The name Christian Louboutin is synonymous with luxury. The shoe designer’s trademark red soles have become a permanent fixture in fashion and culture, reigning supreme as one of the most iconic footwear designs in the world since the brand’s inception in 1991. At the time, one of the first people to step foot inside the designer’s flagship boutique in Paris was Princess Caroline of Monaco, an elite guest who set the precedent for customers to come.
Louboutin’s stilettos have since been worn by everyone from movie stars to music legends, with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Tina Turner – who he credits as his most influential muse – among his fans. 30 years on, Louboutin’s designs continue to be a symbol of wealth and fabulosity referenced across music, TV and film. So, how does it all feel for the man behind the empire?
One thing that’s abundantly clear about the French-Egyptian designer is that his red soles are still fixed firmly on the ground. Within seconds of our conversation his imminent warmth and infectious charm radiate through the phone, crumbling any pre-empted stereotypes about veteran fashion moguls. He’s extremely passionate about his latest collection, Walk a Mile in My Shoes – a star collaboration with Idris and Sabrina Elba supporting five non-profit organisations with 100 per cent of its proceeds. The collection was inspired by the trio’s commitment to keeping alive the fight against racism, anti-Blackness and systemic oppression following last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement. As we catch up ahead of its launch, Louboutin explains its premise and his relationship with the Elbas, while letting us into his world by answering 50 burning questions …
Where are you right now?
I’m home in Paris.
What did you do this weekend?
I got back from Italy. Then I spent the rest of my weekend with my two daughters. We went to the circus.
What are you wearing today?
I’m wearing a beautiful Fendi jacket, some beautiful loafers from my last collection and a pair of jeans which have just proven that I’ve put on three kilos over the last two weeks. [Laughs.]
When did you first meet Sabrina and Idris Elba?
I met Idris first, I’ve known Idris for a long time now. But before I met the two together, he called me because he was coming to Paris and he simply said, “I’m coming with the one.” Knowing Idris, “the one” is a very strong phrase for him to use so I was very excited but also a little bit anxious to meet her.
How would you describe your friendship?
It’s very jovial. I like relationships that are very playful, but what I love about my relationship with the Elbas is that it is playful but also very deep. I like people who are sensitive but don’t necessarily show their sensitivities straight away or over-share immediately.
What is the most important thing for you in your friendships?
I have one thing in all friendships: I have to feel completely confident in the relationship. Trust is the most important thing for me, and trust and truthfulness are things that have always been there without a shadow of a doubt with the Elbas.
What inspired the Walk a Mile in My Shoes collection?
The collection was born after a conversation that I had with Idris and Sabrina Elba. It came from a place of feeling completely armless in what was happening in America last summer, in reference to the murder of George Floyd.
What was your favourite thing about working with the Elbas?
My favourite part of friendships and relationships is the early stages of it. The birth of friendship, when you meet great people and you share a great moment and then it carries on. This working process was just like that.
How many pieces are there in the collection?
12 beautiful shoes.
What has been your biggest lesson from 2020?
My biggest lesson is that nature is much more powerful and stronger than one could imagine as a human being.
What is the best celebrity in Louboutins moment on a red carpet you have seen?
It had to be when I was a walker for Dame Elizabeth Taylor. I spent a few days with her ahead of the AmFar Gala in Cannes in 2003. Being there with her was much more than a red carpet, it was a moment that I really cherish because I loved Elizabeth dearly.
What’s your favourite piece from the new collection?
I would say the one that was completely designed by Idris. It’s a sneaker.
Which celebrity would you love to design a pair of shoes for next?
Dolly Parton. I’ve already made shoes for her, but before the first lockdown I was supposed to visit her at Dollywood and of course it didn’t happen. But the first place I’ll go when we’ll be able to travel aboard will be there.
Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to work in fashion?
Yes, I was 17. I was already designing shoes, but I was designing shoes for showgirls. And then I realised that if I really wanted to design shoes, I had to go through fashion.
What is your first impression of fashion?
When you’re a kid, you’re thinking the fashion industry is super fun. Then you realise that the word ‘industry’ is actually a real word and is there for a reason. I realised pretty early that it was great if you do what you want, and you like what you do, but ultimately it is work.
When did your fascination with shoes begin?
When I was around 12 years old, I saw a sketch of a shoe that was crossed out. It was a sign in a museum forbidding high heeled shoes to be worn inside. It was the museum of Paris where I did an exhibition last year.
