The king of high heels is a sole man

Iconic: Christian Louboutin at the exhibition celebrating 20 years of the famous red-soled footwear brand at the Design Museum, London
Iconic: Christian Louboutin at the exhibition celebrating 20 years of the famous red-soled footwear brand at the Design Museum, London
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You may not be able to afford a pair of his famed red-soled shoes, but you’ll know his name...

Christian Louboutin must be one of the most famous designers in the world – and all he makes is footwear.

The king of heels is celebrating. Louboutin started out 20 years ago. But his trademark scarlet sole came about by accident rather than design. As an experiment, he painted a sole with red nail polish. Women loved it and it’s gone on to become the brand’s iconic stamp.

“It immediately became a sign of recognition, a signature, Louboutin says.

Louboutin was recently embroiled in a court case against a major high street brand accused of imitating that red sole design.

But despite the legal wranglings, Louboutin, aged 49, is far from seeing red all the time.

In fact he is on cloud nine right now: there’s a range of cosmetics in the pipeline for next year, he’s the top judge in a Martini Royale casting contest (the new face of the brand will bag 12 pairs of Louboutins), and a retrospective exhibition at London’s Design Museum is currently celebrating his two decades of shoe wizardry.

From towering heels to studded sneakers and bejewelled pumps, the exhibition is like the best shoe shop in the world, only with ‘Don’t Touch’ signs at every stiletto turn and security guards positioned near the wall of thigh-high boots.

“It was hard to choose two hundred favourites” says Louboutin.

“I mean some shoes, like the Guinness shoes (with heels constructed from actual cans) we no longer have – not one pair.”

He goes on to reel off the names of shoes as if they were his children, struggling to single out the style deemed most iconic.

The Pigalle, perhaps, or maybe the Lady Lynch, or perhaps the Fifi...

So what is it about Louboutin’s vision that ensures his shoes are red carpet regulars, fashion industry favourites and capable of commanding upwards of £395 for a classic pair?

“Balance. Proportion. And the cleavage,” Louboutin replies (it’s shoe designer speak for the amount of toe flaunted).

“Shoes can do a lot for a woman.

“They can give an extra sense of femininity and empowerment.”

His fascination with shoes dates back to when he was just 11 or 12.

He recalls discovering a drawing at an African art museum near his parents’ apartment that displayed a woman’s high heel vividly crossed out in red.

“I sort of discovered creativity through that drawing,” he says.

Louboutin’s love of performance, cabaret and the showgirl later fuelled his glamorous vision.

Although he doesn’t name one specific muse, he regularly links up with burlesque performer Dita Von Teese at events.

“Nobody wears shoes like a dancer on stage,” he says.

Art, architecture, landscape, travel and artefacts are his inspiration.

So is the weather. Louboutin packs his suitcase and seeks out a hot climate in which to design his summer collection and a cold bolt-hole to find focus for autumn/winter inspiration.

“I have a house in the country in France and it’s often cold but if it’s not cold enough I just turn the heat off then I’m sure to be frozen,” he explains.

“I’m influenced by the light and by the heat, so it’s easier to imagine a super-light sandal when it’s boiling outside than furry boots and vice-versa.”

Although Louboutin creates flat shoes for men and women, it’s the towering stilettos that have brought him worldwide fame.

“People say I am the king of painful shoes,” he says. “I don’t want to create painful shoes, but it is not my job to create something comfortable.

“I try to make high heels as comfortable as they can be, but my priority is design, beauty and sexiness.”

Louboutin lowdown

Christian Louboutin was born in Paris in 1963. He was brought up by his mother and three sisters and credits his feminine environment as a key inspiration.

In 1982, he trained with shoe designer Charles Jourdan, who created footwear for Christian Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

For a short time in the late 1980s Louboutin gave up his vocation in shoes to pursue his other passion as a landscape gardener.

His first shoe boutique opened in 1992 in a Parisian arcade close to the Louvre. The small street is now nicknamed ‘Passage Louboutin’.

Four months after the boutique opened, an American journalist from W Magazine stumbled upon two women in an animated conversation about the beauty of Louboutin’s shoes. An article was published and the business took off worldwide.

For your chance to star in a Martini Royale campaign judged by Louboutin and win 12 pairs of shoes designed by the man himself, visit www.facebook.com/Martini

Christian Louboutin’s exhibition at London’s Design Museum ends on July 9.