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For Christian Louboutin, design is paramount

October 24, 2016

One of designer Christian Louboutin's shoes.

Christian Louboutin is a long way from veal cutlets.

Celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of his trademark red-soled, luxury shoe brand, the French designer remembered a lesson learned from an early job, as a teenage apprentice at the famed Paris music hall the Folies-Bergere. The showgirls, he said, were always asking him to buy veal cutlets.

"I thought, my god, everyoneís been eating so many veal cutlets ó itís so bizarre!" he recalled. But as it turned out, the performers werenít consuming the meat but placing it in their high-heeled shoes as a cushioning pad. It needed to be white meat, not red, he said, "so when you were dancing on the cushion, thereís no blood coming out."

The young Louboutin watched and learned. "I ended up not putting any veal in my shoes," he said, "but some techniques are actually important when you work on high heels."

Since 1991, Louboutin has gone from a single Paris storefront with a small initial collection (the first shoes he sketched for his line, he said, was a pair of womenís flats with "Love" inscribed on them) to a worldwide success, with more than 100 boutiques selling womenís and menís shoes, leather goods and beauty products. (The latter, begun in 2014, was an obvious direction for him: His shoesí famous red soles, the story goes, were inspired in 1992 by the sight of his assistant painting her nails at her desk.)

And heís watched, over the years, as heel heights have climbed. "Itís funny, because the idea of high heels was very different in the í90s," he said. "When I was doing 9 centimeters (about 3.5 inches), people were like, ĎThatís so high!í And now, itís literally a mid-heel." His heels now might go as high as 5 inches ó or more if the shoe has a platform. They are, he says, as comfortable as possible (cutlet-like cushioning is placed where possible) ó but design is paramount. "Comfortable is not my favorite word."

Louboutinís shoes are expensive (a simple pump might be near $700) because of the elaborate handwork required to create them; each shoe requires "almost 100 types of manipulation" after the drawing stage.

The cost, he said, is like that of fine wine. "You can have a bottle of wine that costs you $5, and then a bottle of wine that costs you $150. The difference is not in the shape of the bottle, itís not in the color of whatís in the bottle but in the attention to the wine."

Over the years, heís crafted footwear ranging from those classic pumps to elaborate fantasy shoes: a delicate lace-and-crystal Cinderella pair, complete with sparkling butterflies; a "Maleficent" shoe worn by Angelina Jolie while promoting the movie, with heels that curve like smoke; a ravishing black leather bootie in his current collection with fanciful wings attached, as if its wearer might fly away.

Does he have a favorite pair, after all this time? "I always say," he said, "itís the one that I havenít been yet doing."

 

 



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