Singling out one of the ladybirds tattooed on his arm, Bertie Bertinez explains why he had it done. "It has a colourful outer shell but it's a bit gooey on the inside. Like me," he says. Bertinez is winning: he is both bashful and coy, beaming and scheming. As the assistant manager of Wolf & Badger, a boutique selling fashion, jewellery and some homewares in central London, he appears to be doing an ordinary job at an ordinary shop. But Wolf & Badger is definitely not ordinary. Instead of buying stock wholesale, it rents rail space direct to young designers. "It avoids nepotism, which is such a problem in fashion," Bertinez explains. "You may have skill and talent, but be struggling to find somewhere to sell while paying your gas bill." For a monthly fee and 18% of a designer's sales, Wolf & Badger provides a foothold on the retail ladder.
Nor is Bertinez your average floorwalker. No sulking, no skulking, or pestering when you want to browse in peace. No nattering behind the counter when you are desperate for assistance, just an easygoing sixth sense about what customers might need. Plus Bertinez has that magical knack of making you feel this shop is, actually, his walk-in wardrobe, and that you and he have nothing better to do than play with clothes all day long. Several colleagues at Intelligent Life know to their cost how good he is at persuading his customers to buy—although they rarely regret it.
Though Bertinez likes to claim he was born in the shoe department of Liberty's, his particular speciality is knitting—he has a small line of knitwear of his own that he sells through Wolf & Badger and another London boutique. His mother taught him to cast on, knit and purl in his late teens, to help pass the time at a dull job. Within three hours, he says, he was obsessed. Having grasped the basics, he looked to his grandmother and her friends for the rest. As well as their experience—"if you just slip-stitch the edge it keeps it nice and neat"—he was made privy to their personal stories. One lady showed him a blanket crocheted by her husband when he was away at war. Perhaps it was this that makes Bertinez such a good salesman: he knows how to listen. Even on his daily commute, Bertinez knits, and finds he makes friends because of it. "I'm never going to stop knitting," he says. "I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m going to knit myself a path."
Bertinez radiates brightness, and colour is integral to his look. He likes to take sartorial inspiration from the stories and history of the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans and Masai Mara. But he never wears black. "It brings me down and breaks my spirit," he declares. Tailoring reminds him of his childhood—"middle class, Christian, hating it and wanting to break free"—but he thought this suit, berry-red, soft and woollen, was "absolutely gorgeous". The yellow watch, too, was "fabulous" and the clown-sized padded bow-tie "amazing". If you can’t have fun with fashion, Bertinez says, "then what’s the point?"
Red jacket, £1,135, and trousers, £615, both by Z Zegna; fox-print shirt, £294, by Agi & Sam; padded bow-tie, £101, by DSquared2; pocket square, £35, by Boss; New Gent lacquered watch, £47.50, by Swatch; socks, £24.90, by Item M6; leather and ponyskin shoes, £170, by Dr Martens; pearl thorn ring, £430, and gold hexagonal ring, £240, by Yumeko Yamada at Wolf & Badger; glasses, Bertie's own.