The man behind the most instantly recognisable and revered heels sits with Georgie Bradley to discuss the Middle Eastern aesthetic, his love
of collecting bowties and what his own shoe closet looks like…
I am meeting Christian Louboutin for a golden half hour – a small wedge of time granted between shoe signings, meal times, a charity gala, sleep, TV interviews and a return flight to Paris. Not your regular run-of-the-mill business trip, but a whirlwind 36 hours typical to the life of a fabulous designer who handles these packed pockets of time with expert ease.
God forgive me, but I am wearing black trainers to meet him. What a let-down I think, especially when I catch a glimpse of a studded pair of Oxfords tucked underneath a coffee table, so shiny I can see my reflection in them – presumably worn at his charity gala the night before. Luckily, he’s wearing a pair of (a surprising choice, even to him) Middle Eastern leather sandals (“I never wear sandals, I don’t like them but I just decided to wear them today”) and an unintimidating blue hoodie and jeans ensemble.
We settle on a plush beige sofa out on his private terrace at a five-star resort hotel, overlooking the cerulean Arabian Gulf. We sit face to face (he puts on a pair of royal blue sunglasses, but I can feel his warm eyes looking right at me without any self-consciousness despite being a self-proclaimed shy person) while his entourage get on with low-level but busied activity around us without interrupting.
He has a small voice but his wit is confidently dry – he notes the absurdity of the cool weather in the region as he gathers his arms and rubs his palms together but his c’est la vie attitude is reassuringly intact. He takes interest in who I am and how I got to where I am. It’s very sobering to see that a man with so much genius, an emperor of high heels the world over, is also very genuine.
His shoes have been worn by the most well-heeled members of the global elite and us every women, who feel our most fantastic selves when hoicked up in a pair of his stilettos and give a seductive flash of those signature red soles as we take our strong and sexy strides in them. He is remarkably unfazed and is unperturbed by industry events like fashion week too for that matter. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s just that his priorities lie in the nuts and bolts of the shoemaking process.
He’s so intent on treating shoes as stand-alone pieces, he never designs them to match clothes. “While I am drawing, I always draw the woman naked. The only that’s how the iconic red sole came to be. Contrary to what you’d expect, the requests he gets from celebrities are remarkably uncomplicated. Madonna, Lady Gaga and J.Lo have extravagant personas to uphold but typically, it’s not about the shoe for the specific occasion. “If it’s for an award show for example, it will never be a slide heel, because it might fall off as they go on and off stage so it’s more about being practical. They want to look good but they don’t want to have to think about what they are wearing because the agenda of their night is about their cause, not the shoe,” he explains.
Christian has designed a staggering 20,000 shoes. It seems incredible to think that there can be 20,000 differences in a pair of shoes but Christian has a simple philosophy behind his genius. “If you have a vivid mind, enthusiasm and a love for what you’re doing, it can be done. If you love to speak, you can speak for 100 years, if you love to dance you can dance for 100 years,” he says.
One constant in all 20,000 designs though, is the iconic red sole. The story behind this trademark feature is just as cosmic as you might think. “Years ago, when the first prototype of a colourful Andy Warhol-inspired Mary-Jane shoe I designed arrived while I was in Italy, I thought it looked very good – but, the drawing looked better and I didn’t understand why? The drawing had more pop. At one point, I turned the shoe so the heel was facing me and the sole was black and suddenly the entire shoe became black despite having many colour.
It was a huge percentage of black that didn’t exist in my drawings. The model who was trying on the shoe was actually painting her nails in a strong red colour in that moment and I said to her: ‘Give me your nail polish for a second, I want to try something.’ I ended up painting the sole with this red nail polish and it looked much better,” he recounts. And that’s how the iconic red sole came to be.
Contrary to what you’d expect, the requests he gets from celebrities are remarkably uncomplicated. Madonna, Lady Gaga and J.Lo have extravagant personas to uphold but typically, it’s not about the shoe for the specific occasion. “If it’s for an award show for example, it will never be a slide heel, because it might fall off as they go on and off stage so it’s more about being practical. They want to look good but they don’t want to have to think about what they are wearing because the agenda of their night is about their cause, not the shoe,” he explains.
The Middle Eastern aesthetic never shies from attention. Christian has been coming back and forth to the Middle East for years and loves the “extreme and impressive makeup and hair” that women sport. He’s designed many one-off, exclusive pairs of shoes for the market in the past and sets “earthy colours with gold” as the perfect palette for Middle Eastern women – “gold goes very well with the sun”. Naturally, Christian is a shoe fiend. “I like every kind of shoe. My shoe closet is very organised too. There are two sections for sneakers, the black shoes are together, spikes are together, embroidered shoes are together and espadrilles are together,” he says. But when asked about his clothes collection, he struggles to list his favourite pieces – he doesn’t invest much in collecting any one piece except “ties and bowties. I have hundreds of them but I barely wear them, but I still keep collecting!”
Instead, his collecting habits lie in native American art like masks and dolls or sculptures. “I love small, detail-oriented pieces like Persian Miniatures. I don’t collect art, I like three dimensional things. Oh [a little laugh] I collect houses too, I have to be careful with that, it’s a very bad addiction!”