Christian Louboutin on cinema, cooking, flying the trapeze and his signature line of shoes
There’s something of the imp in Christian Louboutin. As he settles into the other end of the sofa on which I’m seated, in the middle of the newly-launched Wedding Suite in his Mumbai store, he strikes me as the sort of character who might break into a tap dance at any moment, just for the heck of it. He’s spent the best part of the morning being interviewed by other people (who have no doubt asked him many of the questions that I’m about to), but this doesn’t appear to have affected his energy levels. His eyes glint, and a smile seems ready to make a break for it at the slightest provocation; either that or he’s taken by the red pants I’m wearing (completely unplanned, I assure you). In either case, it usually helps when an interviewee is in a good mood, and Louboutin was very forthcoming during the course of a freewheeling chat.
I sketched my first pair of shoes when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I saw a poster at a museum close to where I lived, in Paris, which had a sketch of a pair of very 1950s high-heeled stilettos on it, and they were crossed out — forbidden, obviously, because of the damage they might do to the mosaics on the floor. This was the 1970s, so I couldn’t understand why they were still forbidden — the tips of stilettos weren’t usually made of metal any more, unlike the 1950s. Still, it made me understand that anything starts with a drawing, and if they don’t exist, they do when you draw them. I kind of reproduced that sketch, and played around with colours, but I kept the basic shape.
The colour red, to me, signifies firstly my red soles, which is my trademark. Symbolically, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that red has never had a negative connotation. For example, green has a lot of weird meanings in different places; orange, you can’t wear it onstage, it’s bad luck and so on; white could mean the colour of death or of a wedding, depending on where you are. Red, for some reason, escapes these rules in every single culture that I know about — it stands for good fortune, for passion, for love.
Some people say that my shoes for women are anti-feminist, that they fetishise pain and discomfort. I don’t really understand this. Some may find my shoes painful to wear, but they don’t have to wear them. A lot of other people don’t find them painful. For me, as a man, the discomfort I feel when I put on a tie is the same as the pain a woman might feel when she wears my shoes — you’re obliged a certain posture, you’re conscious of your body and you’re actually more careful. Do I wear ties and bowties? Yes. Am I obliged to wear them? No. Everybody is free to wear what they want and discard what they don’t want.
The best way to keep my signature red soles clean is to simply re-sole it. There’s a cobbler in Paris, who has been helping us with this, with my special patent leather finish. I did try to dye the leather for a while, but the type of leather you need for a sole is too thick, and it ends up becoming a dark burgundy once you actually dye it.
I hated being an actor [Louboutin acted in a cult French film called Race d’ep, among a couple of others]. I was a kid, I got offered this part in a movie and I thought it would be like Hollywood — it ended up being not like Hollywood at all. Race d’ep became a cult movie, it’s so bizarre! I mean, I had fun, everything is fun when you’re young, but I just didn’t have the patience to be an actor, to wait around on a set. I wouldn’t mind directing a movie some day, especially writing a screenplay; I’m more comfortable on the other side of a camera. I also have a big collection of Indian movie posters — I find them very striking, graphically.
Satyajit Ray was a fantastic director, and I discovered him by accident, when I was around 15 years old. A dear friend of mine, who loved movies and music, asked me to go with her to the cinema, to see an Indian film. I was really tired and didn’t want to go anywhere, but I went with her, and, of course, the film we saw was Satyajit Ray’s Devi, with Sharmila Tagore.
It was absolutely fantastic, and I had a double shock, because he was present too — a very elegant man. I shook his hand, and you have a very direct connection with someone when you like their film, and it was very interesting for me to see him talking about French cinema. One thing I especially like about him is that you can’t tell, when you see his films, if it’s a man or a woman who has directed it — he has that sensibility.
I was expelled from school thrice, and it wasn’t because I was misbehaving, or that I was a non-conformist. I was just drifting, and I guess it was quite annoying, for my teachers; they had no grasp on me, and I was always daydreaming, with no real interest in school.
I fly the trapeze. I’ve stopped this year, but I did it for seven years. I was inspired to do it after I saw Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire.
My personal sense of style is scruffy, messy but colourful. I have tons of ties and bowties, which I rarely wear, but I buy them anyway because I can’t resist them. I also have Lacoste polo T-shirts in every colour — I always have Lacoste with me, I feel really happy in them. I think a man needs to have at least three of everything in his wardrobe — three pairs of shoes, three jackets, three shirts and so on. My watches have always been gifts — I’ve never bought one. I have a lovely Roger Dubuis, a lovely Cartier and a Piaget that I especially like. I also really like Duncan Quinn, for his wonderful jackets — I get a lot of compliments when I wear one.
The last thing I cooked was a type of chutney, a salty chutney with a touch of lime, that I made in Italy. I mixed it up with pasta; it was very nice.
One place that really inspires me is my apartment in Paris. No, you know what, the perfect place as far as I’m concerned is my studio in Portugal. There are beautiful views of the sea, large panoramic windows. I really feel good when I’m there, it’s very inspiring. I drift there, which is very important for visualisation.
If I were to design a pair of shoes for Man’s World, it would definitely be a lace-up; it would not be a loafer. It would probably be a Spectator, which would provide the possibility of putting on something animal, or technical, some sharp elements.