The killer spear of a stiletto, the elegantly flexed arch, and lest we forget the unmistakable scarlet sole. Christian Louboutin is the undeniable grand master of the high heeled shoe. From a childhood obsession to more than twenty years in the business, Mr Louboutin rightfully has women (and now men) the world over lusting for his glorious creations.
Christian Louboutin is one of the few truly independent fashion designers of the world who also happens to be a household name. Type the word Christian into Google, press the space bar and the predictive search results deliver Christian Louboutin at the top of their list. Christian Bale is second. A religious reference first appears in fifth position. Ask any urban-dwelling adult woman if she has a pair of “Loubys” and chances are 1) she will know what you mean by “Louby” 2) she has one much loved pair of his classic ‘Pigalle’ sexy high-heeled pumps or 3) it is her fantasy to own a pair of his red-soled fabulous footwear fancies. In the last year Louboutin has been having the same effect on men with his studded sneakers and shoes.
So, what is it about the alchemy of Mr Louboutin that makes him and his shoes so irresistible? He is one of the last designers not to sell out to a large fashion corporation; and he never will, not in his lifetime. He has design integrity and personal integrity. To be stuck in corporate land would be hell to him. This makes him a lone star.
He is naughty. He left home at 12, (around the same time as he began obsessively sketching shoes) and travelled in North Africa before getting a job at the Folies Bergères in Paris assisting showgirls. He is mainly self-trained, though there was a period with shoe master Roger Vivier. Eventually in 1992 Christian opened his first shop, and here we are 20 years later with a global fashion icon, albeit one who still pootles around Paris on an old Vespa and loves nothing more than a mini-break on his houseboat on the Nile. Dita von Teese and Sarah Jessica Parker love his shoes, but I was delighted to hear his biggest customer is the haute couture loving novelist Danielle Steele who has 6,000 pairs!
To celebrate his anniversary in the next few months Christian is directing a fetish show at The Crazy Horse in Paris, and he has a stunning retrospective at London’s Design Museum from May 1st. There is also the matter of a certain trademark court case against Yves Saint Laurent, which is on going at the time of going to press. Over to you Christian.
there is a showgirl in every girl, I guess there is a showman in myself too but I like to keep it under the radar
Melanie Rickey: I’m surprised you’re actually at your office in Paris, shouldn’t you be knee deep in work somewhere?
Christian Louboutin: Actually, I’ve been working with the Crazy Horse all day yesterday and I’ve been overseeing the things for the Design Museum this morning.
When did the Crazy Horse idea come up?
The director of the Crazy Horse, who I know, asked me to do a part of the next show, to style it.
Do you perform in the tableau?
Absolutely no way! They’ve been really pushing me to do it, even for one day. They’ve gone very far to convince me on that.
But there is an element of you that likes to perform isn’t there?
Yes, but as there is a showgirl in every girl, I guess there is a showman in myself too but I like to keep it under the radar I have to say.
Oh go on, it would be so much fun…
Well, you know I could definitely have thought about it if it was not the Crazy Horse. But you’re competing with amazing bodies. The Crazy Horse venue is so tiny any type of imperfection is visible from the back of the place.
Did you do any choreography?
I drove some of the choreography, but I’m not actually doing the choreography. But one dance piece is very important to me because the inspiration for that one is preaching and the first inspiration was a painting by Rubens of a penitent. I’ve been asking the girls to be in 17th century poses, almost religious.
So you’re giving creative direction…
Yes, exactly! And from there it moves to the second part, which is crazy. So they start from a sort of angelic side and then they go to a more devilish side. I have to ask the girls not to do sexy poses. They have to be very wise and preppy-ish and proper. They have to try hard not be sexy!
Are your shoes very much on show in the postures?
Yes, but funnily enough I started to design some shoes for the show- there are some surprise shoes. Two numbers are completely naked anyway, just shoes. As I am not a clothing designer I’ve asked the English designer Mark Fast. And he’s thrilled because he’s been saying that his team always tell him ‘less tits, less tits’ and now he won’t have to cover everything.
What’s your motivation for the Crazy Horse?
I always loved showgirls and showgirls have always been a big inspiration in my work. So I just couldn’t resist when I was asked.
How long have you been working on the Design Museum project?
At least six months. But the book of my 20 years was published last October [Christian Louboutin/Rizzoli]
Did you develop the exhibition with the curator?
They came to me… it’s just like the book, you know. They came to me and I said it would take at least a year to collect things and put things together. So it was time to stop and have a look at what’s been done over 20 years and collect souvenirs, pictures and maybe you know, prototypes and things. I would never have taken the time to do that just randomly.
