There are two important points to note about these commentators, though. The first concedes that he wears his Berluti shoes relatively rarely, as shoes for a special occasion and generally for evening wear. They are therefore not on a heavy rotation and rarely receive a full day’s use. He admits they are a little delicate, as many fine things are, and should be treated as such.
This suggests to me that while Berluti makes a fine pair of shoes, they should not be the second or third pair you buy. Get the basics first, your essential black oxfords and chocolate derbys – the shoes you will wear to work, the shoes you will wear more than once a week.
Then consider Berluti as something special. For you this may mean they are your fifth pair of high-end shoes. For these commentators I rather suspect they are their ninth or twelfth.
The second point is that the more critical Berluti customer still owns a pair, and without regret. Despite his reservations about the quality of the construction, he is happy he bought a pair and would do so again. This is true of almost all detractors of Berluti that I have seen: they still love the pair they own.
This reinforces the impression of Berluti as an exception, a treat. No matter how many great pairs of solidly-built English shoes you own, a little bit of moon-painted frippery will get you eventually (Berluti famously claims that the patinas on some of its shoes are painted by the light of the moon, enhancing their effect. Rubbish, of course, but it all adds to their frankly very successful PR mythology.)
The second point also shows that there is more than one way to judge a pair of shoes. Edward Green and John Lobb are generally considered to be among the best-constructed shoes available. But some of the designs leave me a little cold. I own a pair of Oundle monk-fronts on the 888 last from Edward Green – a long look with a chiselled toe. But the more conservative lasts, such as 202, just seem stumpy to my eye. The same comment has been made about some Vass shoes – they are wonderfully made but you’d never want to put them on your feet.
At some point, you pay for design. With Berluti, this is a large portion of what you pay for. Some of the designs are just horrible (Rapieces-Reprises) and some are gorgeous (Piercing). But Olga is famed for pushing the envelope on design, with new shapes, engraving, personalised tattoos and chunky rubber soles. Many of her innovations, like the brogueing on wholecuts, have now been copied by several other designers.
In conclusion, buy Berluti as an extravagance and buy it for its design. They’re well-made (I don’t believe the rumours about basic construction being done in China today) but they won’t hold up too well after several trips to the pub, or after a few English winters of cold slushy rain.
I’m more a fan of Pierre Corthay these days. But more of that in the next posting.