MAESTRO OF DESIRE

Chris­tian Louboutin’s un­der­stand­ing of women has helped him con­ceive ac­ces­sories that trig­ger an un­bri­dled yearn­ing.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Chris­tian Louboutin is here to talk about desire. Desire lies at the heart of his shoes – it’s a sig­na­ture for ver­tig­i­nous heels that toe the line be­tween sexy and dan­ger­ous, red-soled, in patent, an­i­mal print, in se­quins and shine. Desire is in the art­work on ex­hibit at the stu­dio where the pho­to­graphic shoot takes place. Some­one is asked to phone the artist to make the nec­es­sary in­quiries to pur­chase. “Chris­tian Louboutin wants to buy my photographs? All of them?” the artist splut­tered down the line in dis­be­lief. Yes, he does – the en­tire se­ries. Louboutin of­ten pur­chases art, sculp­tures or other ac­cou­trements on his trav­els, either for one of his many homes (at last count, there are six) or for one of his nu­mer­ous stores around the world, which he per­son­ally dec­o­rates. So he knows a thing or two about desire – hav­ing it, ful­fill­ing it and cre­at­ing it.

“Desire, it is a thing that be­longs to you and no­body can take it,” says Louboutin af­ter the shoot with Vogue in Syd­ney. “It’s part of your in­ner char­ac­ter. Once you don’t have a desire you be­come a ro­bot or a ma­chine.”

He re­calls a moment in his first store in rue Jean-Jacque Rousseau when a woman was taken with a par­tic­u­lar shoe: big, puffy with pink feath­ers at the front and back. “She looked at it and said: ‘Oh, my gosh, this is so use­less, but beau­ti­ful. I don’t know what I would do with it, but I ab­so­lutely need it.’ My work is ac­tu­ally pro­vok­ing desire on the side of desire, never on the side of need,” he says in his French ac­cent, and drop­ping in French words through­out con­ver­sa­tion. “I don’t think any­one needs an­other pair of shoes. You want them. You desire them.”

Grow­ing up with three sis­ters, Chris­tiane, Clau­dine and Jo­ce­lyn, in France’s 12th ar­rondisse­ment, Louboutin was ex­pelled from school (three times!), ran away from home aged 12, vis­ited Egypt and In­dia as a young man, and worked at Folies Bergère as a teenager. Be­ing a shoe de­signer was not part of the plan, but his colour­ful il­lus­tra­tions of fan­tas­ti­cal, crazy, will-they-ever-make-these shoes landed him a job at Charles Jour­den, af­ter which he be­came an ap­pren­tice at Roger Vivier. From be­ing around his sis­ters and the dancers of Folies Bergère, he ob­served women, not­ing their be­hav­iours and con­ver­sa­tions.

Strik­ing out on his own was not what he in­tended. He dab­bled in gar­den­ing and con­trib­uted to Vogue, but when a va­cant space in the rue Jean-Jac­ques Rousseau ar­cade caught his at­ten­tion, it be­came his first shoe sa­lon in 1992.

Princess Char­lotte of Monaco was his first client, and then came fash­ion in­sid­ers, who would whis­per among them­selves, shar­ing tips about the French shoe de­signer who had a lit­tle sa­lon in a small ar­cade and cre­ated beau­ti­ful and fan­ci­ful shoes. A shoe de­sign is right “when I like it”, he says. “Even bet­ter, when I love it.”

His store also ended up re­vi­tal­is­ing the area, so there are cool restau­rants and the cult break­fast cafe Claus on the same street, which tells you a bit about the power of Louboutin. His is a choco­late box of a store, with arched win­dows and red car­pet­ing; a stair­case with a Span­ish art nou­veau-style balustrade.

“Qu’est ce que le luxe … le luxe,” he muses out loud. “What is luxury? It is an essence. Does that make sense en anglais?” ‘Mod­ern’ he has a harder time with, he says, but has more ex­plana­tory thoughts on it. “What does it mean, ex­actly? Fash­ion is a re­flec­tion of our time, so fash­ion has to be linked to time, oth­er­wise it doesn’t mean any­thing to any­one. So by essence, fash­ion will be mod­ern.” He dances to the beat of his own drum, wield­ing fash­ion’s fol­lies to his own style. In re­sponse to the head­line-mak­ing ath­leisurewear boom, he did sneak­ers Louboutin-style, cov­ered in studs, graf­fiti, metal­lic and cel­e­brat­ing a more-is-more ethos. Run­ning shoes these are not. “Even if some­thing is nice, if it doesn’t speak to you, it’s not your form of ex­pres­sion. It’s com­pletely sub­jec­tive – it’s your point of view, and you need to ex­press your point of view,” he ex­plains. “As a de­signer, you have to have a strict view, and that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­signer ver­sus a big brand that pro­poses many dif­fer­ent things … I never [wanted] to build a com­pany, I just de­signed shoes and ended up build­ing a com­pany. My first desire was to de­sign beau­ti­ful shoes for beau­ti­ful girls.”

His de­signs have drawn upon ex­otic in­spi­ra­tions – vi­brant pinks and metal­lic em­broi­dery on a purse may call upon In­dian tex­tiles, and scarab bee­tles have adorned metal­lic-blue heels. A fan­tas­ti­cal cre­ativ­ity had seen Louboutin as a child imag­ine he was ac­tu­ally from Egypt, be­cause his skin was darker than the rest of his fam­ily. Spec­u­la­tion or kismet, he later found out that his birth was the re­sult of his mother’s af­fair with an Egyp­tian man – and that knowl­edge of his heritage came to in­flu­ence that year’s store win­dow, which fea­tured dis­plays of pyra­mids and desert.

