might suppose you have taken a wrong turning, for there is little to indicate that this long, elegant chamber is a place of trade. A fireplace, some leather armchairs and a life-size model of a cow (yes, it takes some getting used to, but in time you will find it strangely welcoming). All seems quiet, and then from a long way off a well-dressed gentleman will approach. This will probably be either Pierre-Antoine Dillemann, the manager, or Cyrille Pinon, the colourist. Both are from Paris, both are young and both are charming. You will know at once that you are in good hands.
I wondered whether I should think about a pair of bespoke shoes (made in Paris) for £2,000. But there is a year’s wait. While I pondered the elasticity of my patience, the ready-to-wear shoes (made in Italy) – set out in a long line near the back of the shop – murmured their syren call, and I succumbed. They cost £420 to £690. Let me tell you at once that they could not be mistaken for English shoes. You will look in vain for standard Oxfords, brogues and semi-brogues. Instead, you will find shoes which appear slim, long and light – the sort of style which would have appealed to a Regency dandy.
For me only one design would do: the classic lace-up shoe (£570) – created a hundred years ago by Alessandro Berluti himself and revised by his great niece, Olga, in 1992. The upper is made from a single piece of leather, with three eyelets and with no visible stitching. These shoes just ooze quality. What fascinated me, too, was the possibility of so many different colours – black, brown, green, blue, pink, yellow, red… And here we must note the importance of Cyrille Pinon, the colourist. For he it is who takes shoes with a standard finish – say, light brown – strips them back, makes repeated applications of the desired colour and finishes by expertly re-awakening the lustrous Berluti shine. (And all this for no extra cost.) For me he created bright red shoes which bring a smile to my face every time I wear them. This is quite often, for it is surprising how often red shoes set off even clothes as conservative as mine. And they are as comfortable as they are elegant.
I should mention another important aspect of visiting 43 Conduit Street. You are made to feel extraordinarily welcome. In Paris some Berluti customers have even formed themselves into a club (named Swann, after the character in Proust) and meet to converse and… polish their shoes. This institution has yet to reach London, but even I – in my very short career as a Berluti Boy – have enjoyed many cups of excellent coffee and not a few glasses of champagne in the Berluti shop. Such courtesy (and the intrinsic excellence of the product) makes me think it will not be long before Monsieur Pinon will be applying his magic on my behalf once more – this time, I fancy, to create something in yellow for the summer.
If you are interested in shoes and have yet to try Berluti, you have a treat in store.
43 Conduit Street, London, W.1., England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 437 1740
Fax +44 (0)207 437 1738
26 rue Marbeuf, Paris 75008, France.
Telephone +33 (0)1 53 93 97 97