FASHION & STYLE: Made in Heaven ; They're the World's Most Luxurious Shoes, Worn by Cocteau, Fellini and the Pope. Olga Berluti Tells JAMIE HUCKBODY How Making Shoes for the Family Firm Is an Almost Religious Experience
Huckbody, Jamie, The Independent (London, England)
Girls are not the only ones who are addicted to beautiful shoes. While women may crave the highs of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, men have also been secretly scoring from a shoemaker, whose craftsmanship is inspired by Jesus Christ's pierced and bleeding feet, no less. In fact, devotees are so precious about this cobbler's creations that they clean them with champagne and caviar. Bernard Arnault, the grand fromage at LVMH, was so frightened of losing his fix that he bought the company - Berluti, it is called.
As a young convent schoolgirl, Olga Berluti was transfixed by Christ's feet, bleeding and nailed to the crucifix, as she walked past them every day. "I don't want men to suffer just because of their feet and bad shoes. There is nothing more important than feet," she says. "I love holding men's feet in my hands. They may be friendly, precious, shy, arrogant, but they are never ugly. Nothing is more erotic than the feet. Feet is all!"
Indeed, Berluti's obsession with feet is the key to her unique shoemaking techniques. It takes six months to make a pair of bespoke Berlutis: two months to make the last (the wooden mould of the foot needed for bespoke shoes) and four months to make the shoes, a piece of craftsmanship that involves no fewer than 350 operations. "If you are a real shoemaker, you work toward a masterpiece," says Berluti, petite, graceful, wearing sensible trousers and flat, lace-up shoes. "That's why, in my line of work, you can't be superficial. All your energy and concentration is in between your hands, your heart and the leather, so you cannot be fickle. Because the feet are protected by just a few centimetres of leather, those few centimetres should be the best."
After Berluti has scraped the soft box-calf skin to reveal the "true" hide, she starts to work her magic. "Essential oils are massaged in for transparency,"she says. "I sometimes massage a shoe for as long as 40 hours. I work the pigments to get the right colour, then use Dom Perignon after waxing to absorb excess grease and ensure the leather is radiant. If that's not enough, I expose them to the moonlight so that the skin, once it has been bleached by the moon, takes on a wonderful, strange reflection."
There are some 3,500 addicts of Berluti's special brand of sorcery. As official shoemaker to the worlds of film, fashion and art, Berluti has heeled the likes of Richard Burton, Federico Fellini, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, for whom Olga Berluti designed and made her first shoe, the "Andy" loafer, in 1963. Not forgetting Berluti's royal clients. The designer has made shoes for Pope John Paul II, the lasts for which she keeps on gold embroidered cushions, and Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the late "emperor" of the Central African Republic, who had a pair of pearl-encrusted boots made for his 1977 "coronation" for pounds 50,000. Then there is the customer who sprays his Berlutis with chilled champagne, another who polishes his with caviar, and the psychoanalyst who was so intimidated by the beauty of his Berlutis that he spent six months contemplating them before daring to wear them.
It was for her most loyal and passionate clients, Berluti's way of thanking them for contributing to her creativity, that she established the Swann Club, a society that meets once a year in a swanky hotel for a shoe-polishing orgy. In bare feet, the men wash their shoes in water and brandy before polishing them in fine wines. Is this polishing business not a bit fetishistic, I wonder. …
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Publication information: Article title: FASHION & STYLE: Made in Heaven ; They're the World's Most Luxurious Shoes, Worn by Cocteau, Fellini and the Pope. Olga Berluti Tells JAMIE HUCKBODY How Making Shoes for the Family Firm Is an Almost Religious Experience. Contributors: Huckbody, Jamie - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 29, 2003. Page number: 8. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.