It’s a sweltering summer’s day in Paris, the second-last day of Couture Week. I arrive just steps away from the Christian Louboutin office on Rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, at a house that Louboutin used to own. Filled with antique furniture, statues and heels and boots from his latest collection, it resembles one of Louboutin’s boutiques—whimsical and at times over the top.
The designer arrives a few minutes behind schedule but in good spirits. Couture Week is a busy time for Louboutin. As well as hosting his own show, he attends those of his designer friends. It was only last night that he presented his spring 2019 collection in a little theatre and dance school converted into “the wonderful world of Louboutin,” which tied into how he began his career—designing shoes for burlesque dancers.
“Busy day, busy days, busy week,” Louboutin laments about his schedule as he kicks off his red-soled penny loafers and adopts a comfortable perch on the sofa with his legs crossed. And it’s been a busy career since he launched his eponymous label in 1991, with the creative genius expanding into men’s accessories, handbags and, more recently, cosmetics and fragrance.
What inspired your latest collection?
I come across a lot of the inspiration for my collections by chance. Something just hits you when you meet someone, see an exhibition or come across something. Spring/summer 2019 started with this book, Les Décorateurs des Années 60-70. It’s about the famous decorators of the 1960s and ’70s—French and Italian mostly.
The big decorators were very innovative at the time and created things from chrome, metal, PVC, and mixed all these extremely luxurious materials with things that were more common, like mixing golden gates with wood or chrome. They referenced a lot of eras such as Haute Époque and the Renaissance, and there’s also a little part that’s influenced by China and Japan, mostly lacquer art. For me, it’s all in the details.
Where do you design your collections?
I design in Portugal, Egypt or Brazil for the most part when it comes to summer collections. For winter collections, I like to create in a cold environment. Bruno Chamberlain, my business partner, and I share a house in Vendée, in the French countryside. I like to go there to design our cold-season collections. I need to feel the temperature to create.
How do you find a balance between technology and the craft of fashion?
In a way there is some technology in craft. That’s because, often, an artisan is also an artisan of technology. Technology is about moving forward, pushing the boundaries and discovering new ways to work, and that’s ultimately what artisans do; pushing boundaries and discovering new things. It’s about finding smarter ways to work.
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What do you notice when you see women and men in your shoes?
In my opinion, no one really wears my shoes by accident. It’s nice to see how they take the shoes and make them their own, and how they put their outfit together. When I design shoes, I’m thinking of legs, not just the shoe itself, but how it will look on a pair of legs. When I sketch my designs, I always draw the legs, but I never draw up to the face, so for me it’s like finding the missing piece of the puzzle.
Plenty of women and men collect your shoes. Do you think they are driven by an obsession?
People, myself included, have a tendency to buy things out of obsession. They are happy to own them but not necessarily wear them. But I think there are some people less like that. For myself, I will buy things but might not use or wear them right away; I may discover them in a week or a month’s time. I have ordered shoes and not worn them for years, but I am still so excited to have them, and will wear them for two weeks straight. The buying process may be an impulse and you feel an excitement—sometimes you just need to have them.
Do you think the “see now, buy now” model works in fashion?
In theory, "see now, buy now" is a nice format, but it’s proven to never really work. Technically speaking, it’s too complicated; it takes time to produce a collection and to show it at the same time. You need to give time for print media to create content, but I think it’s just tapping into the mentality of people who are so driven by the immediacy and speed of the internet.
When do you shop?
I shop, but never in Paris. I guess I shop on my holidays. I don’t have a lot of free time here, and in the rare chance that I have some time off, I’d rather go to see an exhibition. Since I travel so much for work, I end up browsing when I’m in other countries. I have no time for shopping—zero, zero, zero—in Paris. So when I travel, I like to shop.
What do you shop for?
I love hunting for objects. Sometimes I’ll swing by Drouot, an auction house that’s right by the school where I drop off my children. I go in with a very professional mentality, because objects are a big thing for me. I come from a family of three sisters, and one of them is a bit of a shopaholic, so sometimes I get dragged around by her [laughs].
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed since you started your business?
I think the whole industry has changed, but the real change has been the rise and use of the internet and social media.
Do you go on social media?
No, never. I mean, as much as I understand it, I realise the power of Instagram, but I just don’t do it myself. It’s for my sanity. Instagram works off people’s addiction, and I see the amount of time people around me spend on it. It takes a lot of time and I essentially don’t have enough hours in a day as it is.
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