Footwear maestro Christian Louboutin touched down in Beverly Hills recently for a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his business and the new, limited-edition capsule collection of shoes and bags he is launching to mark the occasion.
A busy day of shaking hands and signing the famous Louboutin red soles culminated in a dinner at LACMA's Ray's & Stark Bar, where art was in motion as guests strutted past a canvas-covered wall being "tagged" by street artist Gallo Love.
(Love is himself a kind of work of art, with a beard and mustache on half his face and a single eyebrow on the opposite side. And he achieved a neat party trick when the canvas on the wall turned out to be canvas tote bags for guests to take home as graffiti-covered mementos.)
Louboutin took a few minutes to chat about his love of global handicrafts, his upcoming gig at Crazy Horse in Paris and the trademark infringement case that has him seeing red.
Does it feel like it's been 20 years?
It doesn't seem like that long. I don't see my company as a grown-up because I'm still so enthusiastic. I feel like it's a teenage company.
What's a funny memory you have from the early days?
My friend Henri, who is also one of my business partners, said when we started that we needed to get a fax machine. And I said, 'A fax machine? What for? Can we afford it?' He said, 'I think we have to.' We really started from zero. There was one phone for the whole company -- one physical phone.
Talk about this 20th anniversary collection. Is it a greatest hits collection?
Sort of. When I was working on my book [which celebrates his 20 years in business and is published this month], I realized there are certain ideas that always come back into my designs. For example, I have always loved showgirls and have done many things in reference to those birds of paradise. The Bow Bow [shoe] is about transparency, and the Havana Trash is what I imagine is on the floor at the Tropicana. I've always worked with artisans from different countries, as well as artists, like the 25-year-old graffiti artist Nicolas Michel who tagged some of our shoes. This collection is about all of those things.
You tap into a global network of artisans for your designs. Can you share some of the styles from the anniversary collection that incorporate handicrafts?
On these sandals [the Copte style], this is a Coptic cross. These first were made by monks in the north of Egypt. I saw them there and asked if they could be reproduced. These gilded wood heels on the Bois Dore are done by a community in a village in Thailand.
What's been the most popular shoe over the years?
The Very Prive and Numero Prive, which have a hidden platform, the Pigalle and the Simple Pump.
Have there been any unsuccessful designs?
One design I thought would be popular, and we didn't sell any. It was a spindle heel inside a tassel. I guess people thought it was awkward. There was also a glass wedge with flower petals inside, that looked like you were walking on a bed of roses. Most of the pairs came back because the heel cracked.
You're working on a production opening in March at the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris, a collaboration with David Lynch and Swizz Beatz.
I stayed true to the DNA of Crazy Horse, which is about the embellishment of women, but also the strength of the lighting and repetition. The lighting is very special; it can provoke magic. A French cabaret going African, that's one number. Another
number is about shadows and legs. Then there is a hip-hop finale. Mark Fast did the costumes.
You are in the midst of what could be a long and drawn-out intellectual property case with Yves Saint Laurent over the right to use a China Red lacquered sole. What if the ultimate result isn't one you like?
I'm not going to hang myself, but I have to stand up for myself and for others. People come to me because they like the shoes but also because they love the story of a person who followed his dream and managed to stay independent for 20 years. What I see is a big company trying to break a small one.
When you want to get away from it all, where is your peaceful place?
Portugal. I have a house by the sea. I'm not a Mediterranean type of person, but I like waves. The sound of waves is like the sound of heels. It provokes tranquillity. It rocks you.
The Christian Louboutin 20th anniversary capsule collection of shoes and bags, $695 to $8,995, is available at the designer's boutiques and at select Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores. It will be online soon at us.christianlouboutin.com.