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Make Berluti Your Fifth Pair. Part 1: Construction

16 July 2008

Many people a sartorial bent idolise Berluti shoes. And well they may. Olga Berluti designs beautiful footwear that stands out for its sleek lines and subtle patinas. But there are many questions over the quality of its construction.

Let’s start with the certainties. Berluti shoes, like many made in Italy (they are constructed in the Stefano Bi factory outside Ferrara, though designed in France), are Blake constructed. This means that the shoe’s upper is folded underneath itself and sewn directly onto the sole of the shoe, unlike Goodyear welts which involve sewing the upper onto a new ridge of leather, before attaching that to the sole.

Most English shoes and their American heirs (Alden, Allen Edmonds) use Goodyear welts. They make the shoe more water resistant and tougher. They also make it easier and quicker to resole the shoe. So Berluti shoes are less likely to stand up to rain and general dampness.

They can be resoled, but it requires a Blake-specific machine. Cobblers that use these can be hard to find, but then if you’re going to pay Berluti prices for shoes you should really send them back to the manufacturer to get resoled and rebuilt to maximise their longevity.

The advantage of Blake construction is that the sole can be cut a lot closer to the upper, leaving less of a lip and making the design sleeker. The width of a sole around the upper varies hugely among Goodyear-welted shoes, but none are quite as thin as Blake-made models.

Blake shoes are not necessarily of inferior quality. Although the technique was originally created to make it easier to produce shoes in a factory, and some very poorly made Blake shoes are churned out in Italy, the top quality lines are expertly made.

But they are more delicate. Quite how delicate Berluti shoes are is a matter of some debate. Some say they have worn them for years without any major problems. Others report that they wrinkled badly and did not hold up well to continued use.

In an online forum intended to discuss such matters, one Berluti enthusiast said “I have been a customer since 1998. I believe their shoes are very well made, there are a couple of pairs I have worn for a long time and they are holding up beautifully.”

A more critical customer pointed out: “One issue with Berluti ready-to-wear is the use of Venezia leather. According to Berluti PR, this leather allows for the beautiful patina available on Berluti shoes. Unfortunately, it is also quite thin and delicate, which means that they can look very wrinkled after some wear.”

The conclusion to this debate will appear here later in the week…