Renowned footwear designer Christian Louboutin describes himself as someone who doesn’t ‘feel time pass’. So working on an exhibition devoted to his decadeslong creative output has been a revelatory and cathartic experience for him. For those who view the retrospective at Parisian landmark Palais de la Port Doree (or savour the imagery online), stepping into Louboutin’s universe is an uplifting journey worth taking. Curated by Olivier Gabet, the exhibition, titled L’Exhibition[niste] displays inconic designs from the Louboutin archive amidst the museum’s art deco architecture and frescos, and there are fresh collaborations with creatives including British design duo Whitaker Malem and Spanish choreographer Blanca Li. Over coffee in Dubai, Louboutin reminisced, got philosophical about fashion and laid out future plans.
The past year has been eventful. How are you?
I feel good. I’ve been working on this exhibition for almost two years, so it’s an achievement of that time as well as a celebration of the 28 years before. It’s also bizarre, because I’m not really someone who thinks back or is nostalgic, but when you see what’s been done it’s quite moving.
Did the process of putting L’Exhibition[niste] together bring back a lot of memories?
Yes, definitely. I did a lot of first shows for people who are now quite big – like Stella McCartney. I’ve also worked with a lot of people who are no longer in business. 30 years is a long time, and many things have happened, so I feel like a survivor for having been through so much with so many. It’s also been quite emotional – I don’t think about the passing of time, and I don’t feel it, but now I realize how much has lived and died in those 30 years, as well as how much has changed for the fashion industry.
How has the industry changed?
I was 18 years-old when I first started designing shoes. I opened the phone directory and called a couture house and got put through to the director. Today, such a thing would never happen. The access to brands has changed, as well as
the way fashion houses communicate. For example, there are few brands now named after the actual designer, whereas before, that was the big thing. The name was important because the house followed the vision of one person. With social media and the hyper-connection, fashion has been dehumanised.
Why did you choose the palais for the exhibition?
It’s a place I know very well. When I was at school, I had a view of it from class, and as a child, I used to visit the aquarium beneath the museum. My first memories of it are looking at the fish, but when I got tired of the darkness, I ventured upstairs, where objects from Africa and Oceania were displayed. It allowed me to travel in my mind and visit places I hadn’t dreamed of yet. The palais is where my imagination developed.
Tell us about the collaborations….
In general, I work with people that I admire a lot. Lisa Reihana, for example, I met at the Venice Biennale two-and-a-half years ago. I was drawn to her work. It’s very political, feminine and beautiful. The pace of it makes you slow down and investigate, and when you do, you realise there is so much happening. Whitaker Malem creates sculptures and costumes and there’s always a link to leather. They have a sort of obsession with it and there’s a sensuality to their work. There is a room in the exhibition totally dedicated to different shades of nude, so I worked with them on that. A fetish is something I connect with them on. Another part of the exhibition, called ‘Fetish’, was done with David Lynch, and it’s dedicated to shoes that are not made for walking – they are made to be adored.
You have a strong visual signature – the red sole. Is that a blessing or a curse when designing?
Sometimes I feel that the perception of my work has been narrowed down to just the heel, which can be frustrating. The first shoe I designed was a pair of ballerina flats, and I also like to design sneakers, so you have to work around pre-conceived ideas sometimes and try to open them.
What you would do if you weren’t designing shoes?
If I had to do something else, it wouldn’t be in fashion. It would be something totally different, from another universe, like architecture. However, it’s too much responsibility. How awful must it be to be the architect of a bad building? I wonder. Another thing I would like to do is write scripts for movies.
Will you take a break after L’Exhibition[niste]?
I think so, yes. I like to stay in one place, like Portugal [Louboutin has two homes there], where I have my day-to-day habits. I like to go where I don’t need money. I like to be completely free. I like it when everything is erased.
This article was originally published in the April/ May 2020 issue of AD Middle East