Complex Made Simple

Shoe on the other foot

Christian Louboutin steps away from his more traditional, female-focused collections to design shoes for men. Aficionado talks to the legend to find out more.
By Cynthia Khattar

Christian Louboutin has always been perceived as a female brand, but recently you moved away to target males. Why and why now ?
Well, basically, it happened naturally. Twenty years ago a young pop singer called Mika called me and asked if I could design some shoes for him. We had a conversation, and at the end I asked him why he wanted me, who designs for women, to design a shoe for him, who is a man. He said when he looks around at all the girls, when they put on one of my shoes they get really excited. He doesn’t see that excitement anywhere else. He wanted that excitement, because on stage it is important. I started to design the collection because of him…thinking of him. Once I had these collections, I produced them and put them in stores.

How do you manage this excitement around your brand?

I have no idea. I think what matters is when you are doing things that you like, you do them with excitement. The excitement that you have goes through your work to the people. You maintain it naturally by maintaining enthusiasm in your work.

Women appreciate Christian Louboutin’s unique shoes with high heels. What do your male clients appreciate?
More or less the same thing. Not high heels, but excitement. It’s basically any type of décor. The first shoes that I designed , which was for a party five years ago, were called Rollerboy. The first thing I designed used leather – all spikes – and it’s why it is called Rollerboy, because of the famous ‘70s movie Rollerball. I wasn’t sure , but it was requested by absolutely everyone. Basically, it’s really a thing where you have shoes such as Berlutti, like a perfect shoe that men would want to buy, and then giving it to his son. It’s absolutely not that. The common point with men and woman regarding my shoes is that there is a segment of people who really want to be excited.
They want to buy instantly and then forget about it. . . not necessarily reproduce it, but have the same style, but with a different element, different types of fabric. Just like women, I don’t know so many women who are very proud to have their shoes from 20 years. They may like a pair of shoe that they have bought a long time ago, but there is no pride to have it. It’s not that the woman is showing you, saying that I have this for 20 years. Men do that. Woman don’t. I am perfectly aware that this is a big difference. Women are proud of their new shoes, not their old ones. So I actually work the same way with men. It’s funny because a lot of men come to me and thank me, saying they can see the excitement on their wives’ faces, Now they too can have some excitement.

What do you think are the most common mistakes that Gulf women make when choosing shoes?

A common mistake? I don’t think there is just one. Actually, sometimes, there are too many metal elements and hardware. And, as much as I like hardware, it’s sometimes too much. And sometimes matching the hardware with the shoes and bags .

At the heart of a brand there’s creativity, there’s inspiration, but today there is also business. You have created a small empire in luxury, in fashion, in glamour. Take me through the journey. Was there a moment where you were about to just give up and say enough is enough?
No. Never. I started 20 years ago and things have been organically ; things could have been different again if I decided 20 years ago to go more luxurious…I would have probably failed; it would have been a very different journey. When you do things for pleasure, it’s a very different thing, with no targets, no marketing ideas; it’s very, very different. In the sense that if you decide, okay, in 10 years, I need to have “this, this, this.” If you don’t have it after 10 years, you have this feeling that you have been failing, and you also put all of your energy in a direction which may not be good, and if you basically do what you love; if you do things with love, and you’re smart enough to see exactly how it goes, then it’s a very different story. You may end up, not with the target you would have wanted, but at least you appreciate every moment of it, and so towards the end you grow in a natural way. So, there is not so much failure, and not so much strength, and I feel that those two play a big role.
To come back to the question, if I look back 20 years, to all of the people that shared my career. . . Christian Dior started his company in 1947; in 1957 he died. He had 10 years. And Christian Dior was huge, huge. So, basically, in 10 years you can do a lot of things. But, saying that, 20 years seems to be very much the beginning of an advancement, not really an achievement; it is really like the beginning of an advancement, for which it is actually. The only thing I thought of, basically, was when you are independent, of course people come back to you, buy you back. So you just have to be, you just have to know what you want. I have no target, but one thing I want to know is, I want to remain free and things can change, but if I have to sell my company, I would want to be free.

You have a special relation with the Arab world and especially Egypt and Lebanon. Why and how was this relationship created and developed?
I think, again, it’s a very natural thing that I have. I have always loved everything which is around the Mediterranean. It’s not only the Arab world, I would say really the Mediterranean, it also goes to Italy, it goes to Greece and then it goes around the Mediterranean. I like everything around, between climate people. The real thing that you feel is that I like the idea of a very modern generation, but at the very same time very old generation and old cultures. Finally, enough in the Middle East you do feel a strong element of culture, of education.
Even if people are not necessary educated there is very deep, deep engraved educational things which are old actually. You see the full generation, the way to be, the way to behave. I like the idea of tradition in a way. And also archeology in that part of the world is so important. You know there is so much to see. Even in coutries people barely visit for tourism, such as Saudi Arabia, you have nabatean sites.

How do shoes reflect the personality of men and women?

I can only speak about men and women who are interested in shoes. If you are not interested in shoes, it just means one thing. But, apart from that, definitely it is a big indication of the personality, especially with women, because they walk differently, you know, there would be a pace, so there will be too many elements in women’s shoes.

When you meet someone, is the first thing you look at their shoes?
No. I do the opposite. I don’t look at the shoes and after a few minutes I have an idea…