Debonair catches up with Rem D. Koolhaas, founder and creative director of United Nude, a brand known for its forward-thinking and innovative footwear designs and collaborations
A Berluti master tattooist talks inspiration, creation and the importance of customisation for the luxury fashion label
There was a time when an endemic one-size-fits-all conformity lay heavily over us.
This was a time when the mere suggestion that one might have ink — a fluid that belonged in fountain pens and on the end of Shakespearean quills — injected into one’s body so as to leave a permanent pattern on the unblemished skin was tantamount to sacrilege.
How times have changed.
Today we tend to see the myriad tattooing options available as an opportunity to put a stamp of individuality on your physical identity.
For Berluti, such individuation shouldn’t stop with your own skin. It should extend to the skin of your shoes and accessories.
In 2016, the Parisian house secured the inking expertise of Scott Campbell to sex up its leathers.
Venerated in tattooing circles for the defiant style he’s penned onto some of the biggest tat-toting A-listers, Campbell described the original leather tattoos he applied to Berluti’s shoes and bags as, “stream-of-consciousness exercises done with the hope that a feeling of inspiration will be subliminally absorbed by the viewer”.
Where most people saw pure Venezia leather already perfect in its unsullied state, Campbell and Berluti saw a blank canvas begging to be personalised by the tattooist’s touch.
Two years on, and tattooing its leathers has become such a success that a raft of new age master tattooists are applying the trade to Berluti products to give its customer base a rarefied product like no other.
Talking to Debonair about the bespoke tattooing service they offer, the elusively named Elena — with no surname, for it appears Berluti keep their master inkers under protected lock and key — elucidates the design and creation process.
“We let our customer’s imagination dominate,” she explains. “We have a selection of tattoos on four themes: a classic bestiary of insets and animals, the signs of the Zodiac and the Chinese horoscope, vintage designs inspired by eagles and the subtle art of calligraphy.
“You cannot be elegant if you are not comfortable and well shod.”
“However, clients can also choose to have their own unique designs tattooed on their leather. We give our customers the freedom to choose the placement of the artwork and the size as well as the patina on top.”
Executed with a needle and pigments, point-by-point, inked directly onto the leather, the idea behind introducing tattoos was to offer clients a more exclusive product.
To date, only a handful of artisans have mastered the technique perfected by Olga Berluti nearly two decades ago, which Campbell imbued with a contemporary edge.
Such is the fine art of tattooing Berluti leather, many of the maison’s tattooists based at the workshop in Ferrera don’t adapt their needle-manship to the human form.
“The only skin I tattoo is our Venezia leather,” Elena says, proudly. “It’s very specific as it is not covered and that is what allows the patina process with all its nuances and shades as well as the tattooing process.”
Since 2001, the house has offered its customers the option to personalise their leather goods with inked designs, carried out by tattoo artists at the Berluti workshop in the Italian township Ferrara.
Berluti’s tattooed leather is an example par excellence of the well-worn cliché in the retail industry that the customer is always right. The concept of creating a bespoke leather product entirely dependent on a customer’s every whim and wish offers that exclusivity that the high-end consumer craves, even if it is at the minor expense of the tattoo artist’s own creativity.
“While designing a tattoo, my main goal is to understand what the customer wants and I make sure to keep my artistic likes and dislikes aside so they don’t interfere with the design process,” Elena explains.
“I like to know about the customer and his character, what inspires him and why he has selected a particular design, so I can reflect his personality in the artwork.
“Whether it is a graphic design, a zodiac sign or calligraphy initials, I always make sure to meet our client expectations by creating a design that matches his personality and traits.”
“While designing a tattoo, my main goal is to understand what the customer wants — they don’t interfere with the design process.”
Having successfully experimented with ranges like the scritto, this bespoke service from Berluti feels like a natural evolution of the customer-centric service luxury menswear brands are aiming towards and Berluit, in particular, has been pushing towards in recent times.
These tattooed feet are ones we’d love to walk around in: they provide the quintessentially bespoke shoe and put paid to the previously staid and conservative concept of the untouchable purity of ultra high-end shoes.