A pair of red soles can cure anything! Christian Louboutin knows what women want and has been delivering exactly that for two decades. Celebrations for completing 20 in shoe-biz are still on. A book launch, a new menís range, the addition of a line of bags, multiple new stores in Asia and the creative direction of a cabaret called Feu at Parisí famous The Crazy Horse have all been part of an action-packed year. Sohiny Das meets the
re-inventor of the stiletto during his India tour and discovers that his energy levels are as high as his heels
Twenty years into business, how does one keep oneself young, refreshed and idealistic?
Collectively, the time may seem long, but to me, itís like I just started yesterday! Time flew! When I started, I didnít know anything about designing shoes, but I learned something new each day. Itís this learning that keeps me enthusiastic. Iíve never seen this as Ďworkí; itís not a regular time-bound job for me. Iíve given myself the freedom to explore various things, not just shoe design. I like working or collaborating with friends Ė the energy is different, itís great.
In these two decades, what has changed in your way of viewing shoe design?
My earlier designs were very dressy, very decorative. Over the years, as I learned more about footwear design, my sensibilities matured. Now I like creating something more subtle Ė shoes which are not too dressy. Instead, thereís more focus on detail. The best example of this would be my nude pumps, which are made to give a Ďbareí look, to blend with a womanís skin tone. Itís meant to look Ďnakedí, as though sheís not wearing any shoes.
The constant debate between stilettos Ďempoweringí women and its feminist counterpoints Ė how do you react to it now?
To each their own. If you do not like blue, choose green. If you donít want high heels, feel free to wear flats. Everyone has the right to choose. Iím not forcing anyone; no one is obligated to wear stilettos. So I donít see this as a debate anymore.
Have you ever tried on your stilettos yourself?
I tried on my stilettos just once. It was a very technical moment. I didnít glance at the mirror to check how they looked on my feet. I was like a doctor examining if the heel was placed correctly and the pressure points were right enough. In my office, there are a lot of ladies who try on each sample pair, and based on their feedback, modifications are made if required.
When you design shoes, do you also visualise the ideal outfits with them?
No. Itís just a pair of bare legs in my head, to which I add the shoes.
Have you been inclined towards the very futurist, ergonomically Ďheel-lessí (but super high) school of design?
No, I donít think on those lines. For me, the woman and her movement in the shoes she wears are very important. She needs to have proper balance. Thereís a very traditional male side to me that asks Ė would I go out with a girl who wears those space-age looking shoes? Probably not. Thatís why my designs are built on classic aesthetics, in terms of the structure.
When designing your menís shoes, do you think of yourself as a muse?
Not at all. When I first came up with my menís designs, they were inspired by two very different people Ė friends of mine. One was a pop star Ė the British singer Mika. I did shoes for a couple of his shows and thatís where I started. The other was a sportsperson, who had lots of tattoos and inspired a tattoo range that I did for men. There are two sides to the menís shoes Ė a stage character and a more grounded persona.
Youíve collaborated with many creative stalwarts. What makes you click with someone?
Their enthusiasm. If someone is very passionate and enthusiastic about their work, then thereís a great drive that fuels the collaboration. But if they donít share my level of enthusiasm, then it doesnít stay an enjoyable process and gets boring. That is why I like doing projects with newer, younger designers Ė they have great energy.
Anyone youíre collaborating with, at the moment?
A young British designer called Mark Fast.
During collaborations, how rigid or flexible can you be?
I can be quite flexible, as long as the idea appeals to me and I respect the design aesthetic of those Iím working with. But for certain points, I have to stand my ground. Itís not a matter of ego, but of principle.
Give us an example of Ďstanding your groundí....
In 1993, when I first created the red soles, I sent across my pieces to a store in New York, as per their order. But they asked me to remove the red soles, which I wasnít ready to do. They were being adamant. Thatís when I had to put my foot down and tell them that they were my designs under my label. So take it or leave it!
Now that your brand is a global giant, with stores across continents, do you ever miss the time when you were more niche?
Iíve enjoyed every phase of my life and career. When I was 20, I had a certain pattern which changed by the time I was 30 and which changed further as I grew older. I started out small and I liked it. When I grew, I liked that too. And now that my brand has grown to the point that it has, Iím very happy with this current phase. So no reminiscing nostalgically. Itís always about Ďnowí, and going with the flow.
Did you study the Indian luxury consumer before venturing here?
Luxury is an inherent aspect here. Itís a very traditional Indian concept. The crafts, the bespoke traditions Ė they have all chanelled down from ancient times and a lot of these have been retained. People have very high standards of workmanship here, and a love for handcrafted items. Unlike many other countries, India hasnít let its old crafts die, but preserved them very well. Craft and luxury run in the Indian peopleís blood.
Is there a specific product or range that youíre targeting here?
Thereís something that Iím planning to develop Ė a bespoke service that will craft bridal footwear, for weddings and functions.
What is sexy about the Indian woman?
The Indian woman is shaped with curves. Even the skinniest women here will have their curves. When you think of Indian women, you never think of bones and jagged angles. Even the sari, with is drapes, is a swirling, curvy outfit meant to complement her form. Nothing is sexier than roundedness and curves.
One of your shoe designs is called Bollywoody. Any favourite Bollywood films?
I liked Devdas (the Bhansali one) and Jodhaa-Akbar very much. More recently, I watched Guzaarish and thought it was a beautifully and artistically crafted film. Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai are both terrific actors.
Has your Indian store at Emporio, Delhi, shaped up according to your expectations?
Yes, very much. Emporio is a great place to have a store. I took a look at my neighbouring stores, and I was particularly interested in what the Indian designers were retailing. Thereís some very high quality merchandise at their stores. Itís a good luxury environment.
Any other Indian cities on your retail plan next?
Maybe Mumbai; weíre still figuring things out. The next point doesnít necessarily have to be in a swanky luxury mall. I would like to have a more boutique approach. Maybe a heritage space that has history, and a different ambience. That would be nice.
How has the response been to Feu in Paris? Word is that you choreographed it partly?
I didnít choreograph it, but I was the creative director. So I was involved in several aspects of presentation. The response has been great, itís still running. I like doing collaborations like this, theyíre fun and get me recharged.
We hear that youíre a bit of a dancer yourself....
Well, letís just say that Iím not good enough for the cabaret stage. Not just yet.
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