Up a couple of stairs covered in Christian Louboutin red carpet, into an art form deco foyer made cozy by red lighting, come the fashionistas of Paris, flashing the red soles of these fancy designer shoes. Concerning which designer – darling, can you have to ask?
Footwear like this – embroidered with silk, embellished with spikes, accented with crystals, feathers, and bows, and, of course, those signature red soles – can only function as the handiwork of just one label. A title synonymous with luxury and celebrity, with heels so high they may give one vertigo: Christian Louboutin.
The French impresario’s trademarked signature “red bottoms” have strutted their way into the popular imagination because of famous brands Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw (who was involved with them), Jalon and Cardin B (who both sang about them), Aretha Franklin (who was buried in them) and everyone from Beyoncé to Meghan Markle and Data Von These (who in many cases are pepped wearing them).
Von These herself is here now, one of the sparkling hordes gathered at the opening of Exhibition [inset], a celebration of Louboutin’s 30-year career that is being immortalized in a new book by Rizzoli, Christian Louboutin: The Exhibition. This, of course, was weeks ago, when such things were still possible.
On March 14, the Palais de la Porte Dore – an aquarium and former museum on the southeastern fringes of Paris, near where Louboutin grew up – closed its doors until further notice.
We might not manage to begin to see the exhibit ourselves, but Louboutin and his work remain worth celebrating. Rarely do shoe designers, all things considered, become household names. Even those utterly unacquainted with fashion would understand that Christian Louboutin makes shoes. And exquisite ones, at that.
On the surface, of course, they’re simply shoes and possibly frivolous to write about now. That’s true. But all art has meaning and purpose, and anyone fortunate enough to have seen Exhibition [inset] themselves would understand that Louboutin’s shoes are nothing lacking skill.
Look a little more than those famous red soles, and you’ll begin to uncover the hidden influences of Louboutin’s designs:
- The circus
- Film director David Lynch
- The curving architecture of Brazilian modernist Oscar Niemeyer
- The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan
As a son, I’d come here traveling,” Louboutin, 57, tells me, friendly and dapper in bespoke yellow checks. “For me, it appeared as if [comic book adventurer] Tinting comes alive, with these fascinating objects from China, Tibet, and the Middle East. It’s where I saw my first sketch of a shoe and a ‘No high heel pumps’ sign from Africa for protecting wooden floors.”
A replica of that sign is placed at the start of the exhibition, near a wall adorned with red high heel molds – a tribute to the red soles he debuted in 1992 after painting a sole with red nail varnish he’d pinched from an assistant.
Louboutin began sketching footwear as a teenager, being expelled from school, learning to be a punk, enjoying stints in Egypt and India, and working as an intern at the showgirl-tactic Folies Berger. He frequented the iconic Parisian nightclub Le Palace, hanging out with Grace Jones, Andy Warhol, and his friend and muse, Farida Khalaf. The club’s come-one-come-all aesthetic (“Gay, straight, black, white, young, old”) piqued his penchant for cultural collision.
“It is essential to be ready to accept the beliefs and influences of different communities and civilizations. Otherwise, you remain stuck in your little box,” he says.
Those beliefs and influences traverse sets from Hopi masks and kachina dolls, jewelry, and fabrics to the ancient Greeks and taxidermy for Louboutin.
An installation by contemporary Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi – whose spin on Mughal miniature painting includes tiny violent flourishes – sees gold high heel pumps lying amid red paint-spilled carnage