He is the pied piper of the shoe-obsessed, feeding our lust for seductive sky-high stilettos with signature red soles. No one can dispute that Christian Louboutin has made flashing some red a luxury status symbol.
Madonna, Carla Bruni, Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss are just some of the devotees that have elevated Louboutin to cult status. The shoe designer responsible for the return of the stilettos now celebrates his 20th anniversary with a capsule collection of iconic pieces from decades past. Back are the ”Bois Doré” pumps with hand carved heels by artisans in Thailand; the “Highness Tina”, decadent fringe boots he created in homage to the famous legs and soaring energy of Tina Turner; and the “Pigalove”, designed for one of his favorite princesses, lets you put your feet together to spell “love”. Louboutin was once asked what shoes would he save in case of a fire. “I would go for the “Love” shoe, which was my first shoe and the birth of my company,” he said.
A Louboutin anniversary celebration would not be complete without the “Pensée”, the shoe that started his signature red sole. In 1993 he was working on a pair inspired by Andy Warhol’s Flowers. He was happy with his creation, especially the cartoon-like flower so reminiscent of the 60s, but the black sole of the prototype struck him as out of place. At that moment, an assistant was painting her nails when Louboutin grabbed the nail polish and painted the soles in cherry red. That flash of inspiration gave birth to one of the features that make his shoes such a powerful seduction tool. “Men are like bulls. They cannot resist the red sole,” he said.
Turning his back on school, Louboutin began sketching shoes in his early teens. His first job was at the Folies Bergères, assisting entertainers backstage. During that period, he became a player in the Paris party scene, clubbing his nights away alongside Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol.
His fascination with shoes began in 1976 when visiting the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. He saw a sign forbidding women wearing sharp stilettos from entering a building so the wood flooring would not be damaged. This image stayed in his mind, and he later used this idea in his designs. “I wanted to defy that,” Louboutin said. “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.”
Fascinated by world cultures, he ran away to Egypt and India in his teens. Returning to Paris in 1981, he assembled a portfolio of drawings of elaborate high heels, which landed him a job with Charles Jourdan. Subsequently, Louboutin met Roger Vivier and became an apprentice in his atelier. “Yes, I wanted to be a shoe designer, but I never thought it could be a profession. But what was the alternative? Doctor? Too dirty! Air hostess? Maybe not! Then someone gave me a book on Roger Vivier and, cherie, instantly I knew that was it!”
Two decades later, Louboutin has not lost his touch. He still knows how to make women swoon. ■