On Monday, February 24th, a range of stilettos, one more pointed than the other, were shamelessly trampling on the floor of the National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris - despite the sign at the entrance of the museum's exhibition Christian Louboutin L'exhibition(niste) that bans any form of high heeled shoes. This sign depicting a crossed-out pump was initially hanging at the entrance of the Palais de la Porte Dorée in the 1970s, where Louboutin would spend a lot of his free time during his childhood and teenage years. At that time, the stunning Art Deco building housed the National Museum of African and Oceanic Arts and the young Christian Louboutin, a local resident, relished venturing into its halls like he would into uncharted lands.
"What I used to see in the glass cabinets of the museum was intriguing to me,” he recalled. "Except for a few holidays in Brittany or in the center of France, I hadn't traveled much," he continued. “There, I would discover incredible artefacts, foreign lands and unfamiliar languages that made me daydream. This museum was the first place where I encountered the beauty of other civilizations, cultures and ways of looking at the world. This place has significantly contributed to expanding my horizon. It made me feel like I was traveling while remaining in Paris. It also taught me to look at things from different perspectives by having large display windows that you could walk around. No one would walk me through the museum to explain its content to me. I tried to find out as much as I could on my own. I would do my own research and teach myself how to do it. I self-taught a lot and therefore learned a lot." In the same way that he then trained as a shoemaker - basically on his very own.
"At the start of each shoe design, there's often just a single drawing. And it all started with this drawing..." read the written introduction to Christian Louboutin's ingenious exhibition that spreads on ten halls of the museum and is set to run until July 26th, 2020. "The crossed-out shoe sign at the entrance of the museum represented a very pointy pump that definitely wasn't popular in the 1970s, so it caught my eye," he said. "As a result, I realised that most objects were born out of a pencil stroke. Besides, I already liked to spend my evenings going out, attending shows at the theatre or at the music hall. So slowly but firmly, it occurred to me that my wish was to design shoes for cabaret dancers.” His first colourful sketches led him to work for several famous French fashion houses including Charles Jourdan, Maud Frizon and, finally, for Roger Vivier as his personal assistant, before he started working under his own name - and, once again, by the greatest of hazards. Or rather, because of his off-the-beaten-track approach to design and fashion in general, which still distinguishes him today.
Back in 1991, when Louboutin started his own brand, the euphoria of the 1980s was already over. The first Gulf War was plaguing the commercial sector, while HIV was decimating the fashion and nightlife scene in Paris. Nevertheless, Christian Louboutin opened a boutique and atelier on the corner of Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Galerie Vero-Dodat, where he still is a fixture today. According to his statements, the first year was “a difficult one”. Two close friends, Bruno Chambelland and Henri Seydou, supported him financially. He mainly sold slippers that formed the word ‘Love’, with the two consonants of the word adorning the upper line of each instep. Some of his shoe designs were heeled, but none of them had red soles for the time being.
"I started my brand at a time when business conglomerates hadn't yet ventured into the fashion industry," he explained. "Every fashion house was embodied by one designer. That is precisely what I did as well, and I always did my uttermost to maintain this form of independence. To have such a freedom is the best thing that happened to me: in terms of design, it allows you to create both, shoes that are unique and made-to-measure, and designs that are produced in several thousand pairs."
Louboutin's double-scale activity, a ready-to-wear line of shoes and tailor-made creations reminiscent of haute couture, has primed ever since the designer's red-soled pumps became a fashion fixture. The brilliant idea of the red sole came to the shoemaker's mind almost by chance in the second half of the 1990s. "Initially, I wanted to color the soles differently from one season to another, but I noticed that many customers never wore bright colours. Except for red lipstick and nail polish... And all of a sudden, I wondered why I hadn't thought of the red sole before!"
In 2009, the launch of the ‘Nudes’ collection in natural shades that reflected a variety of skin tones was also a great success, as it made a statement of inclusivity ahead of time. Twenty years after his first boutique opening in Paris, Louboutin inaugurated its 45th store just across the street. This boutique features men's shoes that are perhaps an even higher expression of the designer’s unbridled creativity, which has been nurtured by a multitude of encounters and creative collaborations over the years.
In the meantime, Christian Louboutin has also branched into leather goods, cosmetics and beauty products with a strong personal vision of each sector. However, these activities are not addressed in the newly launched exhibition that, instead, focuses on highlighting Louboutin's design leitmotiv over the years, which has resulted in a multitude of excessively rich and varied collections. Several contemporary artists have been called upon to contribute as well. "What visitors will understand or not about my work is not what matters in this exhibition,” he concluded. “The important part is that they get to be part of a hopefully exciting, vibrant, and unexpected experience,” stated Christian Louboutin, whose childlike lust for life has remained intact.