All good things come to those who wait. Having initially planned to unveil its fall men’s collection in China on March 5, Berluti on Thursday finally lifted the lid on the colorful lineup inspired by the abstract paintings of Berlin-based Russian artist Lev Khesin.
It was fitting that “Living Apart Together,” the video broadcast simultaneously online and on 10 screens in front of a live audience at One on the Bund in Shanghai, was all about the limitations brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Artistic director Kris Van Assche tapped his friend Yoann Lemoine, the musician better known as Woodkid, as creative consultant on the shoot, staged on a white backdrop covered in the floor signage of social distancing.
In an interview at the Berluti headquarters in Paris, Van Assche confessed to suffering from pandemic fatigue. You wouldn’t guess it from the clothes: In his second collaboration with an artist, the designer loosened up his signature tailoring and pushed colorblocking to new levels.
Khesin’s vibrant works, created via layers of silicone paint, were rendered in a variety of techniques, none more spectacular than two color-gradient suits made by photo printing the art works on wool. Then there were the deconstructed versions: Van Assche extracted colors from the paintings for mismatched jackets and pants.
A double-face cashmere jacket was as comfortable to wear as a shirt. “No construction, no lining: it’s basically a blanket with two sleeves,” he demonstrated. “I wanted not comfort food but comfort clothing.”
Many of his signatures were present in this presentation, from the mix of tailored and casual looks to the chunky footwear and the Depeche Mode soundtrack.
But after three years at Berluti, Van Assche has reached a new level of fluency with color that translated into mesmerizing combinations on items such as silk shirts, brushed mohair sweaters — with matching cloche hats — and leather jackets that were dyed and faded by hand.
“I think it’s a very personal evolution. I mean, I came from a universe where 80 percent of what I did, and what I wear, was black. So little by little, the color sneaked in,” he mused.
It also reflects the brand’s growing expertise at translating the patina technique of its leather shoes into clothing — something it had never done before Van Assche arrived, and which has been pushed to new limits this season.
“I give a total energy shot to the artisans, because craft is great, but craft also just tends to kind of please itself by perfecting what they already know how to do. And by not evolving, it’s destined to disappear,” he remarked.
“Once I got over all the refusals, and all the trials that didn’t work, and all the head-scratching, in the end, our DNA became better thanks to this, because we’ve learned something new. By bringing contemporary art into the craft, I open new doors to the future,” Van Assche added.
He’s also pushing the boundaries of Berluti’s core footwear business, updating its Ultima shoe by stacking up three soles: one made of recycled rubber, and two in leather.
The handmade Norwegian stitch on the shoes inspired the piping on quilted leather jackets, and the contrasting white trim on items including a camel-colored leather suit jacket — details the audience in Shanghai was able to appreciate up close on mannequins at Thursday’s event.
“I think that is also a very strong message within this period, because I think these digital presentations — they’re fine, they’re great. We can make great movies, but it’s hard to make the difference between mainstream and high-end,” he observed. “I think for Berluti, there is definitely a danger in that.”
Van Assche was right: For all the digital wizardry that luxury brands have deployed in the last year, this was one brightly colored production that itched to jump off the screen into real life.