伯尔鲁帝（Berluti） 是成立于1895年的法国经典鞋履品牌，原本以为访问的制鞋师傅上了年纪，不想让—米歇尔卡萨隆加（Jean-Michel Casalonga）不过36岁，制鞋经验已有12年，且是该品牌最年轻的制鞋师傅。
由意大利人Alessandro Berluti创办的伯尔鲁帝，在1993年为LVMH拥有，现任艺术总监Alessandro Sartori也是意大利人。品牌鞋履有三个系列：成品（ready-to-wear）——包括Alessandro绑带经典鞋、Brunico皮靴、Gaspard德比鞋；特别定制（special orders）——在现有款式上，加入一些量身定制的细节；高级定制（bespoke）——该品牌的灵魂。每一双定制鞋需要50小时工时，从测量尺寸到鞋履交付，客人须等待六个月，每双售价1万500新元以上。
Icannot explain why, but when I arranged to meet JeanMichel Casalonga, the maitre bottier of French bespoke footwear brand Berluti, I expected to meet someone a little, well, older. But Casalonga turned out to be a youthful 36 and while he may be the brand’s youngest master shoemaker, he already has over 12 years of shoemaking experience tucked under his belt.
At Ngee Ann City’s Berluti store, with a traditional leather shoemaker’s apron wrapped around him and an old roughing tool in hand, Casalonga is slowly carving the outline of a shoe last. He tells ZbBz that ever since he was a child, he had always loved making things, so shoemaking came naturally to him. Drawn to the beauty of the craft, he threw himself into the business of making shoes after graduating his physcis degree.
The senior Berluti master shoemaker Patrice Rock took a liking Casalonga and opened the doors for him in the business. As an apprentice, Casalonga had to spend two years learning the basics of shoemaking without having the chance to make a pair by himself. In his third year, he finally made a pair for himself; in his fifth year, under Rock’s supervision, he made his first pair for a customer.
Casalonga has been crafting independently for five years now, but when he meets with challenging designs, he still consults other master shoemakers, because “you can only accumulate the experience over time, not learn it”, he says.
The entire process of custom-making a shoe includes a painstaking 250 steps, the most important of which are: measuring the feet, choosing the leather, carving the shoe last, making the model, constructing the soles and uppers, hand-stitching the shoe, hand-colouring, polishing and more. As soon as he mastered all the other steps, he concentrated on mastering the carving of the shoe last. He thinks this part of the process — with its use of hornbeam wood and not leather — is the most artistic and challenging of all the steps, because there needs to be a balance between accuracy in measurements and the aesthetics of the shoe.
Founded by Italian shoemaker Alessandro Berluti in 1895, the company was acquired by LVMH in 1993. Its current creative director is Alessandro Sartori, who is also Italian. The brand has three lines of footwear: readyto-wear, including Alessandro Oxfords, Brunico Boots and Gaspard Derbies; special orders, that are based on existing styles; and bespoke, which is the core and the soul of the brand. Each pair of custom shoes requires 50 man hours and six months to produce, from the moment of measuring till turning them over to the customer, and costs over S$10,500.
Service Always Comes First
Over 4,000 pairs of shoe lasts, mimicking the feet of its customers, hang in Berluti’s Paris studio. An impressive number of public figures and artists count among the brand’s following. Its Andy loafers, designed for the pop artist Andy Warhol, for example, have already become a classic model for the brand.
Casalonga spends six months a year in the Paris workroom. Every quarter, for about seven to 10 days, he meets customers in places like Miami, New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Singapore. Every other month, he visits Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu in China. All in, he makes about 100 pairs of bespoke shoes each year.
On this visit to Singapore, he is meeting customers, taking measurements and choosing the leather. His Singapore customers place the greatest emphasis on comfort, he says. Many are businessmen and entrepreneurs who order multiple pairs of the same style at a time. Among the more fashion-forward clients, it is design and originality that counts. A third type of client has feet that require “a very high degree of customisation” for a good fit. And then there are those who are getting a pair made从小喜欢手做东西的让米歇尔卡萨隆加，是伯尔for a special occasion or anniversary.
鲁帝最年轻的制鞋师傅。For Casalonga, “perfect footwear is a true balance between comfort and style”. The measurements for custom shoes are so important that only by measuring a customer’s feet in the greatest detail can a truly comfortable pair of shoes be made. All the design bells and whistles come later. Customers can choose their desired shape (round, pointed or square), the colour of the soles and lining, any identifying carving or print, the style of the thread, and pick of skin or leather (from the choice of Venezia, python skin, shark skin and other Berluti signature leathers). Berluti’s traditional patina colouring technique is applied to give the leather its shade and tone. If a customer’s feet are not suited for a specific design, he will be advised so, to avoid unnecessary discomfort to the wearer.
Some clients have very clear ideas of what they want in their shoes, while others let the shoemaker take the lead, says Casalonga. He advises greater client involvement regarding personal taste and style, because “I don’t really understand the customers who say ‘do as you like’, and, once the shoes are made, won’t wear them. If the shoes don’t fit your style, it just won’t work”.
After carving the lasts and creating the model, the shoemaker meets the customer for a fitting to see if the customer is satisfied and if adjustments are necessary. “When custom-creating shoes, service always comes first,” says Casalonga. “Serving clients requires ultimate patience.”
Nothing delights Berluti staff more than a customer stepping into a Berluti store wearing Berluti shoes and taking a pair in for repairs — with more than one pair in the house, each pair may get some rest in between wear, explains Casalonga. If one develops a habit of wearing a pair for one day, then resting it for two days, owning just a few pairs would last one a lifetime, he assures.
Some of Casalonga’s tools are 50 to 60 years old and no longer available on the market. They were either found in flea markets or passed down from retiring cobblers. Is this a dying trade?
Casalonga acknowledges that it is difficult to survive as independent shoemakers today without the muscle of a big name behind them, but the demand for quality bespoke goods will always be there. “To express their own individual taste and identity, people are not just custom-making their shoes, but also hats and coats. Bespoke is a returning trend. More and more people like going back to the traditional and are interested in old world-quality and handcraft.”
Berluti’s traditional colouring technique gives shoes their distinctive shade and tone.