PARIS — Could the same cashmere coat be appreciated by a chief executive officer, a guy who lives in sneakers — and someone who moonlights in a punk band?
Haider Ackermann would like to think so, and as Berluti’s new creative director, he’s set himself a goal of making the house a watchword for compelling and timeless luxury clothes that the wearer defines — and not the other way around.
“You know, there’s so much happening in the men’s fashion world nowadays that something quite calm and silent might not be such a bad thing,” he mused in an interview. “I would not be interested in making some big fashion statement here.
“I think the approach and the purpose of Berluti are to try to make nice garments, a wardrobe, the essentials, what’s relevant. And the man, with his identity, will make them his own,” he added.
Seated on a leather divan in Berluti’s spare and sunny showroom, Ackermann — he of the artfully coiled scarves and clever layering that seem to require an honors degree in styling to achieve — is today a study in chic understatement.
He sparked his gray cashmere crewneck and cone-legged herringbone pants with purple socks and Berluti lace-ups with a tawny patina. A small swag of white undershirt spilled out from under the back hem of the sweater, like a dollop of crème fraîche.
He insists his inimitable ensembles are not studied.
“There’s nothing thought out. It’s all about accidents, about clashes,” he said. “The moment I’m standing still and thinking — ‘What shall I wear tonight for dinner?’ — it’s a total failure. I just grab things, and often it doesn’t match. When I visit other countries, the way men dress is often just accidents. And that combination might make it horrible and it might make it interesting at the same time.”
Known primarily for his women’s wear collections — particularly his glamorous dishabille and artful wrapping — Ackermann was a bit of a left-field choice to helm Berluti, ceo Antoine Arnault acknowledged at the time of his appointment last September.
No one agrees more than Ackermann himself.
“It was unexpected because I’m a women’s designer, so it was the other side of the coin,” he said. “I was surprised myself. But then there’s something very seductive about something that is not your first desire. You are intrigued and then curiosity takes over.”
Ackermann is to unveil his first Berluti collection tonight in Paris for the fall 2017 season — one of the most anticipated debuts of the European season alongside Alessandro Sartori’s show for Ermenegildo Zegna in Milan. Ackermann succeeded Sartori at Berluti, which gained a reputation for suave tailoring and snazzy sneakers as Sartori expanded the heritage footwear firm into a complete luxury lifestyle label for men.
Yet don’t expect any dramatic change in the brand’s spirit or essence.
“I’m not that kind of character to radicalize everything because you have to respect the house and the craftsmanship,” he explained. “You don’t tell a story in one season. It’s gonna be the first chapter.”
Ackermann, who first approached men’s wear as a guest at the Pitti Uomo trade fair in 2010 and staged his first Paris show in 2013, has a penchant for fancy dinner jackets, low-slung pants and lounge-y layering. More recently, he has earned a celebrity following for his sweatshirts and hoodies, with musicians Kanye West and Miguel among famous devotees.
The Colombian-born designer grew up in countries including Chad, Ethiopia, Algeria, The Netherlands, Belgium and France — and this is reflected in his eclectic, globe-trotting style and his signature men’s label.
Ackermann noted the Berluti man is also something of a nomad — although, given the price points, he invariably travels first or business class.
“Perhaps my house is an extension of myself and how I dress,” he said. “With Berluti, it’s more how I would dream to be…but the intimacy is important and I’m trying on every piece because I want each piece to be mine as well. I would like to keep that cashmere coat and live with it, to take time with it, and I think that’s the essence of Berluti.
“In men’s wear, it’s just a question of detail. It’s a question of centimeters, of millimeters, to give an attitude to the person.”
For example, Ackermann added exotic leathers to the underside of collars on tailored coats, and added bands of leather around the waistband of silk faille pants. A canvas tote bag with storm taping and a band of alligator leather telegraphed his penchant for juxtaposing the rugged and casual with something extremely refined.
“There’s a mixture of everything nowadays,” he said. “And there’s nothing more attractive than to have a cashmere coat worn with a jogging pant underneath.
“The approach is to try and find a balance between the elegance and the more casual part and the nonchalance of it. Even the streetwear guys now are so much into suiting and into much more elegant ways.”
Asked how Berluti’s legacy in footwear might color his approach to the project, Ackermann said shoes “give the whole attitude to the person” and can even affect how the customer walks.
“When I wear my Berluti shoes, it gives you a certain comportment. You feel more like you’re standing straight in life. When I wear my Berlutis, I feel perhaps more elegant, more discrete, more seductive,” he said. “There is nothing more interesting than when you’re sitting in a restaurant and you see a man wearing lousy clothes but then suddenly he has these perfect shoes and you’re totally seduced. It’s a detail, but a detail that marks everything — more than clothes. One looks always at the shoes of another person. Don’t you?”
Ackermann, who trained at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Art, noted that his women’s collection always incorporated masculinity into their femininity.
“There’s something very interesting about doing men’s wear because you’re more focused on clothes, whereas with a woman, you can do a lot,” he said. “It’s not about making a man beautiful. That would be kind of a bore. It’s more like trying to give him a style.”
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired Berluti in 1993, added leather goods in 2005 and ready-to-wear in 2012. Today, the brand counts 45 boutiques worldwide and 20 wholesale accounts. Footwear still represents roughly half of the business.
Berluti was founded in 1895 by a transplanted Italian and is famous for celebrity clients such as Andy Warhol, Pierre Bergé, Jean Cocteau, Alain Delon, Dean Martin and Yves Saint Laurent.
Ackermann said he hopes to extend the brand’s legacy of dressing an array of “different men. I would succeed if that cashmere coat, they all could wear it. Then I won the battle. It is very challenging.”