“Any woman who wants to wear one of my shoes is a Christian Louboutin woman,” said the designer in an exclusive interview with Daily News Egypt at his newly-opened Beirut boutique in mid-July, one of only two currently in the Middle East.
It was the first question that sprang to my mind, and while his answer was very democratic, it tells of a designer who seems to really appreciate women, and all of them for that matter.
How could this man bring rational and grounded women to their knees at the thought of a red-soled pair of high heels? And how does he get them to part with so much money for shoes priced upwards of $600?
The opening of the boutique the night before the interview saw Beirut’s female socialites and shoe aficionados clamor for a picture, and if lucky, the designer’s autograph on the sole of their newly-bought shoes. Some diehard fans had even flown in from Cairo for the event. With charm and humor he juggled all their demands, wearing a smart navy blazer with red trim, white pants and studded white high top sneakers of his own design from the new men’s line — but of course.
Seated with the designer as the evening died down I reflected that he seemed slightly tired yet cheerful despite the excitement of his patrons and the chaos of women trying on shoes that evening. “I really enjoy this part of meeting clients, even though it takes a lot of effort. Other brands have dropped the identity of the brand being that of the designer. Take for instance Christian Dior which has rebranded itself as Dior. I like to maintain my brand as Christian Louboutin, not simply Louboutin. And being here is part of it.”
In that vein, the store and particularly the shoes reflect the life and personality of the designer. His shoes are just as polished in appearance as is Louboutin whenever one meets him: colorful and with a playful touch.
The store’s interior covering 1,000 square feet is charming, with pictures of Christian Louboutin and friends in exotic locations as framed stickers on the walls. Couches with striped material which the designer tells me he brought from Syria himself. Shoes in vitrines with niches for each shoe. Surprising elements that include a border pattern below the ceiling’s cornice of the Ancient Egyptian’s Ram god; his inspiration by and love for Egypt cannot be doubted.
Louboutin’s claim to fame was his story and undoubtedly his shoes. A young boy who was so enamored by the glamour and theatrics of showgirls in his native Paris, he would play truant from school to go watch the shows, selling sketches to showgirls of shoe designs and a little while later, designing shoes for the big couture houses of Paris including Yves Saint Laurent.
Having opened shop on his own later, it was his Love shoe — with the word ‘love’ divided between the two shoes as an embellishment — that caught the attention of magazine editors and shoe lovers. Today, inspired by performers of all sorts, shoes by the designer come in a variety of standard classic shapes including the Pigalle, inspired by the showgirls in the district of Paris by the same name; heel heights from the basic flat to towering 120 mm heels; a variety of exotic skins and materials including satin and velvet, to reinterpretations of shoe styles including the soft cloth slippers worn by men in Luxor to Fred Astaire’s dance shoes.
And the red soles? Those were inspired by red nail polish, explains the designer. “I was working once and an assistant I had working for me was constantly applying red nail polish and I took it and applied it to the sole of a shoe and since then, it has always been my trademark.”
If the Egyptian state had the equivalent of France’s Légion d’Honneur, the prestigious award of merit, it would have been about time to award it to Christian Louboutin for cultural services rendered to the country. He is currently Egypt’s most glamorous ambassador, never failing to mention in international press interviews and editorials his fascination and love for the country, particularly Luxor.
But women the world over have a lot to thank the designer for as well. He is perhaps the only man who universally cannot disappoint a woman, I suggest to the designer.
He smiles wryly at the thought as we discuss singer Jennifer Lopez’s hit single “Louboutins,” a song the tells of a woman’s decision to leave her partner by throwing on her Louboutins before heading out the door.
“The song is about a woman’s independence, which is why I was so happy to hear the song,” says Louboutin. “Jennifer Lopez’s manager had contacted me and wanted me to hear the song so as to approve its release and he flew with the song to me so I could hear it and I immediately said yes.”
Christian Louboutin has been very busy this year. A collaboration with the Mattel company for Barbie, store openings, red carpet appearances and designing seasonal collections. A shoe inspired by Egypt’s very own notorious belly dancer Dina is also in the works.
“I’ve been inspired by Egyptian belly dancers’ tradition of dancing with bare feet. In Turkey they dance in heels and I think that doesn’t allow the body to move so naturally whilst dancing. From Dina, I’ve been inspired to take a ballet flat and add a heel to that, with little things on the back of the shoe that will shimmer and move.”
I wouldn’t mind a pair of those in a size 39.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Daily News Egypt: Your shoes, as beautiful as they are, often have women complain of their towering height. What’s the philosophy behind it?
Christian Louboutin: A woman once complained to me that she couldn’t run in her shoes and I think life goes so quick that in fact anything that slows you down is actually a good thing. Crossing the world running doesn’t bring you anything. You are more inside the world if you are not running through the world. I think actually what these shoes bring is it puts you in a better speed, I would say actually in an Oriental speed; women in the Orient don’t move that quickly. And it’s a good thing.
Of all the shoes that you’ve designed, what is your favorite?
It always changes. I don’t have a favorite shoe because it is like friendship in a way, you have a favorite person in the world for a while and then you switch and then you spend a lot of time with another friend and have the nicest time in the world. I couldn’t say I have a best best friend; it’s not really true because I think it’s rude for your other friends in a way.
It’s the same thing with shoes. Sometimes one shoe reminds me of something very specific and then I have shoes I love because I remember the [design] sketching, and how long it took me because it is a technical achievement, or because there is a detail in the thing that reminds me of someone, so it always goes back and forth and changes all the time.
