Berluti's '80s-Inspired Sneaker Is Extremely Expensive—And Ridiculously Good

berluti playoff sneaker
Berluti's Ultra-Luxe, '80s-Inspired SneakerTimothy Mulcare

SHOP $2,000 to $2,240, berluti.com

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Designer sneakers can be a tricky proposition. For every smash-hit design that suddenly seems to show up everywhere, there's a pack of options that didn't quite hit the mark. Sometimes they're simply too toned down, too anonymous-looking, too—to put it bluntly—boring. Other times, they're off in a way that's difficult to articulate. Too tech-y or vintage-y or designer-y. Just...off.

There's a balancing act necessary in the creation of a successful designer sneaker, a blending of a fashion house's established codes with an elemental sneaker-ness that makes the footwear make sense not just as a design object but as a shoe fans of the brand—both new and old—will want to wear. They are, after all, much more expensive than the offerings from the sportswear juggernauts (sometimes by an order of magnitude or so). They need to offer you all the comfort and style you'd expect from any old pair of sneakers—and then something more. With this fall's Playoff sneaker, Berluti strikes the balance.

berluti playoff sneaker
Timothy Mulcare

It's a work of art—and a labor of love.

The uppers of the Playoff are made from 80—count 'em, 80!—individual pieces of leather. If you're not into paneling on your sneakers, then these are emphatically not for you. But if you are? They are a triumph of the form, especially when you look a little closer at the toe and heel and notice that they get special treatment; the stitching is hidden by folding the leather over itself, giving the seam a sculptural quality. It's not unheard of to see similar techniques used by the major sneaker brands, but it's rare, and the finesse of the execution on the Playoff speaks to its made-in-Italy quality. Plus, have you ever felt Berluti's signature Venezia leather? It's top-shelf stuff: supple, strong, and remarkably thin and pliable compared to other leathers.

Buying a luxury product is, in no small part, about indulging in the very best materials, and that's exactly what you're getting here. But it's more than that, because you're also getting an artisanal approach to the actual crafting of the shoe. Sure, "artisanal" is a word that's (still!) tossed around too often, but what else would you call it when a team of specialized craftspeople hand-paint Berluti's trademark patina treatment onto the leather with painstaking precision? On the splashier, neon colorways of the Playoff, the process takes three hours. Cutting corners clearly isn't on the program.

SHOP $2,000 to $2,240, berluti.com

berluti playoff sneaker
Timothy Mulcare

It takes the right cues.

Careful construction and expert finishing don't mean all that much when the final product isn't compelling. And like we already talked about, designer sneakers can be tricky. But by looking to the golden age of classic basketball shoes, Berluti ensured that the lines and details of the Playoff echo those of some of the best sneakers to ever hit the hardwood—or the street. Take a look at the high-top version and tell me you can't, in the curvature of the collar, see a hint of the criminally underrated Air Jordan II. And as for the paneling, you can take your pick from a slew of classics—the Adidas Forum, the New Balance 550, the Converse Weapon—and find a connective thread. This is, to be clear, a good thing. We have enough iterations of the minimalist tennis shoe, at this point, to see us through to the heat death of the universe. And while futuristic novelty can be fun for a while, it can also get grating when the sheen of newness wears off. By picking an era and a vibe and sticking to it, the Playoff manages to escape drudgery and imminent obsolescence at the same time.

SHOP $2,000 to $2,240, berluti.com

berluti playoff sneaker
Timothy Mulcare

It's steeped in Berluti tradition.

Here's the thing: a lot of brands could create a riff on an '80s basketball sneaker and come up with something pretty cool. That's the beauty of choosing your references wisely. What makes the Playoff feel special—like something that you want to buy from Berluti specifically, not just any old label—is that it's steeped in the traditions that define the 127-year-old company. Berluti, remember, started in shoes, when founder Alessandro Berluti cobbled his first pair back in 1895. Footwear has been at the center of Berluti's output for more than a century. And though the label now makes ready-to-wear clothing and other accessories, shoes are still a specialty. The other specialty? Exquisite leather, finished in modern years with the hand-painted patina technique that gives it dimension and makes it feel lived in. The Playoff delivers all of these elements in one package. And unless you're in the market for something dressy—in which case, why have you been reading this long?—you're simply not going to find a pair of shoes that does it better.

SHOP $2,000 to $2,240, berluti.com

Photography by Timothy Mulcare. Prop styling by Caroline Colston for Halley Resources.

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