Masculinity for men is important, but also there is a showman in every man. So I’ve been reaching that really sporty and musician type of person.
It must have been an interesting time for you, to build this amazing record of your work…
Yes absolutely, it’s interesting to see what’s been done in 20 years when you basically keep on and don’t look back at it. I mean I didn’t know what had been done! Some great things happened because of that. For instance, in the book there are two little sketches and those sketches come from when I was 12 or 13. When the editor wanted some family pictures I called one of my sisters in Germany and she said ‘Yeah, I can send you a bunch of pictures of us children’. It turns out that when Mum died, she had a little suitcase where she kept little things and these were in the suitcase. I had never kept drawings but my Mother had kept them. They are the only drawings I have from that age and funnily enough, I looked at the shoes and it’s literally Pigalle [his most famous shoe]. I was 12 and already completely obsessed about high-heeled shoes!
In the Design Museum exhibition that launches in May, you have an area that shows how you make the shoes. Why was that important?
When people go to the atelier for the first time, friend or journalists, or customers, they are amazed. Nobody really knows unless you’ve been and seen it and you know about it. Nobody knows how you do a shoe. And the whole making a shoe is actually quite pretty. I really feel that when people are watching it they are quite fascinated.
I wanted to ask you about your menswear, I’ve noticed this part of your business seems to have grown at quite a pace recently?
Yes, I have to say, I did not expect anything, or I mean I did not expect that it would grow so quickly. From the first day when we opened the men’s boutique in Paris last August – and Paris is DEAD in August – we were busy. I remember Bruno, my business partner, saying, ‘we’ve been very lucky. In August, we’ve been selling a lot of shoes per day which is quite amazing but I guess it will cool down in September’ And I said ‘I doubt it would cool down in September, if it’s hot in August’ and actually I was right, it just never cooled down. [Now men as diverse as the members of JLS, the gay rugby player Gareth Thomas, David Beckham and Tinie Tempah among others wear them].
Did you expect the men’s shoes to be so popular?
No way. I thought the client base would be a lot of fashion people and gay community people. And funnily enough, it’s been completely different and unexpected. It’s a lot of straight people. A lot of guys who basically just wanted to have the same thing they could see on their girlfriend or wife when they were wearing nice shoes. And I’ve been having these guys coming to me, because it’s right next to my office, saying ‘You know, when I saw my girlfriend so excited to wear your shoes I didn’t understand why, but I always wanted to have the same type of excitement.’ I was like, oh my god, that’s really funny. It’s not this classic male attitude where men want to have a shoe for 20 years and they give it to their son or whatever. It’s completely like a lot of men are searching for the same excitement a woman has with her shoes. It’s very new. I feel when these guys are in the store; they go for the super, super crazy shoe also.
It made me think, seeing you with Gareth Thomas, that you’ve tapped into the most masculine side of men, in the same way you tapped into the most feminine side of women… What’s the reason?
Absolutely, I mean Gareth is a strong example. He has such masculinity. Masculinity is working on a different tangent to femininity but there are some common things. Masculinity for men is important, but also there is a showman in every man. So I’ve been reaching that really sporty and musician type of person.
Do you feel like this is an exciting new opportunity for men?
I mean I’m working in a very organic way and doing things very organically, I just see where things go and where it’s worth taking it. Someone told me that there is this great Indian actor called Shahrukh Khan who has put on his Twitter his shoes he has by me. After an hour, two million people had seen his tweet!
In the US they’re saying that Victoria Beckham is asking you to send your shoes to Kate Middleton…
She never asked that, absolutely not true. There has been talk about me being asked to design for Suri Cruise, I never was asked. And all these things I’ve done for Beyoncé’s baby? Rubbish. I don’t know why these things are being said.
How do you deal with your success?
My life is exactly the same. My life has changed a bit but it’s basically the same. I set up my company with two friends; there were three of us, and it still is three of us. The only thing about being successful in your work is that it allows you to be freer because at least if I want to try something, I can. Success sets me free in my creativity.
What is happening with the trial? [He has filed trademark infringement against Gucci Group PPR who used his famously Louboutin red soles in an Yves Saint Laurent shoe]
I have had no choice but to go to trial because I have a trademark. I can’t talk much about it except to say I’m not asking anything bad; just for YSL not to create a shoe with a red sole; to have some respect for my work. I’ve been building a company for 20 years. It’s been 20 years of my soul. Crushing all that with no thought makes me really sad.
It makes us sad too. Lets hope there is a positive outcome for everyone involved. In the meantime, thank you Christian. You are a wonderful human being. May 2012 be full of love and light on all your projects!