Christian Louboutin has always wanted to go to Afghanistan, ever since he was a teenager. He would also love to go to Israel and Mongolia; Tasmania, too. “There are more countries I haven’t been to that I’m dying to go to than [those] I have been,” says the native Parisian. He reflects that life is more complicated now and regrets opportunities not taken in the past.
“I’m absolutely someone who is inspired by a lot of cultures,” the footwear designer says over the phone. “I think it is important to be open to the world instead of thinking yours is the only world. I absolutely want to celebrate and be inspired. You should look, you should listen. And then you grow.”
A flick through the Rizzoli-published tome Christian Louboutin The Exhibition(ist), which coincides with his Palais de la Porte Dorée exhibition (currently closed due to the pandemic), is testament to his love for travel and culture; and how it inspires the covetable shoe designs for which he has become legend.
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The pages are vivid with inspiration points, from the designers like Roger Vivier that he’s worked with, to artists and artworks he admires; it’s a look into the footwear maestro’s creative mind.
The same can be said of the exhibition, billed as an invitation to discover Christian Louboutin’s rich universe, which features never-seen-before designs, precious works and new collaborations. “It was interesting to look back because a lot of the things are memories that I didn’t remember,” says Louboutin of this mini time-travel excursion. “It was a nice experience, it’s not a thing I often do.”
Louboutin had a taste for adventure even before he ever stepped foot on a plane, train or automobile. “I have been travelling in my head, I have been travelling in my room [since I was] a kid,” he points out. “The idea of travelling in a different way”, it’s just about a change in definition, “not necessarily flying and changing country, travelling is also drifting and drifting is also very creative so I’ve been travelling in another way, a totally different way without moving at all.” Which is how he’s approached these past few months.
Having time to be bored, he says, is important. “The feeling of being bored, which I barely know myself actually, that feeling to have some time for yourself in a way is great,” he says. It’s a distinct change from feeling “a bit like a hamster in the wheel” of fashion, as he describes. Typically, the designer creates 600 designs per collection, from which is whittled down to around 200 or 250. “Which is still not a small collection,” he muses. There are accessories, too, and the launch of a new fragrance collection this year, entitled Loubiworld. This year marks his third decade in fashion.
In taking this positive approach, the designer is cautious to note that he speaks from a place of privilege. “I’m very aware that some people have had different conditions and have really been suffering. Not everyone has been living the same lockdown.”
Louboutin is currently away on school break in Portugal, a place he loves and describes as a second home. But while he loves to spend most of his time there, he notes there is a difference between being in the places he loves and the places he gets inspired by. “A country like India is definitely a never-ending source of inspiration,” he says. “Travelling for inspiration is not necessarily travelling for just pleasure or quietness or holidays, it’s a different story.” It requires organisation. And his all-time travel tip is to pack light. “You can’t have 25 suitcases, that’s impossible!”
Inspiration, he explains, is based upon memories. By the time of a finished design, it may be that these memories have been so diffused down that Louboutin is the only one left who can make the original connection. He thinks that’s how it should be. “Everything is there, then I dig it out whenever I need it. They [inspiration] pass in front of you and then you get it.”
When he was a child, the Palais de la Porte Doreìe, at one time known as the Museìe des Arts africains et oceìaniens, was particularly inspiring to him. “I wanted to give back what has been given to me through a place that opened my eyes to different worlds, cultures, different civilisations and countries, to a different way of thinking, through jewellery and objects, textiles.”
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