Shopping can speak volumes about a person, and the revelations are particularly interesting when the setting is the treasure trove of the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena and that someone is French footwear and accessories designer Christian Louboutin, who likes to sync his trips to Los Angeles with the monthly bazaar.
After all, the 53-year-old designer has plenty of rooms to furnish. He boasts a fishing cottage in Lisbon; a palace in Aleppo, Syria; a houseboat on the Nile River in Egypt; a 13th century castle in the Vendée in France; and homes in cities including Paris and Los Angeles. (He says a friend is living in his Los Feliz abode, so the designer stays at the Chateau Marmont.)
Along with his many homes, he also has 132 (and counting) Christian Louboutin boutiques in 32 countries — No. 133 is slated to open in Honolulu in August, followed by new locations in Paris, Tokyo and Houston by October. Louboutin says he is intimately involved in decorating each one. Kachina dolls from his personal collection are displayed in the company's first beauty boutique that opened in March in Paris, while his L.A. showroom exhibits a motley crew of whimsical animal statues and rockers from the Rose Bowl market.
And then there are the inspirational flea market finds that could translate into future designs.
"I'm never, ever not thinking about design; wherever I go, there's a type of backside in my brain that immediately incorporates possible design, possible detail, possible color, possible material," he says. "It can be literal: buying objects or textiles that I could reproduce, rethink or redo. But it's also [about] mixing with different cultures, different people, different elements."
Prior to settling down in Portugal for the month of July to sketch his fall-winter 2017 collection, Louboutin, who is celebrated for his signature red-soled shoes worn by Beyoncé, Blake Lively, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Angelina Jolie, Elton John and others, let us accompany him on his June 12 trek through the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Here are the major takeaways from our conversation with the designer.
On the world's great flea markets
"I would say one of the specialties of the Rose Bowl is that you have a lot of big objects. … All those props coming from movies or window dressing. … I never see things at that type of scale in Europe," he says.
The well-traveled designer has hit a majority of the major global flea markets; his other top stops are the Chatuchak market in Bangkok and the Janpath Market in New Delhi "for all the great fabrics and textiles," he says.
On his shopping uniform
Louboutin dons woven raffia Louis Orlato high-top sneakers of his own design, a pale-blue Fred Perry polo shirt, matching El Ganso trousers (he notes the colorful contrasting trim on the pockets and waistband), a black-banded straw fedora hat and a vintage safari jacket with brass buttons and epaulettes.
"I had to do a shoot for a French magazine, and I ended up being dressed as a type of explorer, having a camera and this jacket; I loved [the jacket]. So I bought it," he says. "I always have a safari jacket when I travel so I have a lot of pockets for my passport and money and things."
He proceeds to slip a purchase — a small wooden duck with a clothes-pin bill that he intends to use in his office to organize to-do notes — into one pocket.
"When it's empty, I'll know that I have done my work," he says.
On his shopping technique
"You have to be really organized. I am methodical, starting in the left lane and then second left lane, third left lane, going in a square," he says. "I do it little by little, like a snail.
"And if you are looking for something specific, you never find it," he continues. "You are always disappointed. … I so often buy things, not knowing what I'm going to do with them, but you always have a moment when you have to go to a birthday [party]. So I have this place at home and another in my office where I keep objects, pieces of jewelry, books, etc."
He also visualizes out-of-the-box uses for things such as a pair of wing-shaped bookends he plans to repurpose as shelves.
On his love of lamps
One overarching takeaway from the market is that Louboutin loves to buy statement lamps crafted from old trombones, shaped like cacti and hydrangea flowers, adorned with leopard-print shades and in the form of Old Hollywood movie studio lighting.
"It's a bit like jewelry. The weight counts," he says, lifting a lamp. "When I touch this, it's very light, which is not a good thing for a lamp."
On textures, colors and patterns
What captures the designer's eye is telling. He notes, buys or photographs a golden mother-of-pearl table top, a colorfully striped surfboard, an enormous urn adorned with seashells, colorful felt detailing on a fur moccasin, a bone-and-leather horse harness from the late 19th century, a camouflage-like bark pattern on a eucalyptus tree (he's an avid horticulturist) and a netting scarf embellished with flat tabs of silver metal.
"It's like the type of work you see in the [United Arab] Emirates," he says of the latter. "When the sun hits, it's really beautiful. [I'm thinking of it] as a fabric, not a shoe, but definitely something I can incorporate into a shoe."
Back issues from the '20s and '30s of Touring Topics magazine, a publication by the Automobile Club of Southern California, also make their way into Louboutin's shopping cache, after arty black-and-white illustrations on the pages capture his fancy. So does a large stack of coffee-table books on Native American history and culture, a topic of ongoing personal interest for the designer.
On his favorite finds
"Actually, I loved those little Mexican plates from the '30s, very sweet; the way they are painted is quite naïve with beautiful colors," he says. "I also loved the Depression glass. That is a beautiful technique. So I bought a few [iridescent amber pieces] to try to actually [redo] it almost as if it were a pattern or a type of lacquered leather. I have to see what it's going to look like."
One of his all-time favorite Rose Bowl finds is a giant ceramic parrot that once perched in front of his West Hollywood boutique.
On his signature red soles
"If I had to stick to one color, red made sense for a lot of reasons," he says. "It was the early '90s, and I had my first store in Paris [the first Christian Louboutin shoe salon opened in late 1991]. Customers were only wearing black, but I always noticed that they often still had red [accents]. So I realized that even if you don't like color, an element of red looks good. Red is above the colors, for some reason.
"In different cultures, colors can have different meanings," he continues. "White is a color of weddings and bridal and purity in a lot of countries, but then you arrive in India, and white is the color of death. … So you have downsides. But red, in every single culture I've seen, is always good. Apart from blood, which is actually life, the activation of the heart. It's passion in China. It's passion and love in Spain. It's very strong and very vivid. So basically I stuck to it."
On his personal shoe collection
"I don't keep thousands [of shoes at home], maybe a few hundred," he says. "I have a little collection of shoes everywhere that I have a bit of a house, but I don't have more than 400 pairs maximum, which is not so many.
"I always have Nike Air Jordans when traveling," he continues. "And there's a great sneaker brand called A.P.L. [Athletic Propulsion Labs] from Los Angeles that is very nice. I also buy Salomon hiking boots because I do like to hike. I'm a really bad technician, so I wouldn't even try to design technical shoes."
Christian Louboutin's guide to L.A.
Fashion boutiques: "I go to Opening Ceremony, to Cameron Silver's place, Decades, for vintage, and to Duncan Quinn [for menswear]." All three shops are in Beverly Grove.
Home stores: "For furniture and home [accents], I always go to JF Chen and Blackman Cruz [both in Hollywood], and I get fabrics at Hollywood At Home [near West Hollywood]."
Favorite eats and treats: Italian restaurant Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica, Farmshop in the Brentwood County Mart in Santa Monica, the Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya in Beverly Grove for sushi and Erewhon in L.A. for pressed juices and natural foods.
The great outdoors: "The Huntington Gardens [in San Marino] is spectacular," he says. "When I have time, I come to the Rose Bowl in the morning and then I go to the Huntington for lunch. The garden is a fantastic place. I love it." Louboutin says he likes to start his mornings with a hike, often to the Hollywood sign.
Road trips: "First of all, I much prefer California over New York. New York is really too frantic for me," he says, noting that he's applying for a California driver's license. "I would like to drive to San Francisco via the sea, which I've been doing, but I've never stopped at places like Carmel. I also want to go all around L.A. — to Death Valley and Joshua Tree — and to Arizona to visit the Native American museums in Scottsdale and Tucson."