And in shoe design history, do you have any favorites?
I still think that I was always amazed by two things: the clogs, the wood and mother of pearl clogs that you find in the hammams for women in Syria; and also these huge 16th century Venetian platforms, definitely both beautiful pieces.
How is that you can design shoes when you don’t wear heels? How can you relate to the process of designing high heels?
You have a lot of designers who are not wearing the dresses. Actually, the fact that you are not wearing things brings you more to the front as a practical person and I think when it comes to design it’s the practical part.
I understand that you started designing shoes for men, and you started with shoes specifically for the singer Mika?
The first big part of shoe design for one person for a full stage performance was Mika yes. [Yet] I had started to design some shoes for the shows of Michael Jackson. Michael inspired me with a sort of Fred Astaire tap dance shoe. The first prototype at the front was black with metal studs, the [tongue] of the shoe was white and the sides were black, but the front was intended to have diamonds — but of course everyone knows what happened to poor Micheal so I took back the idea, or part of the idea of Micheal Jackson’s shoe to Mika who are in a way very different but they are two great performers.
Why did you decide to revive your iconic Love shoes?
Because it was my first shoe, and it sort of brings me to my own history. When I did it, I had a sort of love/hate relationship with that shoe because it was the only shoe that I had been selling for six months and people were driving me crazy, people were coming in and saying ‘Oh this is the Love shoe shop.’ I had a full collection of shoes but for people I only had one shoe.
But in a way, it was a shoe that put me on the map, that put me in magazines, so I ordered a lot and it kept me in business for the first six months so I owe a lot to that shoe. And it made me understand a lot of things because I was totally generally new to business. I didn’t know what to do when stock ran out, I thought it was natural that when a shoe was gone you did something else so I learned the concept of reordering things, so I guess that shoe taught me a lot.
It’s been an important shoe so now that the love/hate relationship has arrived to an end, I have a lot of pleasure to think of my starting point with that shoe. And as it’s going to be my 20th anniversary in two years, I thought to bring back the Love shoe.
You design so much and I wonder is every shoe designed by you personally or do you have a team?
I have someone who is my assistant who is editing my collection. I am super detail-oriented and he looks at the collection and suggests for example a sling back here or a pump there so he’s a good editor but I do all the designs.
I always remember my mother in the 80s having the matching bag and shoes ensemble. And now it’s never about matching it’s a cliché if you match. But now some of the bags and shoes in your collections match and I wonder, are you trying to introduce that concept again?
No, but I think what I want to do with the bags is I want to have like two sisters, two twins in terms of quality, whimsicality in a way, and drawing. If for instance you’re having lunch with a twin, if you put them together they make sense, but if you have lunch with one twin it’s not like you’re having lunch with half a person, they’re complete individuals. You can take the bag away from the shoe and it can work on its own. The bag can travel and be by itself, it should be from the same family but it should be separated with no hurt [or pain].
The bags I work on the details and I have a small team who go to all the factories, etcetera; but the shoes I work on completely by myself, reshaping the shoe a 100 times.
I understand that you were not formally educated in shoe design. What sort of education did you give yourself so that you can design shoes the way you do now?
Freedom, I’ve been traveling a lot and from that I’ve been bringing back souvenirs, a lot of details, a lot of objects, etcetera. Funnily enough I’ve been traveling for pleasure until I started my company. When I was working for Yves Saint Laurent I was designing the shoes, and then being paid in cash and then traveling for three months. Once I started my company those days were over but I see that I have so many souvenirs.
When I travel for pleasure it was never about laying on the beach for two weeks. It was always interesting for me in a way to visit countries with cultures and museums, and I think this is my background. I’m really rich in that…area. I’ve been seeing a lot, I’ve been meeting a lot of situations and peoples, and if you leave your eyes completely drifting you have all the treasures in the world sort of everywhere, so it brings you mixed blood and feeling, which goes in design which actually makes it interesting.
I have a suggestion for you: Have you ever considered a mother and daughter line?
[With slight exasperation and laughter] Yes, absolutely. What keeps me from doing it is time. I just can’t do everything, but I’ve definitely been thinking about it. Every woman who has just had a baby comes to me and tells me I need to do a line, every person who has been pregnant wants to see the line.
What’s your favorite museum?
I think it’s the Cairo Museum, it’s definitely my favorite.
Isn’t it a shame that they’re moving it?
We still have time…no what I mean by that is let’s wait…I hope they never move. Especially [since] there are enough artifacts to do another museum, and so just leave that museum and build another one to house those stored pieces.
What is your favorite hangout in Egypt?
The Marriott Gardens.
Favorite place in Egypt?
The West Bank in Luxor, or Sisila, Ka’ab Sisila, those quarries before Komombo, where all the temples had been excavated from them. You do see them in the Roberts drawings. Every time I go to Egypt, I visit. I did a whole look book four years ago in Ka’ab Sisila.
What’s your favorite thing about your neighborhood in Cairo’s Garden City?
The light, the lighting, because it’s not too bright. It’s almost as if you’re in a movie, the light is so delicate.
What are your favorite things to buy in Egypt?
I buy a lot of pleated sheets from Malaika linens, I constantly buy from there. It’s a nice company, they’re so beautiful.
Christian Louboutin Boutique
Fakhry Bey St.,
Downtown Beirut, Lebanon
Tel: +961 1 970 625
The Christian Louboutin boutique in Beirut.
“Rollerboy Spikes” (left) inspired by footwear in Luxor reinterpreted by designer Christian Louboutin and (right) the "Fifi Strass Volcano."