IN HIS SHOES. The accessories designer extraordinaire humbly shares his perspectives, experiences and joie de vivre, along with an introduction to his multi-hued and well-embellished men’s pieces for the season
Most people tend to assume that the accessories label founded by Christian Louboutin in 1991 and bearing his name took off because of its iconic red soles. In reality, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Extravagant designs and rich colors that drape every piece produced are true testaments to the fervent passion—not to mention painstaking attention to detail—engendered by the French designer since a very young age. Shoes are, and will forever be, his biggest love affair in life.
2016 celebrates 25 years of his namesake house, which had already etched an indelible mark in shoemaking history. And this season’s sumptuous creations for men are no exception. From the finely embroidered Tudor flat shoes to the fireworks-inspired Louis high-top sneakers, every piece has its own story to tell. In fact, it’s as if it’s impossible for the brand to weave only one theme each season; Louboutin is irrepressible in his bold and innovative footwear designs. No less eye-catching and unique are his men’s bags, like the red rubber-bottomed Explorafunk, for instance.
While his creations are brilliantly “loud,” Christian Louboutin himself is, almost paradoxically, a humble character; one who never hesitates to express his admiration for others, affection for a particular memory or locale, and appreciation toward those who have inspired him. He seems to constantly be on the learning edge, always hungry for some cultural excitement during his travels, which would eventually transpose into the intrinsic and aesthetic qualities of his work. This attitude, along with his multi-faceted personality, sits at the heart of this Parisian haute couture accessories house.
DA MAN: You often credit showgirls as the core inspiration for your brand’s women’s shoes. What about the men’s shoes?
Christian Louboutin: When I design for men, I often think of artists, great athletes, performers, designers, and so on. They are all inspirational to me, and drawing inspiration from different types of artists translates into a diverse category of men’s shoes. I hope that my shoes inspire people, the same way artists inspire me.
DA MAN: The Louis shoes with the map of Paris are very eye-catching. How did you come up with this, and how did you pick which arrondissement you’d like to feature?
Christian Louboutin: The creation of the Plan de Paris [shoes] was truly a labor of love. The design is based on a vintage map of Paris. Of course, I had to include the 1st arrondissement [administrative district] where my studio and flagship boutique are still located today. As much as I love to travel, Paris will always be my home—I am a Parisian through and through.
DA MAN: Do you have a different set of design approaches for men’s and women’s shoes?
Christian Louboutin: Shoes transform a woman’s body, so she looks at them in a very specific way. For men, it’s different. It’s more about style and pleasure because you can’t transform a man’s body with a shoe. When designing for women, my drawings are curvy, while my sketches for men are quite angular.
DA MAN: What’s the most important design element in men’s shoes?
Christian Louboutin: Men and women look at shoes differently. Men examine them, hold them and try to figure out what they are made of. They try the shoes on to see if they are comfortable, and stomp around in them to see if they are durable. When I am dreaming up designs for men, my visualizations are completely different. Is the leather thick enough? Will it expand enough? Does it need to be lined? Men are more concerned with functionality and practicality.
DA MAN: What about bag designing, where do you usually start?
Christian Louboutin: It all starts with a sketch. No matter how much detail you put into the design, the finished bag stays true to the original drawing, which is not the same for shoes. With a shoe, you must ensure the details do not alter the form, because someone will eventually wear and be supported by the shoe.
DA MAN: You often mention travel as an essential part of your designs. Could you name, say, three of your favorite destinations that have inspired you the most and why?
Christian Louboutin: Traveling is one of my greatest sources of inspiration, with Egypt being one of my favorite places—I basically consider it a second home. Dahabibi, my sailboat on the Nile, is sort of a sanctuary for me, an incredibly relaxing place where I can sketch and draw while being carried along the most breathtaking landscape. India is also an eternally rich source of inspiration for me. I have always had a love affair with Indian cinema and fashion, which can clearly be seen in many of my designs, especially through rich colors and lavish embroideries. And when I want to get away from it all, I like to spend time in my studio by the sea in Portugal, a place that always makes me feel at peace.
DA MAN: After decades of experience in the business, what’s the biggest lesson that you have learned that budding designers looking to follow in your footsteps should pay attention to?
Christian Louboutin: Be flexible. Most people think that it’s all about being creative, which is the foundation of being a designer; but you really need to be flexible, because you have to change a lot of things in limited time. Flexibility means you are not too stubborn.
DA MAN: In your personal opinion, what or whom was it that really made the brand such a big hit from the very beginning?
Christian Louboutin: More than passion, dreams, or imagination, it’s really a lucky star that brought me to where I am today. I let myself be guided by things; whatever I do always flows from what I’ve done previously.
DA MAN: We have to ask this question and hear it straight from you: How did you come up with the iconic red soles?
Christian Louboutin: In 1992, I designed a shoe called Pensées. When I received the prototype from the factory, I noticed that something was missing from my original sketch, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. While examining the shoe, my assistant happened to be painting her nails red next to me. I grabbed the polish and proceeded to paint the soles of the shoes red. From that moment on, red soles became my signature.
DA MAN: Last but not least, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a shoe design?
Christian Louboutin: I’ve had a lot of unique requests, but one of the craziest was actually quite difficult to execute. There was a man who had a tattoo on his arm of his head on the body of a fish, holding a mermaid. He wanted embroidery of the same design on a pair of shoes, but he wanted the head of the mermaid to be made using his girlfriend’s hair. So for the embroidery, he gave us a piece of her hair, and we stitched the hair of his girlfriend into the shoes. Talk about love!
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style Fall/Winter 2016. Get your copy here.