Thursday, March 24, 2011
PROFILE of shoe designer Christian Louboutin.
In homage to the Surrealists, the shoe designer Christian Louboutin once created a pair of pumps with a hydrodynamic shape, a bulging eye above the pinkie toe, and tessellating rows of black and gold scales. For a private client, a mine owner, he made a pair of shoes with ruby soles. To Louboutin, shoes are less interesting for their physical properties than for their psychological ones.
He sells more than five hundred thousand pairs of shoes a year, at prices ranging from three hundred and ninety-five dollars to six thousand. The sole of each of his shoes is lacquered in a vivid, glossy red. The red soles offer the pleasure of secret knowledge to their wearer. They are also a marketing gimmick that renders an otherwise indistinguishable product instantly recognizable.
One of his most popular designs is the Very Privé, a sinuous high heel with an open toe and an extreme, hidden platform. With several swoops of his pen, Louboutin has managed to make Manolo Blahnik’s princessy slingbacks look as if they were meant for ladies who spend their days eating charity lunches of chicken salad and melon balls. Louboutin believes in repelling preciousness with a sense of humor. Once, he made the straps of a sandal out of tape measures. At heart, he is a showguy, and his shoes are miniature stages. Louboutin is to Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau what Marc Jacobs is to Bleecker Street—the sovereign of an urban fiefdom.
Louboutin opened his first shop at the end of 1991, in the Galérie Vero-Dodat. Today, he has thirty-five stores in sixteen countries. Mentions Konstantin Kakanias and Hugo Marchand. Louboutin started his company after working for Charles Jourdan. He now employs four hundred and twenty people. A Louboutin shoe begins with a sketch. Once the sketches are complete, they are sent to the Louboutin factory, outside Milan. A team of artisans works long hours to translate Louboutin’s sketches into three dimensions. Three weeks later, a set of prototypes will arrive at Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Louboutin’s best shoes are almost prosthetic, morphing the body as radically as it is possible to do without surgery. He also maintains a small atelier on Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where he can cater to the whims of his private clients.
Despite the cachet of the red soles, Louboutin has not been particularly aggressive in fending off imitators. It took him until 2007 to file for trademark protection in the U.S. This fall, Louboutin marks the twentieth anniversary of the company with a book about his career, to be published by Rizzoli. Describes the neighborhood where Louboutin grew up. He considers his shoes as a sort of man-bait: men like high heels, and women like being liked by men. With their erotic connotations, Louboutin’s shoes have served as props in many romances, not all of them innocent.