Interviews

BIRD OF PARADISE

Famed for his red lacquer soles Christian Louboutin is something of royalty in the fashion world and in making women feel great. Louisa Castle speaks exclusively to the beret-wearing designer

I am nervous to meet the man behind the shoe. First and foremost I do not want to bore him with my questions and second I have no idea what to wear – never mind what shoes should adorn my feet.  As I arrive at Selfridges for my meeting I am collected and confident in my best bit of Chanel. Monsieur Louboutin is busy at a photo call by his geometric entrance display, charismatic and charming in his tweed suit and red beret. He’s causing quite a stir as the crowd of large screened phones records the moment.

In the sanctuary of the personal shopping suite it is now my moment as I am introduced and we settle down to chat before being whisked away for some shoe-signing at his new boutique within the store.

My first question is one about inspiration. It is widely reported that Paris’ night life and the dancers on stage were his initial inspiration along with a visit to the Museum of African Art, not to mention the story of his red-lacquer sole. All which point us to his response.

“Inspiration comes from everywhere. If you look around you and see the objects or hear a conversation.” Louboutin was working on a new shoe design inspired by Andy Warhol’s ‘Flowers’ when something didn’t quite click between his drawing and the prototype in front of him. The sole was big and black and heavy. But an assistant of the time was painting her nails red. And that was the birth of a new Louboutin Pantone colour. Inspiration comes from all around.

” One thing I have always loved is textile and architecture. I think that comes from my father who was a carpenter, that love of wood and well made things. Pure form and the details.

“Movies inspire me too and I am a man who travels. Eyes have a different perception to what slowly stays with you in the memory and comes back to you. It’s almost not your decision. It’s like a beautiful classical house with influences from its owner and their travels. They may love India but it will be shown through the striking colours and ribbons rather than taking over.

“When I design I go to be alone. In the countryside, with no one and no phone and I concentrate. Serious with pleasure.

“I am very blessed. I do something that I love. And when you do something that you love it is up to you to keep the love, the passion. People are still excited by my work and that comes from something very simple; respect and love.

“I was raised by my mother and three sisters. I know how much shoes can mean to a woman, what intimacy they can provide that no one else can ever know.

“My shoes for women were inspired by the show girls, they are like birds of paradise. What else do they need? They have feather!

“They aren’t all about sexy. They are about confidence. There is an element of seduction often. I know of one lady who was crossing the street in a pair of my shoes and her future husband passed her and then went back to ask her out. We laughed as he was very shy. But it was the shoes and she wore some at the wedding.

“A tool of communication. They go beyond fashion. The dictat from a magazine saying there’s a new trend etc doesn’t affect us much at all.

“Women embrace the shoe as part of their nudity, an extension of themselves I remember meeting a woman in Paris who bought a pair because she wanted to be at eye level with her new boss. They gave her the confidence at work.”

Several years ago, Louboutin launched a men’s collection. “I have always designed men’s shoes but always for me and my friends. Never professionally. I had a very classical French view that man never thought like women. They didn’t get excited about their shoe. It was traditional, beautifully made and to be passed on to their sons.

“Then a young pop singer Mika called me to ask to design his shoes for his tour. It was funny that he was asking so I asked why. Also raised with three sisters he said he couldn’t really explain but kept seeing how the women in his life thought so highly of my shoes and what they added in confidence. He said ‘ for me, on stage, I need to have things like it’

“I was thankful for him explaining. Now I understood. Instead of the traditional, think exciting. And suddenly it’s very easy for me. That conversation opened the lock and I designed my whole first collection thinking of him.

“There’s a showgirl in every woman and every man… in a way. A sportsperson provides you with a great show. It’s a different industry very naturally.”

And so to talk of Christmas and the pair of YouYou Apps I shall be asking to be under the tree.

“Christmas, I think of it in a cold place. I don’t want to see the sun. This year maybe I will spend it in France or house in Egypt though.

“It always reminds me of childhood. I never believed in Santa Claus. I couldn’t see how he could get down the fireplace when we had  no fireplace at my parents’ apartment. Something was wrong to me. I am an atheist and whilst I loved the idea, whoever invented the story had to be a child. And the sweet game. I did not believe that my parents believe that I believe. No one was fooling anyone but you play your part.

“It is a period of Christmas, not just the day. Being French I love the way Paris completely closes down over Christmas, which irritates the tourists but I love it.

“My ideal dream present would be some kind of cellular phone which doesn’t need to be plugged in. Solar maybe. I am addicted to my phone and always run out of battery and always looking for where there is a plug.

“I love to give presents more though. I do a me-to-me gift though! This year I have ordered a beautiful new sail for my sail boat.”

In a career which spans over 24 years, “we are still very young but we have been going a long time” there must be some memorable moments he can share, I ask conspiratorially.

“One of the biggest honours in my career so far is when I was asked to provide my shoes for Yves Saint Laurent – the most famous couturier in France himself, not the brand –  in his last show, which was a retrospective. It was beautiful  moment and so exciting but I was so full of emotion when I saw my shoes in his show

“One of my most scary moments, funny retrospectively was when Tina Turner asked me to do the shoes for her final tour. They were very high. It was in Madison Square Garden and I turned up to watch the show, looking at the stage itself which was full of scaffolding. I am looking and trying to see where she will enter the stage and the only place I see is from the top. I am thinking oh my god she’s going to break her neck and I will be responsible for the queen of soul breaking her neck! She did enter from the top. I was so excited and petrified at the same time.”

And to the future of Christian Louboutin? “To keep on the way it is. It has been a very nice adventure.  I started the company with two friends of mine and we still own it.

“In the very DNA of the business is freedom. That is one of the best things people can have. It is often difficult, a challenge but definitely it is worth it.

“When I meet people, they say I am an example of dreams making reality. I never imagined being a role model and inspiring people. This messy, slightly eclectic French man!”

Christian Louboutin boutique, Selfridges Exchange Square (selfridges.com; christianlouboutin.com)

For The Cheshire Magazine, December 2015

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