So, do you want to know the real story behind the iconic and now-trademarked red-lacquered soles of Christian Louboutin shoes? To hear Monsieur Louboutin tell it himself is pure storytelling and the stuff of fashion legend! Inspired by artist Andy Warhol’s bright colors Louboutin says it was watching his assistant, Sandy, paint her nails red that gave him the idea to paint the soles. Louboutin was trying to bring the reality of his designs to life but it didn’t happen until he saw Sandy apply that red nail polish. He grabbed the polish, a fight ensued (Sandy didn’t want to stop polishing with only 2 nails completed!), he won, he grabbed the red polish and painted the black sole of the shoe. Once he saw that red it transformed the shoe and a brand was born! It turned out that red was the perfect choice because women don’t see red as an actual color. In the 90’s when women were wearing black and more black, Louboutin noticed that these very women also wore red nails and red lipstick. When he asked them about the red on their lips and nails, they replied: ‘that is different – that’s not a color!’ – and in that moment Louboutin knew: “If it’s different on the lips, it would be different on the soles.” He had found instant success …
Last night, as I watched Louboutin interviewed by Fern Mallis in her Fashion Icons series at the 92nd Street Y, I was charmed. Quintessentially French, born and raised in Paris, it was clear from the start that Louboutin was a perfect blend of artist and businessman, dreamer and doer. And also a bit of a dickens …Using his imagination is paramount to him; more important than technique. He was born to design shoes and make women feel beautiful. As a young boy in Paris, it was the shows at Folies Bergere and watching the showgirls perform where he first learned that shoes were both a woman’s strength and an empowering weapon. Says Louboutin, “When I first started I wanted to design shoes for showgirls.” He was drawn to that world of excitement and used to sneak into musicals because he says he always loved “fabrication and exoticism.”
Later, in 1992 when he opened his first boutique at 19 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, without a business plan or even a notion of what is was to design for the next season, it was a chance encounter with Princess Caroline of Monacco and a writer from W Magazine that changed the course of his story. Because in that moment his shoes became a brand. Today, Christian Louboutin counts more than 100 boutiques around the globe and expansive collections for both women and men, as well as the launch of Christian Louboutin Beaute and three new signature Christian Louboutin fragrances – as his empire. But at age 53, he is still never far away from the young boy who was full of wonder, sneaking into the Folies Bergere, transfixed by the showgirls. His advice to young designers? “Trust yourself. Trust your imagination. Imagination is a driving force.” I would say Christian Louboutin is a driving force – and a true inspiration.
With love and gratitude to Abrina Hyatt for these photos and for joining me – and to Jessica, for her willingness to model