The iconic red-soled shoes by Christian Louboutin (b. 1963) have made it onto almost every red carpet since the French designer opened his first boutique in Paris in 1992. His fantastical heels have gained attention and praise for their provocative heights and arching shapes, leading the designer to be nicknamed the “King of Stilettos.”
Since childhood, Louboutin was artistic; he began sketching shoes at the age of 10 and later studied drawing at the Académie d’Art Roederer. However, it was the regular visits to the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, then in the Palais de la Porte Dorée, that inspired his interest in women’s shoes. Growing up in the Paris neighborhood of the museum, he regularly spent weekends there and became fascinated by a sign asking women not to wear heels on account of the antique wooden floors. The severe arch of the heel on the sign and the violent red slash through it inspired him to think about shoes as something that could be dangerous and powerful in their allure. As he has said, “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.”
Breaking rules came naturally to Louboutin, who dropped out of school at the age of 16 and traveled to Egypt and India. When he returned to Paris in 1981, he had his mind set on shoe design and was hired by French fashion designer Charles Jourdan whose women’s shoe designs had been popular amongst the Paris elite since 1919. Louboutin later worked as a freelancer for such fashion houses as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Roger Vivier.
When he went out on his own and opened his first boutique in the Galerie Véro-Dodat covered passage, Princess Caroline of Monaco became his first famous client. The now-revered red sole emerged with his third collection, when Louboutin noticed an assistant painting her nails bright red. He tried applying the polish to a sole and was enamored with the results. Soon, his glossy, red-bottomed heels were all the rage in the fashion world.
Today, Louboutin sells his wares in department stores and over 50 Louboutin boutiques across the world. Beyond shoes, he has also expanded into accessories, beauty lines and handbags, launching the Passage collection of bags in 2014, inspired by the location of his first boutique. Conceptual pieces like his 2007 “Pumps,” now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have taken his stilettos to the extreme with a ballet-like en pointe silhouette balanced on a spiked heel. Louboutin is a go-to designer for celebrities, including Blake Lively, Mariah Carey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Lopez (who has a song about the famed shoes), among hundreds of others. In February 2020, a retrospective of his career opened in the Palais de la Porte Dorée where it all began.
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