There’s nothing new about the fashion world’s obsession with vintage clothing as a key source of research and inspiration, especially with so many recent collections referencing the Seventies. Alessandro Sartori, creative director of Berluti, finds inspiration from it in a rather unexpected way — and took WWD along with him to show how.
This story first appeared in the November 11, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
When did you discover vintage?
I started collecting when I was 15 years old. I fell in love with blazers and accessories to an extreme. By accessories, I mean textiles like ties and scarves but also shoes and bags. But my big collection is of tops, around 300 blazers, jackets and sport coats. Most of these pieces I got during my research. About 40 to 50 are my own, about 10 to 15 belonged to my father, but most of them I got from research.
Do you wear vintage today?
Yes, but only textiles like printed scarves and ties. I love big knitted ties. I bought around 15 in a shop in London recently. I travel around the world and I vintage shop, but I do it for the pleasure to look, not necessarily always for the collection or to wear it anymore. I would wear blazers and other vintage pieces before, but not anymore. I want to think forward. I do vintage research for work but in a very different way than I used to.
How do you do it now?
Basically I still collect pieces for my own pleasure as I mentioned, but as far as for work, I’m not interested in Army pieces or the Seventies era, for example. One reason I’m here at Melet Mercantile is because most of the vintage shops around the world are either Army or Seventies. But here you can find pieces from completely different periods. They do proper research; they divide it by mood, by collection, by periods. And that is what I am interested in.
How do you integrate the vintage research in your design process?
I don’t start designing from a vintage point of view like when I was in school. I start from the mood and feel and after I look for pieces that fit in with that. If I want to add a cape or do something with a raglan shoulder or if I want to do a knit jacket or a knit blouson, I go and look for pieces that fit into those ideas afterward. I try to imagine a bigger picture, which is the man I have in mind today, and then I design around him. I think about him, I do collage boards and once I’m sure about the mood, I start designing. At that point, I start to search for vintage. I start the concept, then I go hunting for the pieces that fit into the story.
What is your favorite time period?
For sure the Forties and Fifties. I think my least favorite is the Nineties. I am not talking about trends, I am talking construction. Until the Seventies, the garments inside were beautiful and very well made, and then the industrial wind arrived. The Eighties and Nineties, regardless of the style, the garments were just poorly constructed. If you open a jacket from a big brand in the Sixties or Seventies and then another one from 20 years later, they look worse, with less work, less construction, much simpler. Today things are back again to complex and beautiful construction. We design the inside of the garments with detail. If you take a look at a sketch that is used to launch a prototype, we design around six views of the garment — the outside, the details, the pockets, the cut and the inside.
Do you have a list of your favorite vintage stores around the world?
I would say about three stores. The one we are in in New York now (Melet Mercantile.) The second one is Mazzini in Massa Lombarda, Italy and, in London, I love The Vintage Showroom. What is good about these places is that they also do vintage research dedicated to what you need or you can call in advance and let them know specifically what you need and they work on it beforehand.
What are we looking for here today?
I’m working on the new fall collection, so we are working on the mood, the color, I really need a couple of sweaters with fancy designs or beautiful stitching. And the idea to work around something that could be new by changing the collar area to make it modern, but keeping some of the original beauty of the sweater we find. If the one I find is handmade, it would be even better.
Is it going to be a knit-heavy collection?
I believe more and more in knitwear. I think there is a transformation in the way we wear the clothes and styling them, but also in the way of thinking. I imagine garments that are made more and more only by fabrics or knit. Going forward, ideally I would love to do no lining or no shoulder pads always. I think this transformation will bring us to a new generation of garments that are made just of fabric — and what better than knitwear to represent this idea?