PARIS — When Kris Van Assche arrived at Berluti in April 2018, he found a brand whose heritage was mostly confined to its classic patinated leather shoes. So the Belgian designer went about inventing new historical markers for the house, composed of elements of the past with a modern twist.
Enter Berluti’s new Signature canvas, which breaks down parts of the Scritto, its signature 18th-century manuscript motif, and the logo Van Assche introduced at the start of his tenure, based on the letters carved into a wooden shoe tree dating back to 1895, the year founder Alessandro Berluti established himself as a shoemaker.
“I really wanted it to look like an instant classic,” Van Assche told WWD of his newly created canvas design, which features a seal containing the words Berluti and Paris, the date 1895 or the letter B. “It looks as if we found it somewhere in the archives — that was totally the point — but it’s a new chapter.”
To mark the debut of the canvas, available in a single colorway, Berluti is launching a collaboration with British luggage brand Globe-Trotter consisting of eight cases, ranging in size from a 26-inch trolley suitcase to a messenger bag with a leather cross-body strap.
The Signature motif will also appear on an in-house range of accessories, the first of which will drop online on Jan. 17 to coincide with Berluti’s fall ready-to-wear show. The Nino GM pouch, priced at 600 euros, will be available via the brand’s e-commerce site, and more designs will hit brick-and-mortar stores in April and June.
The accessories push is part of the strategy led by Antoine Arnault, chief executive officer of Berluti — part of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury conglomerate founded and headed by his father, Bernard Arnault — to capitalize on the momentum at the house, whose sales rose in the strong double digits last year.
In recent years, LVMH-owned brands have ignited the men’s accessories segment with high-profile collaborations such as Louis Vuitton and Supreme, and Dior and Rimowa, in addition to Virgil Abloh’s designs for men at Vuitton, such as a bag made with a fiber optic textile connected to rainbow-colored LED lights.
“The leather goods category is crucial because it’s growing very fast every year, and men everywhere are always on the lookout for newness,” said Antoine Arnault. “Our strategy is a little different, even if we are riding that wave of growth and that strength in leather goods, in the sense that we are focusing mainly on our staples.”
Indeed, Berluti is no newcomer to the scene. In addition to a range of tote bags, briefcases, clutches and backpacks, it sells the Formula 1004, a carry-on case that starts at 3,700 euros for a Scritto-patterned nylon version and goes up to 50,000 euros for the alligator leather variant, currently out of stock.
“What is new for us is collaborating with a brand like Globe-Trotter on luggage for the gentleman traveler. I think we’re very legitimate in that area, since our clientele is nomadic and they love to travel in style,” Arnault said. “It’s very timely.”
While LVMH-owned Dior and Fendi have collaborated with Rimowa, the German luggage-maker led by Antoine Arnault’s brother Alexandre, Van Assche had been a longtime fan of Globe-Trotter, a house founded in 1897 that has maintained its relevance through tie-ups with everyone from Paul Smith to Gucci.
“I’ve always been totally crazy about their products, because there’s such a high-end craft about it,” said Van Assche, referring to the company’s workshops in Hertfordshire, England, where artisans use original manufacturing methods and machinery dating back to the Victorian era.
“It felt so much like the right partnership for Berluti,” added the designer, noting the brand takes a similar approach at its “manifattura” in Ferrara, Italy, where artisans also hand-finish their creations with neat rows of nails. They feature on the products from the collaboration, alongside corners and handles in Berluti’s patinated Venezia leather, leather straps, and nickel hardware stamped with the Berluti logo.
Arnault said he gave Van Assche the green light for the tie-up. “I love Rimowa. I often travel with their cases and I think my brother is doing a remarkable job with the brand. But we don’t necessarily have to stick with a single supplier just because we own it,” he said. “I felt this made sense and so did Kris.”
Two trolleys and a shoe trunk from the Globe-Trotter collaboration will go on sale on April 15 alongside the first items from Berluti’s new Signature line. The rest of the products, including a rigid backpack and a watch box, will drop on June 15.
The Globe-Trotter range will be priced from 1,900 euros to 4,600 euros. In addition, Berluti plans to introduce around 15 references for leather goods and 15 for small leather goods and accessories for its pre-fall and fall collections, with price tags topping out at 2,500 euros — more accessible than the Venezia leather line.
“We had some seasonal propositions in nylon, but it was an obvious missing chapter within the development of any kind of accessories collection that we needed a canvas,” Van Assche said. “It’s not a graphic that is going to change every season. This is going to be installed as a new part of the Berluti offer — that’s also why it looks traditional.”
Shoes account for more than half of Berluti’s sales, leather goods for a little less than a third, and ready-to-wear for the remainder, said Arnault. “Leather goods are very profitable for us,” he noted. “We would like for the segment to continue growing in the strong double digits for many years to come.”
Leather goods and rtw outperformed footwear last year. Berluti’s overall growth was driven by Mainland China and the rest of Asia, excluding Hong Kong, where the brand has four stores. Together with other LVMH labels, the house is renegotiating its rent contracts there after seeing footfall drop by up to 60 percent, Arnault said.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan posted strong performances, while Europe was solid and the U.S. lagged, he added. “We don’t have a big presence in that market. New York and Los Angeles performed well, but it’s harder in smaller markets like Miami and Las Vegas,” Arnault conceded.
As part of its efforts to raise its U.S. visibility, Berluti recently staged an event at Art Basel Miami for the launch of Van Assche’s collaboration with the Paris-based Laffanour Galerie Downtown on 17 original Pierre Jeanneret furniture pieces from the Fifties, reupholstered in Venezia leather. Next September, its store on Madison Avenue will relocate to 57th Street.
Berluti, which operates some 60 stores worldwide, opened boutiques in Monte-Carlo, Monaco and Guangzhou, China, last year, in addition to shop-in-shops at Isetan in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district and Galeries Lafayette’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship in Paris. It also increased the size of its stores at The Galleria mall in Seoul and Shin Kong Place in Beijing.
It will add boutiques in Shenzhen, China and Geneva, Switzerland, in the second half of the year. Before that, it plans to open two shop-in-shops in South Korea: at the Lotte department store in the Jamsil district of Seoul, and Shinsegae’s flagship in Busan. In addition, Berluti will expand its Hankyu store in Osaka.
Arnault plans to branch out with new products, including an expanded selection of homewares. “We need to shine a spotlight on the unique and exclusive nature of our know-how in patina and color, and we’ll continue to do this with furniture, objects and other upcoming projects,” Arnault said.
Don’t expect a women’s collection, despite the regular presence of female models in Van Assche’s runway shows. “We don’t have infinite space in our stores, so I think we should focus on doing a good job of selling to men who know what they want, and not digress too much,” Arnault said.
He noted that Berluti, whose clientele over the years has included personalities such as Andy Warhol, Frank Sinatra, Robert De Niro and Yves Saint Laurent, stayed faithful to its roots even as other luxury labels went down the streetwear route — though Van Assche did introduce sweatshirts and a chunky sneaker.
“It’s good to be timeless,” Arnault said. “I think the success of Berluti today is tied to the fact that while everyone was chasing streetwear, people saw that we stayed true to ourselves. Perhaps they view us now as a brand that stays its course, regardless of trends.”