Survival of the fitted | Monocle

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When lvmh announced its partnership with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, it was expected that the houses under its vast portfolio would get involved and add their famous luxury branding to the event. The announcements about Louis Vuitton designing trunks to transport the medals and torches, and jeweller Maison Chaumet designing the medals themselves, came as little surprise. But the choice of Berluti, one of the quieter labels in the lvmh portfolio, to dress Team France during the Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies was less expected, even among the Berluti team. “We’re one of the smaller [lvmh] maisons,” says Vanessa Le Goff, Berluti’s collection director. “Dior and Louis Vuitton are usually the big stars, so dressing the French athletes for the Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies offers a huge opportunity for us to be more visible.”

For this reason, Le Goff and the members of the atelier she leads in Paris didn’t think twice about taking on the responsibility, despite the challenges it presented: creating more than 1,500 outfits using some 8,000 metres of eco-certified fabrics and catering to each athlete’s body shape to ensure a perfect fit. “We worked from sizes 3xs to 6xl and designed shoes ranging from [European] sizes 35 to 56, which is very new for us,” says Le Goff. “That’s why, from the beginning of the process, we met with the athletes to understand their needs.”

The colour of choice
Breathable fabrics help to beat the heat
Lorenzo loafers
First sketches
Making the custom colour for the collars

Many of these conversations would go on to inform the final design of the opening ceremony’s uniforms: elegant midnight-blue suits with collars featuring the colours of the French flag, remixed in the house’s trademark patina. Female athletes will wear a sleeveless version of the tuxedo jacket and choose between trousers or a silk wraparound skirt. The looks are finished with Berluti’s signature woven Shadow sneakers in a similar navy hue, or the flexible Lorenzo leather loafers. “From the very beginning of the process, we considered every detail – for instance, we chose a wrap skirt so that it can be altered easily and didn’t use any pleating because it’s uncomfortable for athletes in wheelchairs,” says Le Goff. “And the sleeve length is adjustable to make it easier for athletes. We’re experts in this field and can adjust quickly.”

Knowing that the athletes could be standing in the sun for more than eight hours during the opening ceremony, Le Goff and her atelier’s number-one priority was to ensure Team France’s comfort. It’s why they chose breathable cotton-silk and wool fabrics with added stretch, and why they will spend the days in the lead-up to each ceremony making alterations to fit all 1,500 suits on every athlete individually. “We had to produce many of the pieces before knowing who would make it to the ceremony,” she says. The impeccably fit finished garments are a testament to the craft know-how of Berluti, one of the few houses in Paris still offering bespoke services for men’s shoes at its Rue Marbeuf atelier, as well as tailoring services at its Rue des Sèvres atelier on the Left Bank. “We want to show the house’s exceptional savoir-faire in ready-to-wear but also shoes, which is where the journey started,” adds Le Goff. 

That journey began back in 1895, when a young Alessandro Berluti moved from his native Italy to Paris to practise his trade as a shoemaker, starting with lace-up court shoes. His clients included Jean Cocteau, Marcello Mastroianni and Andy Warhol. In the past 15 years, under the leadership of Antoine Arnault (who now serves as chairman of Berluti while also performing a wider role within the lvmh group, with Jean-Marc Mansvelt taking over as ceo), the house began to offer a full look, including leather goods and ready-to-wear. Aside from the technical knowledge that went into constructing the garments, Le Goff also sought to ensure that the designs channelled the sense of elegance synonymous with French and, in particular, Parisian fashion – hence the focus on the deep Tricolore blue, tuxedo dressing and slim silhouettes typical of French-style suiting. 

Team France members in their finished uniforms
All in the details
Elegant shawl collar
Berluti’s signature Shadow trainers

“You have to combine elegance and comfort, while still looking French,” says Le Goff. It’s this concept of “chic à la Française”, she adds, that has been missing from recent Team France uniforms. “The French team wasn’t dressed by a fashion house in the past. You would look at the Italians dressed by Armani and the US team dressed by Ralph Lauren, and the French team said that they didn’t feel they looked as good.” At first, the French athletes accustomed to living in sportswear couldn’t imagine themselves in a sharp suit. But a few fittings with Le Goff’s team were enough to change their mind. “They now feel proud to be dressed by Berluti and it affects their overall mindset.”

As part of the process, Berluti also consulted with the Paris 2024 Organising Committee and the French National Olympic and Paralympic Sports Committees, as well as stylist and former Vogue France editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld. “It’s important to have an external point of view on the ceremony; it will be watched by billions of people,” says Le Goff. “Carine was a perfect match because she has a very French touch. We have to be proud to be French.” Le Goff hopes that, on the big day, the athletes feel so good in their new suits that they go on to “win a lot of gold medals for France”.

Berluti is coming out as a winner too. When the athletes of Team France walk along the Seine on 26 July for the Olympics’ opening ceremony – and on 28 August down the Champs-Élysées for that of the Paralympics –  sporting fans tuning in from across the globe will become more familiar with the brand’s name. “It’s a very niche, very special house – almost like a club,” says Le Goff with a smile. “When you enter our world you fall in love because it isn’t about fashion, it’s about the expertise of the maison: the patinated shoes, the bright leathers that you can’t find anywhere else. It has audacity. We of course hope that now more people will discover this world and come and visit us.” — L

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