This classic interview with Christian Louboutin was first published in La Stampa on 3rd June 2012.
The Design Museum of London is holding a retrospective honouring Christian Louboutin’s twenty-year career. The show runs through 9 July. Mr. Louboutin, what can you tell us about it?
It is an exhibition curated by Donna Loveday that traces the history of my work. The focus isn’t just on my shoes. It shows the work that came before, the complex craftsmanship that is the foundation of my shoes. Thus, the curator had my Paris atelier recreated with many details, explaining all of the steps that go into making shoes. There are also some photographs with David Lynch taken in 2008 in Paris.
Your life is dedicated to shoes. How did that happen?
I am following through on an obsession that started in my childhood. I started very young but never thought it would become my job. I was around ten or eleven years old.
Where did this passion come from?
At that age, I would always visit a museum in the twelfth arrondissement: the Musée Permanent des Colonies, a beautiful building. There was a large sign in this museum with a picture of a woman’s shoe with a red bar through it. I didn’t understand why this shoe was so strange and why wearing it was forbidden. I then understood that everything was forbidden. This sign stayed in my mind and intrigued me for a long time.
How did shoes become your career?
I started drawing the same shoe I’d seen in that poster, changing the details ever so slightly every time. Everyone gave me shoes, drawings of shoes, and after a while I understood that it could become a real job. This really became clear when I was about fifteen and was given a Roger Vivier book. It was a catalogue of a retrospective of his work. At that time I adored dancers, and I would always go to the music hall with a friend.
Your shoes all have a red sole. What is the story behind this signature statement?
Most of the shoes start from a drawing. In 1992, I had created a series of shoes inspired by Pop Art with really bright primary colours. Looking closely at the prototype I realized that the black sole on that shoe was too dominant. There was a girl next to me painting her nails red, and I can’t really explain why, but I took the nail polish and used that colour to paint the sole. That is how the red sole started.
Do you still design all of your shoes?
Yes, all of them. There are 400 to 500 drawings, 200 models per collection and, in the end, 120 to 150 models remain. For a good twenty years now.
Why do you think that your shoes are so successful?
I was raised by women. I was the youngest. I had three sisters and a mother. My father was always away. I lived in a sort of harem. So I know women well. The success is due to my love and great respect for women and their characteristics and desires. When I draw, I am three people in one: a designer, a friend to women, and a man. It is a constant internal struggle. A designer draws something and doesn’t care at all about how the shoes will be worn or if they will be worn. But you need to put yourself in a woman’s shoes.
Where do you make your shoes?
I design them all over, but they are made in Italy.
Why in Italy if you are French?
I am French, but French craftsmanship is too masculine for women’s shoes. It is more delicate and precious in Italy. More feminine in other words.
Who were your idols?
I loved monsieur Roger Vivier. I really loved Salvatore Ferragamo’s work from the 1940s and 1950s, and André Perugia’s work from the 1930s and 1940s.
What is your relationship with fashion?
I have never made a dress. When I design shoes, I don’t think about fashion. If anything, I imagine women nude.
How have women changed in the last twenty years, and how have women’s shoes changed as a result?
When I started, shoes were tied to the seasons. Today, seasonal shoes no longer exist. There are no winter boots and summer sandals, it is all mixed together. I have always loved high heels, but the high heel from twenty years ago is a mid-sized heel today. Heels have gotten higher and are important for work. A woman confessed to me that she buys my shoes with a really high heel because they put her at the same height as her boss, and she’s able to look him straight in the eyes. So, height is not just about having a longer leg. Is that idea clear?
Where do you have the most success with your shoes?
I sell on every continent, from Australia to Asia to Africa to Europe, but my top market is, without a doubt, the United States. I have fifty-six stores throughout the world. In Asia, for example, I have three in China, four in Japan, two in Hong Kong and Singapore. In Europe, I have three in Paris and London, then I have one in Madrid, one in Berlin, and I am opening stores in Rome, Istanbul, and Dubai respectively.