Shoe designer Christian Louboutin creates luxury footwear for women known for their distinctive materials and delicate embellishments. Long a favorite of some of the world's most stylish women, Louboutin's shoes are instantly recognizable to fashion cognoscenti for their trademark lipstick-red soles. The Paris-based designer sells his perilously high heels--and the occasional flat--at his eponymous boutiques in Paris, London, New York, and even Moscow, as well as at top American retailers like Neiman Marcus.
Born in 1963, Louboutin grew up in Paris as the only son of a cabinetmaker. His three sisters, he has said, played a crucial role in helping him develop an appreciation for fashion and femininity, but his fascination with shoes was directly related to a 1976 visit to a Paris museum near his home, the Musee des Arts Africains et Oceaniens on the Avenue Daumesnil. Its collection of sculpture and handiwork from Mali, Ivory Coast, and Australasia was housed in a building from the 1930s that featured priceless mosaic and parquet floors. Louboutin recalled that there was a pictograph sign barring visitors from wearing spike-heel shoes--by then merely a vintage fashion memory from the 1950s--which could damage the floor surfaces. "I had never seen these kind of shoes in the '70s," he recalled in an interview with Katherine Weisman in Footwear News. "How could someone make a [drawing] of a shoe that no longer existed to tell people not to wear them? I became obsessed."
Louboutin began sketching shoes in his early teens, and found himself increasingly drawn into the world of fashion at the expense of his studies. He was expelled from four schools, but "I didn't care, because I felt so different from my peers," he told Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni in Harper's Bazaar. "I discovered Cher on television, and no one knew who she was, and I thought, I come from another culture--mine is Cher." He went through a punk-rock phase, and appeared in a few films, one of them a 1979 cult classic, Race d'ep, which played to English-language audiences under the title, The Homosexual Century.
Louboutin had some formal training at the Academie Roederer, where he studied drawing and the decorative arts. Increasingly intrigued by world cultures, he had already run away to see Egypt while still in his teens, and also traveled through India for a year. Back in Paris in 1981, he assembled a design portfolio of his most elaborate high heels, and showed it to some of the city's top couture houses. His efforts landed him a job with Charles Jourdan, the legendary shoe designer, and then he met Roger Vivier, another well-known shoe designer who had worked with Christian Dior in the 1950s. Louboutin had known of Vivier's work since his teens, for Vivier was said to have invented that famous spike (or stiletto) heel whose image so intrigued him at the Avenue Daumesnil museum. Named for a type of slim knife, the stiletto heel was a high shoe with a tapered, narrow heel that resembled the namesake knife blade. Vivier liked Louboutin's work, and offered him an apprenticeship. "Vivier taught me that the most important part of the shoe is the body and the heel," Louboutin told Dana Thomas in Newsweek International. "Like good bone structure, if you get that right, the rest is makeup."
During the rest of the 1980s, Louboutin was a freelance shoe designer, creating heels for the collections of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as Maud Frizon, another shoe designer with immense name-brand cache in the 1980s. He launched his own company, with the help of two financial backers, and in November of 1991 opened a Paris shoe boutique under his own name. One of his first famous customers was Princess Caroline of Monaco, who enthused over his shoes one day when a fashion journalist happened to be in the store as well. The resulting press helped boost Louboutin's profile immensely, and such well-known fashionistas as Diane Von Furstenburg and Catherine Deneuve became devoted clients. Later devotees of his stiletto heels included Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who wore Louboutins on her wedding day.
Louboutin first attracted the attention of fashion-lovers outside of Paris with his "inseparables," a footwear-industry term for a single design or word that runs from the vamp of one shoe to the other; his quirky "LO" "VE" shoes were a highly coveted item for a time in the early 1990s on both sides of the Atlantic. He opened a New York City store in 1993, and heeded Russian women's demand for his shoes by opening a Moscow outpost in 2002. For the autumn 2003 season, he introduced his first line of handbags.
Louboutin's stores feature his latest shoe collections, all of which are made in Italy with the characteristic red soles. He began using the color for the bottom of the shoes one day as he watched his assistant was painting her nails with the color and thought it was immensely flirtatious. More general inspiration, he told Jennifer Tung in Harper's Bazaar, comes from extensive travel. "I like to go to countries that are almost forbidden, like Syria or Uzbekistan. It's like traveling in the 19th century: There's no one around, and you discover things." Back at his studio, he uses the colors and textiles he saw to create another line of elaborate, well-crafted shoes.
Louboutin and his partner, landscape architect Louis Benech, spend time at a vacation home in Luxor, Egypt, that has been featured in both Vogue and Harper's Bazaar for its unique architecture and delightful, treasure-filled interior. Louboutin invites his famous friends to visit, and takes them on cruises down the Nile in a traditional flat-bottomed boat he commissioned. He leads a suitably madcap life elsewhere: when Elisa Anniss, a writer for Footwear News, asked him about his passions outside of fashion, he replied, "Flying trapeze. I took it up after seeing the movie Wings of Desire, but I had to stop because the circus where I did it went bankrupt. I am also interested in showgirls and music halls." As he told Tung in the Harper's Bazaar interview, he draws his creative inspirations from these and other wide-ranging sources. "The last thing that would ever influence me is fashion," he declared. "In fashion, things get dated extremely quickly."
Born in 1963 in Paris, France; son of Roger (a cabinetmaker) and Irene (a homemaker) Louboutin; partner of Louis Benech (a landscape architect) since 1997. Education: Attended the Academie Roederer, late 1970s. Addresses: Office--Christian Louboutin, 941 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021.
Began career with shoe designer Charles Jourdan, c. 1982; apprentice to shoe designer Roger Vivier; freelance shoe designer for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Maud Frizon, and other fashion designers and shoe companies; launched own line, 1989; opened first store in Paris, 1991; opened New York City store, 1993; launched handbag line, 2003.
- Footwear News, June 1, 1992, p. S8; December 9, 2002, p. 50.
- Harper's Bazaar, December 1999, p. 104; April 2001, p. 226.
- Newsweek International, February 24, 2003, p. 48.
- People, February 10, 2003, pp. 87-88.
- Vogue, June 2004, p. 206.