Sure, Christian Louboutin’s a shoe maker. But to call him one seems like a gross understatement. After all, he’s turned shoes into objects of desire, symbols of empowerment and works of art. Which makes him more of a creator of fantasies. A dealer in seduction. A seller of dreams.
The individuality of his work — unapologetically sassy, flamboyantly sexy and intricately engineered — have enabled his shoes to travel the world, and in style. His client list includes practically every Hollywood A lister, from Elizabeth Taylor to Madonna. His daring designs incorporate silver python and spikes, red fishnet and black lace, bling and shiny patent leather, tempting even conservative women to take a walk on the wild side. He’s managed the seemingly impossible — creating a luxury brand that connects with rock stars and executives, WAGS and housewives, princesses and prostitutes.
“I am here to flatter women,” he smiles, pausing work to discuss the universality of stilettos. In Chennai to collaborate with Jean Francois Lesage (whose intricate embroidery adorns everything from the Louvre to scenes in the new Sex And The City movie), Louboutin is startlingly friendly. For a fashion icon, he’s even more startlingly casual, in pink Lacoste, shorts and shoes that look like – dare we say it – Crocs. “They’re Clark’s desert boots,” he grins. “I made holes in them – it makes such a difference. You get ventilation. And it’s much cooler.”
Although it’s been 28 years since he visited India last, Louboutin and
Lesage go back a long time. Just like his link with India. “I first came in 1979. Although I was born and raised in Paris, I used to watch a lot of Indian movies. Bollywood and also Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen… They made me love India.”
So he finally decided to travel here with a friend when he was 15 years old. “We went to Mumbai, then Goa. After that I came back every year for a while, till I was in my twenties.”
Louboutin also found an innovative way to sneak into Mumbai and Chennai’s film studios. “I would pretend to be a journalist. I wanted access and by posing as a writer I managed to get in and meet producers and actors.” Did he ever write about them? He chuckles, “Alors! No. But they were very nice!”
Though Louboutin dropped out of school when he was 17 years old, he learnt how to construct a perfect high heel by bouncing between music halls (where he ran errands for the high-heeled, feather-clad show girls) and internships.
When he opened his first store in Paris in 1991, his popularity exploded. Wickedly high and slashed with a distinctive red sole, Louboutin’s heels are now credited with bringing stilettos back into fashion, recreating them as a symbol of empowerment. Jennifer Lopez even released a song on Louboutin liberation. “I’m throwing on my Louboutins/ Watch these Red bottoms/ And the back of my jeans/ Watch me go, bye baby.”
“High heels gives you a body language. Your back becomes more curved. It forces a bit of attitude. It makes you feel more body conscious. To feel like a woman,” he says.
The shoes have a reputation for being flattering by making their wearer’s legs look practically endless. Louboutin says he’s overheard women in his store calling them “cheaper than a facelift,” he laughs.
This could explain why so many women scrimp and save for his shoes (They cost anything between Rs 20,000 to almost a lakh), making them far more than just the prerogative of pop stars.
“Very very high heels make a woman both fragile and sexy. In them, you almost can’t stand by yourself. You almost need support.” Yet, he states they’re empowering. “They raise women to the eye level of men. Women tell me this changes their relationships, with boyfriends. With bosses. I see it myself. I look at girls my height differently. When you’re looking down at a woman, You’re almost condescending.”
However, Louboutins are best known for being sexy. Underlining this, in 2007 he collaborated with filmmaker David Lynch for a show in Paris titled ‘Fetish.’ “I usually do the very high heels with a double platform. Because a shoe should never be more than 5 inches high. After that you can’t walk,” he says. “I did do some super super high heels for David Lynch. But they were not to be worn at all.” He shrugs, “Then Lady Gaga saw the exhibition and wanted the shoes for her video. I said, ‘Fine. But you cannot walk in them.’ So they told me, ‘She’s not intending to walk.’” He laughs and imitates an unsteady totter, ‘She ended up trying to, though.”
Louboutin says he’s thinking of opening in India now. “India has been a huge influence on me. The jewellery, the colour, the detailing on every piece of work… You have incredible things here, all so well made.” He says his travels have had a profound impact on him. “I look at everything. Then one day it surfaces in my drawings.”
After Mika, the Lebanese American singer, asked Louboutin to design him shoes, he began thinking of a men’s line. “Right now, I’m working on something for Prince,” he states. Meanwhile Jean-Francois Lesage directs his team of artisans, all carefully constructing a line inspired by the Maharaja of Gwalior.
With their frills and fastidious detailing, Louboutin’s are special because they’re wearable art. “I don’t want to see my shoes in a museum. I want to see them being worn. I want to see them being loved. I want to see men loving them on women.” He adds with laugh. “And I know a lot of men love my shoes!”