The topic of sustainability can diverge into a million different directions; there are so many ways fashion people are trying to tackle the issue. From a designer’s perspective, we’re trying to cut waste, and there are many designers who try to balance an inherent knack for setting forth new trends with the responsibility to create timeless pieces that one will want to cherish for years, not be sick of after one season.
One who shares this perspective with me is Gabriela Hearst, founder of her eponymous label and Creative Director of heritage brand Chloé. Of course, we have our individual
In the world of luxury fashion, there are some brands I consider heavy-hitters, who have been creating and gaining recognition for over a century or so, and some small brands who are established but proportionately new.
An example of the former is Berluti, the European fashion house founded by Alessandro Berluti in 1895 as a shoe-making business. Berluti traveled to Paris from his native Italy to establish the brand that would become known for luxury lace-up shoes made with the finest leather and patinas and expand into accessories and ready-to-wear in the new millennium. The latter is my brand, which I established and built over the last two decades as one with a casual Californian aesthetic and that gives much attention to craftsmanship. Both Berluti and Esquivel make shoes and accessories of the highest quality, but we each put our twist on things.
Here are some of the main differences, and a nuanced take on if Berluti is worth the hefty price tag.
Berluti: An elegant luxury brand that exudes a timeless appeal and tall price points
As is the case with many so-called heavy-hitting designers, Berluti is a heritage brand, and as such, it charges heritage brand prices. Of course, that’s not to say that heritage brands are overhyped; they’ve cultivated their expertise and shown attention to craftsmanship that’s yielded beautiful pieces. On top of that, Berluti’s shoes are generally made-to-order, which means that they’re made upon request using standard sizing. Oxfords and derbies go for no less than $1,000, and the least expensive sneaker as of late 2021 is no less than $800.
The brand’s first design was a lace-up shoe made from a single piece of leather and no visible stitching (this is commonly known as a whole cut shoe). The style, called Alessandro, took the first name of the designer and has become one of the brand’s signatures for nearly $2,300 pre-tax. It’s incredibly classic, and the patinas are unique, to be sure.
Making something so seamless isn’t easy, which is why whole cut shoes will generally cost you a pretty penny, heritage brand or not, but it’s worth noting the gap between Berluti and other made-to-order shoe brands that keep a range of $550 to $1,600 or so. (That’s with the consideration that handmade products require more time and manpower, which runs up labor costs. Berluti shoes are made on a wooden last using much technical skill, often with the shopper’s choice of leather and patinas through the brand’s made-to-order business.)
Berluti also offers bespoke services, which allow for customers to request full-custom shoes based on precise measurements. According to Berluti, it takes the shoemakers 50 hours of work for one pair of bespoke shoes. And as a seasoned shoemaker, I can say that sounds about right.
Of course, Berluti’s products are made with high-quality leather, fabric, and exotic skins. And as I’ve mentioned before, high-quality European leathers help to propel leather goods into the luxury category, because such refined materials must be handled with care by knowledgeable craftsmen.
Esquivel: A 21st-century brand channeling casual sophistication and fair market pricing
Esquivel was founded about two decades ago with the value of handmade and made-to-order shoe processes in mind. Much like Berluti, Esquivel started small and grew steadily, so as not to grow too quickly and in turn diminish the integrity of the business, which was, first and foremost, handcrafting shoes for premier retailers and private clients around the globe. Also like Berluti, Esquivel specializes in custom and bespoke shoes, with countless public figures on its client list.
Esquivel values the personalized experience that comes with specializing in made-to-order shoe-making too much to ever lose it. To not only keep but enhance that experience, we opened Esquivel House—the team’s definition of the perfect place to order shoes and everything else for casual yet sophisticated dress. There are only a handful of craftsmen who work on the shoes, which is purposeful because it allows the founders to take a more hands-on approach to design and creation, as well as for better quality control.
The materials used are among the finest and therefore on par with other luxury brands; though, Esquivel doesn’t charge heritage brand prices. The shoes, particularly the sneakers, cost less than the brand’s competitors without sacrificing style or comfort. Esquivel uses leather to provide maximum comfort, supreme quality and, as a result, the best possible value for a pair of shoes.
Our pricing, which is generally half that of Berluti, is based on many factors, not the least of which has to do with the cost of handmade production in Los Angeles. There are countless steps the cobblers must follow to complete handmade leather goods, and this time and care spent inevitably plays a role in pricing. We don’t outsource any part of our made-to-order footwear, because we believe that when products are made in-house from start to finish, there is an assurance of exceptional quality and one-of-a-kind details. That’s the promise Esquivel makes and fulfills daily.
Each brand has its appeal and value. So, to answer the original question of this article, yes, Berluti is worth it, depending on your preferences. Something I say pridefully is that these respective brands are very well-made. Aesthetically, we each have our own perspective, though I like to think we’ve both bred our brands from our values of wearability, nostalgia and reinvention. Berluti is classic Italian, while Esquivel takes a more playful, West Coast-inspired approach to shoe and accessory design. In purchasing a luxury shoe or accessory, you can’t go wrong with either brand, as both are crafted with versatility and longevity in mind.
George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.