Do you remember the first pair of shoes you designed?
The first pair of shoes I finished designing were for my friends’ for their wedding in 1988.
What has been your favourite era in fashion so far?
I love the 20s in terms of fashion, but also in terms of architecture and the landscape of design in general. Same thing with the 50s and also the era of John Galliano. I have loved every moment of John Galliano’s designs and projects.
What is the best thing about contemporary fashion, in your opinion?
I think the internet and social media has been a great platform for people to express themselves at the very beginning stages of their careers.
And the worst?
You have a lot of people on there who are just trashing others constantly. There’s so much fake news and fake information that can ruin people’s work and reputations so fast.
When did you know you’d made it?
It has never been my obsession to ‘make it’ but I do remember once I was at LAX and I was carrying back some shoes of mine in my hand luggage. When I put my bag through the scanning machine, the girl working there saw the red soles and began screaming. I remember thinking this girl is looking at my shoes and she’s super excited, that probably means that I have made it in some way.
Which charities will you be donating the proceeds from the new collection to?
Where do you go to feel inspired?
Anywhere but Paris – I get too distracted here.
Where do you like to be when you’re creating?
The best pair of shoes you’ve ever made?
The one that I was just thinking about creating before we got on this call.
What is the best part of your day?
In the morning when I took my kids to school.
What do you like to do when you have time off?
I love watching TV series and movies. I also love eating yoghurt and gardening. I’m a big fan of gardens, even more than I am of nature.
Do you have a favourite garden?
One of my favourite gardens is Hidcote Manor in England.
What is the last country you travelled to?
And where are you going to next?
I’m going to Portugal next week.
What are you looking forward to the most this summer?
I just got a new garden in Brittany, so I look forward to seeing it blossom and discovering the surprises that it may bring as it blooms.
Do you collect anything?
I wouldn’t call myself a collector because collecting is very conscious. I accumulate rather than collect so I am an accumulator, which is much more of a disaster.
What is one thing you would change about the fashion industry if you could?
The speed of it.
What type of music do you listen to the most?
I love Indian Bollywood music. That’s one thing that I’ve always loved, Indian voices.
What’s a movie that makes you happy?
Devi by Satyajit Ray is a movie I can watch over and over again. It is my favourite.
Do you have a favourite book?
I have several favorite books but my latest favourite is called The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage. It’s a 1967 book. It’s fantastic.
What’s the last piece of advice you were given?
Follow your own path and if you want to be heard, you also need to listen.
And the last piece of advice you gave to someone else?
I told someone to go see a shrink.
Do you have a favourite artist?
My favourite artists are the ones who belong to a community of artists. I love unsigned pieces just as much as famous signed ones. I have so much respect for them.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
The unconditional love of my parents and to have parents who never judged. I had a mother who was fantastic and she was never judging, she would refuse to judge anyone or anything which is what I call a sense of non-bourgeois.
If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?
It would be Nefertiti, Queen of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt, and her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten.
What would you eat?
Whatever they’d cook for me.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever seen?
Probably from a man who wasn’t initially interested saying that he’s been looking at my menswear shoes since being introduced to it because his wife or girlfriend were wearing my stilettos.
What is the best fashion party you have ever been to?
It was around seven or eight years ago at a Vogue Ball in Brazil. They threw a great party in São Paulo and although it was supposed to be a black tie event it was Brazil, so everyone was practically naked. It reminded me of the kind of parties I would attend when I was a teenager at The Palace – which was our equivalent of Studio 54 – where people were really going crazy in terms of looks and it was just super fun. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, just full of carefree fun, genuinity, amazing performers, dancers, musicians and just people being happy. It was really fantastic. It was the best fashion party I have ever experienced.
What is your greatest pleasure in life?
My greatest pleasure is waking up every day. I always have a big smile on my face when I do.
What is your greatest fear?
It’s a little weird but for some reason, I sometimes have dreams where I drown in moving sands. It’s incredibly scary.
Who has been your most impactful muse?
What is your life motto?
Go with the flow. I’m not a five year plan person, I like to be open to any opportunities and new encounters. It brings you way beyond where you would expect to go by yourself.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
To trust people unconditionally and to always give the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, what makes you laugh?
I giggle very easily but what really makes me laugh is great storytellers. I love people who can tell true stories really well. I think it is a great gift when someone can take a mundane story and make it entertaining.
Explore the Walk a Mile in My Shoes collection here.