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Christian Louboutin interview

Seeing Red With Christian Louboutin

World-renowned for those red soles, Christian Louboutin has revolutionised the world of luxury footwear. We caught up with the legendary shoe designer to discuss shoes that don’t date, discovering cabaret and his design inspirations.  

Were you interested in shoe design or fashion growing up?

I certainly wasn’t interested in fashion as a kid. I mean, I liked pretty things, but even though I grew up with three sisters I don’t remember us ever discussing clothes. I didn’t read fashion magazines, so the vocabulary of fashion was completely alien to me. Probably my introduction to fashion came through movies. I think it’s because movie actresses are characters and I like the idea of understanding someone’s personality through their clothes.

“I don’t pay attention to trends. I tend to design shoes like other people might design jewellery.”

What type of movies did you like?

Old ones, always. I think I had a type of nostalgia for the past because I was quite old for my age. For instance when I was 12, 13, and 14 I didn’t really like people of my own age, I was quite mature. I became more immature later in life though!

How did you discover cabaret?

I had a friend who made a documentary about the history of cabaret. After I watched it I became fascinated by that world. I can remember very clearly watching the one from Beirut, which was filmed during the war. You’d be watching all these beautiful girls dancing and then there’d be a big explosion and you’d realise a bomb had just fallen. I thought: “There’s a war happening yet they keep on dancing; how crazy is that?!” I loved the whole ‘the show must go on’ thing.

In your teens you interned at the Folies Bergère; how did your time there influence you?

I certainly learned a lot of tricks at the Folies Bergère, but it’s the inset platform that really stands out. The showgirls loved to wear high heels, but they didn’t like to be seen in platforms as they felt a bit Carmen Miranda. Unless they were doing a Brazilian carnival thing they didn’t really want that look; so instead they’d insert some padding inside the sole. It might have looked like they were wearing a five-inch heel, but they were really only on three or four inches. Aside from looking better, it allowed them to dance more easily and it was better for their backs. Now everyone does the inset platform, but I was the first. And, of course, I loved the showgirl’s styles. The Folies Bergère was a real fantasy world; perfect for a dreamer like me.

Where do you find your design inspiration today?

Travel has always been a big thing for me, but it’s never overt. It’s not like: “Okay I’m going to China so my next collection will be very Chinese and women all over the world will know I’ve been.” It’s not that square. My inspirations go back and forth; they stay in my memory before they eventually make their way into a design.

As a freelance designer you worked with brands such as Chanel and Roger Vivier; what did you take from those experiences?

Ah, Monsieur Roger Vivier was a divine gentleman - the best of the best. He taught me that a shoe is like bone structure; the form and shape is the most vital thing. I also learnt a lot from his view of 1950s elegance. Perhaps the most important thing he taught me is something that Monsieur Christian Dior used to tell him. Apparently he would say that a pair of shoes or a dress must always be beautiful, but never the first thing you notice. Okay, so some of my shoes are very noticeable, but when a woman tries a pair on she should always look at herself in the mirror first, not at the shoes. They shouldn’t detract or distract.

You’re known for your shoe signings; what do you enjoy about public appearances?

It’s a nice feeling to meet the women who wear your designs. I like to be connected to them and I love to hear their stories. Sometimes they’re shy, or they don’t speak that loud, but they all have a story to tell. Maybe they want to tell you that the pair they’ve just bought is their first pair, or perhaps they want to let you know how they discovered you or tell you about a particular pair of shoes that have become special to them. It’s fascinating. I was working as a salesman in my store for the first two years of starting my business and I loved it. I was a very good salesman and I learnt a lot from the women that I met.”  

What’s your secret to designing a shoe that doesn’t date?

I don’t pay attention to trends. I tend to design shoes like other people might design jewellery. Jewellery isn’t a seasonal thing: it’s not like fashion design, where you don’t want to see something after six months because it looks so dated. Okay so you still see the stamp of time on a piece of jewellery but it’s not so rapid. Even the most extravagant person will keep a beautiful piece of jewellery for a lifetime, possibly even passing it down to their children. I like to think they’d keep a pair of my shoes for a long time, too.

Why did you decide to launch your beauty line?

Because beauty is very much about empowering women and that’s true about shoes too; they’re both for a woman who’s in charge. Even though beauty was totally new territory for me, it was a similar sort of recipe to designing shoes. I tried to imagine them as pieces of jewellery, which is why they ended up looking like jewellery! It did take me a very long time because I wanted to have it perfectly correct.

Shop Christian Louboutin in-store at Harrods.

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