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April 24 2014

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The Heart And Sole Of Christian Louboutin

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Christian Louboutin strode his red-soled way to the front of the footwear pack over the course of 20 years in business, picking up adoring fans (and even Top 40 pop-song callouts) along the way. Even a 300-plus-page tome like the new Christian Louboutin ($150, out today from Rizzoli) couldn’t contain all his creations, it turns out; near the end, it says, “Darn, there are so many missing!” Those that are may still get their day, thanks to an upcoming retrospective of the designer’s work at the Design Museum and a soon-to-launch window display at Barneys. Here, Louboutin speaks with Style.com about his tics, his picks, and where he’s headed next.


How has your work evolved over the years?
At the beginning, I was doing super-dressy shoes. It was more about dressing than undressing. I started by dressing women’s feet, and now I love to undress them. Some lines are more bare and the design is completely attached to the leg and it’s very minimal, leaving the foot as the object of desire. Nudity and undressing have both become a big element. It’s nice to see the evolution and like everyone else, it’s a work in progress. I have never thought that everything is perfect and it still isn’t.

Do you have a favorite pair that you’ve designed?
It really changes. You cannot really like one pair of shoes more than the others. They remind you of a moment, like a memory of a great love story. I look at another shoe related to a great trip and it reminds me of that. They are all different.

Let’s talk about the beginnings of Christian Louboutin. You started sketching shoes as a boy, right?
There are two sketches in the book from when I was 12. My mom had kept them and when she passed away, my sister had kept them. I basically keep nothing but when I was talking about the book, my sister sent them to me. One of the sketches looks like the Pigalle at one point. It was to get out of boredom at school. I wasn’t very interested in it. It was like a hobby. It was really like a nervous tic. I always sketched the same way: heel on left, point on the right—it was nervous drawing.

And the way the book is divided, into chapters, it actually begins before the company was founded.
At the beginning, we—editor Eric Reinhardt and I—started to look at the shoes; I started talking, he was recording. He came back to me at one point and said, “I think you have enough interesting things to say that it should be a dialogue. We should have this chapter about before you were a designer.” One thing I enjoy is someone who is an aesthete. The way they eat is completely connected to the way they live and the way they design. Eric told me, “In a way, you just don’t know it, but you are an aesthete. There’s no difference between your personal life and the way you decorate your house.” He wanted to show how the two mix.

In the book, you say that your work is not about trends. Do you think that’s why you have been so successful?
I am faithful to my roots and what I like. If I am successful, that’s why. If you are running after trends, you might be good at a specific moment, but if I manage to stay in business it’s because I am faithful to what I like. It keeps my work intact and it shows in your design. People are quite attached to happy designs. I adore women. Definitely if a woman feels that, why go in a different direction? If your work is about what you like, it feels right.

You often work with designers without their own footwear collections for runway shows. Which did you collaborate with for Spring ’12?
They were mostly London designers this time. When you are a young designer, shoes are really expensive and you end up taking cheaper shoes to make it work and it ruins the whole look. If you can, which I can, I like to help young designers. I love to share my shoes with people who like making beautiful things. Mary Katrantzou really adds her elements to the shoes, and they are always really surprising for me. I don’t do her prints but she does them so well. It’s a real collaboration. I also love the classical wear of Jonathan Saunders. He is so dedicated to the perfect combination of color. He is so detail-oriented and I am, too. To have a designer with such dedication to that is so great. We share that in common.

You are still fighting the court battle to prevent other designers from using the red sole you trademarked in 2008. Where do things stand now?
What has been lost is the primary injunction. A lot of people have misunderstood and think I lost the whole thing. I just hope we end up with an agreement; I hope we don’t have to go all that way. I am not someone who likes to fight and I’m not about negativity. Why would a house with such notoriety start to lower itself by using things that are not theirs? It’s definitely recognized within the industry [that] it’s my signature, and I really hope there will be an agreement.

Your work is heavily influenced by your travels. Where have you been traveling lately?
I went to Mexico. The craftsmanship, the beads, the skeletons, and colors—it’s all so great. I am trying to go to Alaska—it’s really a hiking trip. The vibrancy of the colors there are so amazing. I want to be in perfect shape if I go, though, because there will be so much hiking involved.

So should we expect a Louboutin hiking shoe some day?
Ah yes, exactly.

Photos: Will Ragozzino / Getty Images; Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

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