Christian Louboutin: Beyond the famous red soles
Michael Earle takes us inside the curious world of designer Christian Louboutin and his famous red soled shoes.
According to a story that appeared in the Telegraph UK Newspaper, Italian research has apparently shown that a good pair of heels can help tone the body, condition muscles and improve the wearer’s sex life by working out the pelvic muscles. While this is clearly a questionable finding, assuming there is some truth in there somewhere, Christian Louboutin Shoes, known around the world for their trademarked red lacquered heels, might just do the self improvement trick.
The shoes have been worn by famous women such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, Carla Bruni, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve, Kirsten Dunst, Tina Turner and Angelina Jolie just to name a few. The designer himself, Christian Louboutin, has been quoted as saying that he designs shoes, and specifically the heels, to be a “perfect blend of beauty and sex appeal,” high enough that they “slow women down and give them a sexier gait.”
Louboutin left home at the age of 12, with his parents believing he had the wherewithal to survive on his own. He would still regularly visit them for lunch but began his not-quite-adult life by pursuing his love of shoes. As a young schoolboy, he had passed the Museum of African and Oceanic Art and seen a sign with a spiky heeled shoe crossed out, prohibited from being worn inside, as the shoes might damage the floors.
The impression of these shoes being taboo struck him and from then on, he carried a sketchbook and was constantly designing the new stiletto and drawing bigger and bigger heels. The image of prohibited shoes stayed in his mind, and he later used this idea in his designs.
“I wanted to defy that,” Louboutin has said. “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.” He was not sure that he could make a living in this way but as he mentioned in the New Yorker magazine: “Yes, I wanted to be a shoe designer but I never thought it could be a profession.” He continued, “but what was the alternative? Doctor? Too dirty! Air Hostess? Maybe not! Then someone gave me a book on Roger Vivier (another famous shoe designer) and instantly I knew that that was it!”
Louboutin ended up working at the Parisian cabaret Folies Bergère, where he was a helper to the girls in the show and was constantly showing them his new designs. The girls would send him to the local butcher to buy veal carpaccio. Initially thinking that the show girls were eating the meat, he was curious and inquired into their great love of this particular food. He found out they were actually using the delicacy to pad their shoes to survive the shows. He has since designed a shoe, the Very Privé, based on this experience with carpaccio.
Louboutin helped bring stilettos back into fashion in the 1990s and 2000s, designing dozens of styles with heel heights of 120mm and higher. As a fashion lacking male, I have no idea how someone can walk in a shoe with a 120mm heel without falling. Louboutin mentions that his mission as a shoe designer is to “make a woman look sexy, beautiful and to make her legs look as long as possible.”
In his U.S. trademark application, according to the Telegraph, Louboutin explains the inception of the signature red soles, “In 1992 I incorporated the red sole into the design of my shoes. This happened by accident as I felt that the shoes lacked energy so I applied red nail polish to the sole of a shoe to give it some life. This was such a success that it became a permanent fixture.”
According to the Luxury Institute’s Luxury Brand Status Index, Christian Louboutin shoes have topped the list for several years; the brand’s offerings were declared the Most Prestigious Women’s Shoes. Louboutin has been able to expand his empire with new stores popping up around the world. There are currently three Christian Louboutin boutiques in Paris, and nine boutiques in the United States: three in New York, two in Las Vegas, and one in Miami and Dallas. He also has two high-profile stores in London. In Asia, the first Christian Louboutin boutique opened in October 2007 in Hong Kong. Other boutiques in Asia are located in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, India and three have opened in China. In the Middle East there are four stores in Dubai and additional stores in Lebanon, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi, and Kuwait and in Australia. Clearly there are many new locations to come as women worldwide are entranced with Louboutin designs.
Louboutin also has a not so convincing argument for people like me who wonder how someone can manoeuvre in these shoes without doing serious damage to themselves. He often mentions a client who, after having bought her first pair of his shoes, had to slow down her walk to keep from falling. She began to notice things in her neighbourhood and daily routine that she never had before. He sees a certain virtue in walking in expensive, well-designed shoes and believes the end result will overcome any temporary distress. Hard to argue with him when the most imitated women in the world are all wearing his shoes.
These shoes are not for all budgets as they range in price from $600 to $6000 a pair. One optimistic point to consider, the shoes have been described in some circles as a prosthetic, lengthening the legs, defining the calves, lifting the butt. When you start adding up the cost of these plastic surgeries, the shoes do not seem so expensive after all. For me, watching for the flash of the red sole on the red carpet might bring some enjoyment to the otherwise banal and vapid world of celebrities.