“One problem for luxury in this digital moment is that it can become hard to differentiate itself from mass market product, because anyone with a budget can make a video in which there is good looking product… and at the moment there is a lot of cheating going on! This is why I thought it was necessary to ensure that at least some people will be able to touch the clothes—although unfortunately not you.” So said Kris Van Assche during our preview Zoom, held (quite a long time) before today’s pandemic delayed live presentation (with a real live audience, who will be encouraged to touch the pieces) in Shanghai.
Projected image is one significant factor in the equation of clothing, while worn sensation is another. Van Assche challenged himself and Berluti’s Italian craftspeople to surpass themselves in both regards in this collection by working in partnership with the Russian artist Lev Khesin, who has said of his work: “probably every viewer’s first question is, ‘may I touch the painting?’”
Khesin’s beautiful abstract pieces demand to be felt both by eye and hand thanks to a painstaking process of layering and then removal of many stratae of silicon and paint. Van Assche observed a parallel with Berluti’s famous application of many layers of polish on its shoes to create patina, and worked to combine the two, challenging the artisans to reproduce 10 of Khesin’s works in media including silk shirting, a fantastic mohair suite, and hand-stitched embroidery on outerwear.
Another challenge laid down by the designer was to transfer the Norweigan stitch—through which the Berluti upper is attached to the Berluti sole—into the ready-to-wear, where it centered the piping in highly lovable quilted leather jackets and some casual yet sumptuous checked track tops. As Van Assche observed: “It’s important to maintain craft but it’s also important to stir things up a little from time to time, because sometimes the product of craft does not really innovate itself.”
This, added Van Assche, was the first collection in his now three year tour of duty at Berluti in which that famous patina has been successfully transferred from footwear to ready-to-wear, and the almost light-emitting finish on a many-polished shades-of-purple leather jacket was testament to that. More broadly, this Berluti collection felt the tug of menswear’s prevailing wind vis-a-vis tailoring. There was construction here, but in “broken” suiting cut loosely to allow movement and reflect denormalization, or as he observed: “to give the beauty of dressing up but not the stiffness that tends to go with it.” Double-faced cashmere semi-suits mixing workwear-derived jacketing and pants were another offering handsomely in tune with the times.
As our Zoom wound to its close, Van Assche said he sees his role at Berluti as “giving future to historical craft” by acting as the catalyst through which that craft is provoked into new forms of expression. To my eye this collection finely demonstrated the potency of these designer-fired creative catalytic conversions between artisan savoir-faire and cultural innovation. That audience in Shanghai will tell us if it is equally dreamy to touch.