STEP INTO LOUBOUTIN’S FOOTWEAR FANTASY, LED BY A RED-SOLED ARMY OF RADIANT REBELS
BY RHIANNA JONES
It’s no secret that even in 2023, the fashion industry is still predominantly run, designed, and owned by men, but its muse at the core will forever be women. Most great couturiers build their legacies putting women on ¬figurative pedestals, but Christian Louboutin quite literally elevated them in a collective of sky-high, red-accented stilettos.
His divine calling came unexpectedly as a little boy when he was confronted with a sign outside a Parisian museum that prohibited women from wearing stilettos, lest they scratch the parquet oors. While seemingly innocuous, this gendered bias resonated deep within, raised with three sisters, and was well aware of the nuanced discrimination of the female condition. High heels might be an unlikely solution for gender imbalance, but through them, he dedicated his life to celebrating and decorating women.
His debut internship at Paris’ infamous Folies Bergère invited the self-taught shoemaker to put his design dream to the test. Dressing the dancers at the crème de la crème of cabaret society challenged him to create glamorous footwear that was functional and comfortable, a cherished formula that paved a path for a burgeoning empire. His extravagantly elegant sketches caught the eyes of various designers who both mentored his design practice while also sharing the technical intricacy of the craft. In 1991 he made his dreams a reality, opening his eponymous atelier at Galerie Vérot Dodat. Where else to house a vision as grandiose as Louboutin’s but a neoclassical arcade in Paris’ city center? A year later, a stroke of genius hit him. In the midst of a creative block, he noticed his assistant polishing her nails red. From that day on, every Louboutin design incorporated his signature lacquered red soles.
Upon expanding his retail footprint to New York, Louboutin quickly became an industry darling, amassing a star-studded following around the globe. His iconography was seared in the styling of Sex and the City’s reigning fashion queen Carrie Bradshaw, whose loyal fandom dissected her audacious wardrobe choices from head to heel. With his impact on pop culture, boys wanted to get in on the footwear fun too, with bespoke requests from international pop stars Mika and Elton John leading the pack. In 2009, Louboutin launched his first men’s collection, and with his silver-studded brogues and pink ruffed loafers, he infused a bit of whimsy into the otherwise colorless land of men’s shoes. Whether affectionately called Loubis or Red Bottoms, Louboutin built a brand, seducing everyone from Hollywood to hip-hop with his bold colors and sexy silhouettes.
Throughout his career, Louboutin has continued to break barriers and challenge accepted norms. In 2013, he launched a campaign to expand the traditional “nude” pump into a collection that represented eight skin tones. In his mind, nude was not a color, but a concept that undresses and celebrates the silhouette of the leg. While diversifying design might seem like an obvious choice in 2023, the inclusive initiative was quite pioneering back at the time. “Inspiration could come from anytime, anywhere: architecture, objects, textiles, dance, or the way someone is moving,” he said. “It can be anything. If you keep your eyes wide open, there is inspiration everywhere you look.”