Heart and Sole: Christian Louboutin’s Philosophy on Life
For the last 30 years, whenever he buys a new house, Christian Louboutin looks at the place with one extra angle. “I’m thinking if everything goes wrong and I have to live in that place for the rest of my life, where do I put the kitchen? Where do I put the tables? Because one thing I know how to do is make crêpes. So I’m always thinking, if everything goes wrong, I’ll transform the place into a crêpe restaurant.”
Louboutin’s plan B is far from being necessary because plan A, his shoe business, is soaring. The king of the red sole has come a long way since he had the bright idea, two years after launching his brand in 1991, to give his shoes added allure by painting the soles with scarlet nail polish (colour nerds take note: the exact shade is Pantone 18-1663 TPX). It proved to be a eureka moment which propelled Louboutin’s stilettos to totemic status in popular culture, beloved by everyone from Princess Caroline of Monaco to Carrie Bradshaw and Cardi B, who called them “bloody shoes” on “Bodak Yellow” and spurred a 217% spike in searches for the famous red-bot- toms. His brand now includes a men’s collection, trainers, bags and beauty, and the designer has every reason to be cheerful post-pandemic. Louboutin emerged stronger than ever, with a new shareholder in Exor, the investment arm of the Agnelli family, which also owns Ferrari. Its 24% stake, worth more than $640m, values Louboutin at a whopping $2.7bn.
That huge valuation speaks volumes about our collective obsession with shoes. Louboutin believes they excite so much passion in people because our relationship with shoes is totally different from our relationship with clothes. “You are carrying your clothes, but you are carried by your shoes,” he says. “So the shoe is really the pedestal for…not the personality, but definitely the posture and the way you move and interpret your body.” Not only do shoes literally ground you, they also have a more direct connection to the wearer than clothes do. “You don’t need a mirror to look at your shoes, you just raise your leg,” says Louboutin. And unlike any other body part, there’s a democracy to the beauty of feet. “Even if you don’t necessarily like your body, most people like their feet. Let’s say you have very skinny feet – it looks very elegant and pretty. If you have very round feet, they look like a baby’s feet. If you have fat arms, you are not thinking, ‘Oh, I look like a baby with my fat arms.’ But the foot has this magic possibility to be transformed and transport people into another type of universe.”
Louboutin has harnessed that magic to create his own universe, which he celebrated last year with an epic exhibition exploring the flamboyance and daring of his designs, the role travel has played in his imagination, and the multitudinous references he makes to pop culture, theatre, literature and cinema. L’Exhibitioniste was three years in the making and covered three decades of the designer’s career. Louboutin saw it as a watershed moment after which he needed a fresh chapter for his business with his new investment partners. Together they plan expansion in China and a deeper digital push. An eternal optimist, Louboutin is excited about the future. “I’m very fortunate because I was born with a lot of enthusiasm and huge energy,” he says. “[When] I was a kid, I realised I was more of an actor than a spectator. When I was going to clubs as a teenager in the ’70s, I would dance. I would not stare at people doing something. I would do something.”
Louboutin credits his positive outlook on life to his parents. His father was a carpenter, and he remembers watching him in his workshop as he carved a piece of wood. “He said, ‘You see, Christian, if you are carving wood, you have to go in the direction of the grain. If you go against it, you will never do a beautiful carving, and on top of that you will end up having splinters in your fingers.’ And so I listened to that and I took it on for a larger view of life. What Louboutin understood is that, if you wish to build something significant – like an iconic $2.7bn business – you have to go in the direction of life. “If you go against the current you end up drowning in a river,” he counsels. For that reason, Louboutin can’t understand people who are motivated by revenge. He remembers how his father couldn’t understand his desire to design, but he never wanted to succeed to prove him wrong – his drive came from wanting to satisfy himself. “I do things for; I never do things against. That’s my motto.”
Louboutin’s pet hate is when people choose to belittle those who are concerned with beauty or looking good. He came of age in the shadow of the hippy movement in the ’70s, when glam- our was frowned upon. The attitude was, “You can’t look good because this is too superficial.” But this never sat comfortably with Louboutin. Looking good isn’t just about aesthetics, he says – it’s a mental thing. “The wellbeing [aspect] of looking good [is important] and helps a lot of people. You should have as much respect for those who are concerned by boldness and beauty as those who aren’t. Bold and beautiful, for me, is a bit of a definition of freedom, too.” And alongside his health, it’s his freedom he cherishes most.
This attitude served Louboutin especially well during the pandemic. He spent much of lockdown at home with family in Portugal. Rather than railing against the enforced isolation, he decided to embrace it, buying his twin daughters their first dog and focusing on each day as it came. “Instead of trying to escape a place [I said,] ‘I’m going to enjoy what I have,’” he reflects. “I took it from the beginning as a change of pace, a change of rhythm for me and my family, and then I was perfectly all right with that and perfectly aligned.”
The only time he felt hemmed in by the pandemic was when he learned of the murder of George Floyd. “Because suddenly you can’t move, you can’t express your anger, you’re just locked in a place. At that moment I felt trapped.” Louboutin cherishes the idea of freedom and feels most free when he’s on the trapeze, which he began to learn after seeing the Wim Wenders movie Wings of Desire. “You can definitely fall in love with someone when you see them on a trapeze,” he says, “because there’s this idea of the freedom of flying, which is the essence of trapeze. You are a bird, you can fly, [but] at the same time it’s very dangerous.”
Louboutin is drawn to dancers and singers – people who practise arts that demand years of tough training to give performances that seem effortless, “because behind that moment of beauty there is someone who probably suffers for hours and hours,” he muses. “There’s a generosity in being bold and beautiful, because you only give the good sides to people. You know, you may suffer, but that is not what you’re delivering as a message.” Perhaps as a designer of glamorous shoes worn by glamorous people, Louboutin has suffered from those easy judgments too, but it’s a mistake to think that artists and designers who deal in beauty are superficial. “To prefer to show the beautiful side of the world, it’s a choice, and I love that choice. I love that choice to fight with beauty, instead of fighting with violence, with anger. You know, I think that beauty is a great tool.”
Portrait by Salva Lopez. Taken from Issue 67 of 10 Magazine – BOLD & BEAUTIFUL – order your copy here.
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