Olga Berluti, perfection in men's shoes Featured

The extraordinary and closely guarded traditions of the Berluti gentlemen's club.
by 03 July 2009

“YOUR SHOES HAVE A SOUL” is the motto of the Berluti house. And surely she knows something about that: by that we naturally mean Olga Berluti, the lady of the shoes, who translated the pret-à-chasseur into a proper work of art, an art to be fully experienced day after day. A woman in a men’s world: Olga is the only female shoemaking master in the world. Politicians, statesmen, artists and celebrities, (such as Truffaut, Cocteau and Sergio Leone), have wore her elegant and refined loafers: “For thirty years I’ve been at men’s feet”, she jokes.

Last heir of a family which, in the history of costume, is synonymous with excellence (the tradition dates back to 1865, when pioneer Alessandro Berluti, from Senigallia, opened his very first atelier in Paris, and immediately appealed to aesthetes and aristocrats), Olga started her career in the legendary Parisian boutique of Rue Marbeuf in 1959, when she was only 16.

Hers was a deep traineeship, during which she became more and more aware of the special role that such an aesthetic and practical accessory can play in a man’s life. After long studies on technique and foot-physiology (“I sought the advice of surgeons because shoes must fit perfectly”), she extraordinarily re-interpreted her family rules. A material and poetic journey which led her to generate new manufacturing techniques, thus creating a personal and experimental language. Starting from the patination: “It allows you to achieve a brand new depth of colours”.

Every single collection born from the genius of Olga carries the imprint of a beauty-loving personality. From the models created for Andy Warhol (“a friend, an inspirer”) to the reassessments of the great classics, such as the laced loafer, the family emblem since the forties, to the most daring lines: Piercing and Tatouage. “Beside loving shoes, I absolutely adore leather. I’ve always wanted to apply to leather shoes some physical marks scars, scratches, stripping of the flesh, piercings. Now the new dandies can mark their shoes just like their bodies, choosing the signs and patterns they like”.
 

The luxury of luxury, for the admirers of Olga Berluti’s work, is the admission to the Swann Club (homage to Proust’s hero): an authentic gentlemen’s club, founded in 1992, which gathers the most affectionate customers. The idea came unexpectedly, from the more and more frequent and long meetings within the Parisian boutique, where customers would chat and tell their own stories to each others. “So why not to create a proper club? – she explains. “There’s only one rule. No boring people admitted”. The last meeting took place a few weeks ago in Paris, in the Marie-Antoinette salon of Plaza Athénée. The locations and countries are never the same, and neither are the dates. We only know that members (about a hundred at the moment) come from all over the world. We also know that at every gathering they celebrate the exclusive collective ritual “des souliers”: all shoes on the table, to commence the leather massage, with crèmes wrapped up inside Venetian linens. For the final touch, a champagne-polishing: a few drops of Dom Pérignon and the work is done.

This is how the philosophy of these shoes – Olga Berluti’s jewels – is perpetuated and renewed just like the greatest traditions can be.

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