Ten’s To See: ‘L’Exhibition[niste]’ by Christian Louboutin at Palais de la Porte Dorée
Wouldn’t it be magical to get the chance to step inside the mind of your favourite designer? To discover what they love and what they absolutely hate, perhaps see where their true inspirations come from? And maybe even check who they voted for in the last election? Well, all except the final insight have made their way into L’Exhibition[niste], the upcoming show at the Palais de la Porte Dorée museum in Paris. Opening today, February 26th, it delves deep into the world of Christian Louboutin and reaches places no one but the designer himself has seen before.
Paris-born and of Egyptian descent, Louboutin is a man of the world. He grew up a party boy during the second wave of the cabaret nightlife of the 1970s and worked as an apprentice in the dressing rooms of the notorious Folies Bergère. At some point, he even quit fashion to become a landscape gardener for a few years before launching his namesake brand and becoming the red-soled shoemaker to the stars and those who want to feel like them. The adventures the designer experienced during his life have been an endless source of inspiration for him, pushing him into researching eras that came before him.
Louboutin grew up in the 12th arrondissement of the French capital, just a short walk away from the Palais de la Porte Dorée (then the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie), and was always fascinated by the building’s architecture and the wonders to be found inside. “At the weekends, I would regularly go and daydream at the tropical aquarium of the Palais de la Porte Dorée, dazzled by the colour and luminosity of the fish,” the designer wrote in the exhibition notes. The space also inspired his most popular shoe ever – the Pigalle – thanks to a sign he noticed bearing the image of a crossed-out stiletto, indicating that visitors were forbidden from wearing high heels at the museum – and stirring him on to get sketching.
When it comes to its set-up, L’Exhibition[niste] is separated into two sections, the first being a trip into Louboutin’s creativity and design process, while the second is more of a gallery, called the Imaginary Museum, where pieces of art that led to his childhood dreams and subsequent inspiration are displayed. One of the spaces that visitors come to early on in the show is dedicated to nudes – and not the dirty kind. In 2006, Louboutin launched his Nudes series, after deciding to produce stilettos that seamlessly match their wearers’ legs, creating an elongated effect. For this area, Louboutin commissioned the British artists Whitaker/Malem to create nine leather-clad sculptures in the nine colours of the collection to accompany examples of his beautiful, crystal-embellished Degrastrass shoe. You’ll also see where he found further inspiration for his Nudes: a portrait of a member of the Beauvau family in Lorraine, painted by the 16th- century artist François Quesnel and now owned by Louboutin.
Other standout moments include the YSL-logo heels that Louboutin created in 2002 for Yves Saint Laurent’s last haute couture show, to be found in the Imaginary Museum, where there is also a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer’s design in the form of a mahogany bench. Representing the golden days of Hollywood, a platform stiletto originally owned and worn by Mae West points to Louboutin’s love of illusions, which he so often introduces into his work. A lava-lamp-like work from 1970, which is of extreme personal value to the designer – La Vague Perpétuelle, by an unknown artist – also has a place. Meanwhile, superhero figurines by the contemporary erotic artist Jean-Noël Lavesvre reflect Louboutin’s skills in sculptural form, the shoe master’s creations being renowned for their confidence-boosting powers.
Like a maze of creative ideas that conquers dimensions of time and place, L’Exhibition[niste] is an introspective rather than a retrospective. It will not only help you understand and appreciate the craftsmanship behind Louboutin’s work, but also allow you to discover some incredible gems that are equal part shoe, equal part artwork, a selection of which have been photographed for this issue by the legendary still-life photographer Peter Langer. Standing tall at 12cm, the Bottinos are the green boots made in Cordoba leather, which has been embossed to mimic brocade fabrics using a rare technique. Louboutin travelled across hills and valleys to find the right person to make them. Also in the remit of couture are Mort à Venise, a 1995 footwear interpretation of 15th-century Venetian wine carafes; their designer describes them as a pedestal for a goddess. The electric blue Marie-Antoinette showcase Louboutin’s partnership, from AW08, with the legendary embroidery atelier of Jean-François Lesage, who has also become Louboutin’s personal friend. And for all those undying romantic souls, there’s the Cinderella – a real-life Disney-princess glass shoe made with shiny crystals, lace and leather. And a red sole, of course…
‘L’Exhibition[niste]’, is open until July 26 at Palais de la Porte Dorée, Paris. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now. Exhibition photographs by Marc Domage.