This is his first visit to Aus­tralia and he is en­thralled by Abo­rig­i­nal art. “When I see art, I see some­one’s pas­sion, like when some­one sees and likes my shoes, they see my pas­sion for what I do,” he adds. “It’s in­ter­est­ing with art to un­der­stand the story about it, where it comes from … it nour­ishes me. It’s nat­u­ral to look at some­thing and maybe it will in­flu­ence me, but you can’t look at some­thing and make it in­flu­ence you; it’s not math­e­mat­i­cal, it’s more or­ganic.” He is due to visit APY Art Cen­tre Col­lec­tive af­ter our in­ter­view to gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of Indige­nous artists and to pur­chase some art to take back to France.

“It’s funny, be­cause I have al­ways been known to draw dots when­ever I am asked to sign soles,” he ex­plains, reach­ing for his phone to show me photographs as ex­am­ples. Through the sheer vis­ual im­pact of those sig­na­ture red soles he has been asked by his fans (of which there are many) to sign them with mark­ers. He will per­son­alise each mes­sage with those dots, or stars, or other mes­sages, stay­ing far past the sched­ule to spend time with each Louboutin wearer. “Some peo­ple say: ‘Oh, my gosh, you work all the time’, but it’s dif­fer­ent. I think it’s much eas­ier to work all the time do­ing some­thing you love, rather than to work even half of your life do­ing some­thing you don’t like.” He tells me he is lazy. Louboutin – who lingers hours be­yond sched­ule at his stores, who stays up late dancing but is up early for shoots and meet­ings – is lazy? “Yes, I have al­ways been very, very lazy. I never thought of work­ing! But with com­mit­ment, I am less lazy, be­cause af­ter a cer­tain age you un­der­stand the im­por­tance of com­mit­ment. But I am lazy when I don’t feel like do­ing some­thing.”

De­spite his seem­ingly out­ward ex­u­ber­ance, Louboutin ad­mits he is shy. “I think it’s my cul­ture. In the French cul­ture you don’t in­tro­duce your­self and talk about your­self. In the An­glo-Saxon cul­ture you do, you par­tic­i­pate – it’s not re­ally a French thing.” He tells me a story of see­ing his fa­ther speak at his sis­ter’s wed­ding while giv­ing a speech. “I re­mem­ber think­ing: ‘My god, he’s crazy. I’m so ashamed.’ It’s not what you do in France at all. So that’s why I sound shy, be­cause I’m not re­ally used to speak­ing in front of peo­ple – it’s a huge ef­fort.” Through his ca­reer he has be­friended ac­tors, like Blake Lively with whom he at­tended the Met Gala this year. (“I went with a dear, dear friend … it’s like be­ing a kid where there’s the prepa­ra­tion, the fun, the ex­cite­ment and then the party. I felt like a teenager go­ing with a good friend to a great party and hav­ing fun be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter.”) He at­tests that they, like him, are shy, too. “But when you’re act­ing you’re not shy, you’re a dif­fer­ent per­son, you are a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, you’re play­ing a char­ac­ter who is not you. And then you go back to your in­ner per­son.”

As the celebrity of de­sign­ers and other fash­ion fig­ures has risen, he has taken the at­ten­tion in stride. “I try not to do it [as­sum­ing the role of celebrity] so of­ten, but the best way is to just do it and not think about it,” he says with a shrug.

Al­though he was born in Paris – “I’ll al­ways live in Paris” – he iden­ti­fies as Bre­ton. His par­ents were born in Brit­tany, and it is where his fam­ily reg­u­larly hol­i­dayed. It is the land of salted caramel, striped sweaters and kouign amann, a spe­cial­ity Bre­ton pas­try. I point out that I like the Pierre Hermé ver­sions. “The real ones are not as chic as those!” he says, laugh­ing. He heads to Google to look for an im­age to show to his PR team, who haven’t heard of them – though one of them is French. “They give you a heart at­tack, they have so much but­ter and sugar … but are de­li­cious!” There’s also Brit­tany’s con­nec­tion to wa­ter. “The peo­ple from Bre­tagne are very at­tached to the sea, be­cause it faces the sea … the sea is linked to imag­i­na­tion,” says Louboutin, clar­i­fy­ing though, that this link isn’t about the beach or an ocean dip. “It is not about the beach cul­ture, it is not about play­ing in the sea, it’s about the ‘hori­zon’ cul­ture – there is a large panorama in front of you; there is the un­known and the ex­oti­cism of what is out there.” Nat­u­rally, France’s Bre­tons are the most well trav­elled, as he re­minds.

One of the most sat­is­fy­ing mo­ments in his life was teach­ing his two fra­ter­nal twin daugh­ters how to swim within the first year of their birth. He was ner­vous for their safety since there were pools around them, so wanted the girls to learn quickly. “I re­ally made a point that they needed to swim, and now they are three and they are swim­mers,” he says proudly. “I love the sea and I re­ally wanted them to be at ease with the wa­ter. I suc­ceeded, so I am very happy.” Within a few months of their birth, he dipped them into the wa­ter, just for a taste of the far­away, of desire, of pos­si­bil­i­ties and of the hori­zon be­yond.

“When some­one sees and likes my shoes, they see my pas­sion for what I do”

Chris­tian Louboutin com­poses the magic. Ella wears a Rachel Gil­bert dress, $3,499. Ryan Storer ear­ring, $670. Chris­tian Louboutin Ek­lec­tica shoes, $1,275. All prices ap­prox­i­mate; de­tails at Vogue.com.au/WTB.

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