Of Red Stilettos, A Wild Spirit and Unchecked Imagination – Christian Louboutin

Christian Louboutin is a French designer whose towering stilettos with their shiny red lacquered soles topped the Luxury Institute’s annual Luxury Brand Status Index for 3 years running. His shoe brand was declared the most Prestigious Women’s Shoes in 2007, 2008 and 2009! We take a look at the designer’s life and how he transformed women’s shoes.

I love the red-soled stilettos!

I have champagne tastes on a beer budget, unfortunately, so I live vicariously off the purchases of my friend’s daughter, who absolutely adores her Christian Louboutins, of which she has a fair collection. His iconic red-soled shoes sell off the charts, which is surprising considering the price tags.

The story of the man behind the red soles … Christian Louboutin was born and raised in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, the son of a cabinet-maker from Brittany. Being much darker than his three sisters, he always felt that maybe he had been adopted, but rather than letting this depress him, he invented his own history, full of characters from Egypt because he was really into the pharaohs of Egypt. It was only at the age of 51 that he discovered that his father had indeed been an Egyptian with whom his mother had had a secret affair.

Louboutin had always been a bit of a rebel – he had been expelled from school three times, after which he decided to run away from home at the age of 12, at which point his mother decided to allow him to live at the home of a friend. He was a bit of a punk and as a preteen he was a member of a group of hard-partying individuals called the “bande du Palace” who were a fixture at the Paris nightclub Le Palace.

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© Christian Louboutin

Ignoring his academic studies, Louboutin began sketching shoes in his early teens. His first job was at the Folies Bergère, where he assisted the entertainers backstage. He was also quite a fixture on the party scene with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol.

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© Christian Louboutin

Louboutin says his fascination with shoes began in 1976 with a visit to the Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie (External link) where he saw a sign from Africa forbidding women from wearing stilettos as they damaged the wooden flooring. Being of a naturally rebellious nature, he decided that he would defy that and create something that broke the rules, and made women feel empowered.

After a stint in Egypt and India, he returned to Paris in 1981 and put together a portfolio of elaborate high heels, which he then tried to sell to the top couture houses, which resulted in employment with Charles Jourdan. Then Louboutin (External link) met Roger Vivier, who claims to have invented the spike-heel or stiletto. He interned with Vivier for some time in his atelier and then branched out on his own as a freelance designer when he designed shoes for Chanel, Yves St Laurent and Maud Frizon.

With funds secured from two backers, Louboutin opened his own salon in Paris in 1981, with Princess Caroline of Monaco as his first customer, which was a lucky break for him because she complimented his store one day when a fashion journalist was present and the journalist’s subsequent publication of her comments was an immense boost to his reputation.

Neesha Patel Louboutin
© Neesha Patel

Louboutin helped bring stilettos back into fashion – his spiked heels started from 4.72 inches upwards, the mere thought of which makes my feet hurt! His goal was to make women’s legs look sexy and as long as possible. Although he does make lower heels, his USP was dressy, evening-wear designs with rhinestones, feathers and bows. But he was not satisfied with the reproduction of his designs – he felt there was something missing and in frustration, he grabbed his assistant’s red nail polish and started painting the soles of the finished shoes and … voila! Instant success!

Neesha Patel Spiked Louboutin
© Neesha Patel

Apart from a plethora of celebrities who’ve bought his shoes – Diane von Furstenburg, Joan Collins, Tina Turner, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Jessica Parker who wore his shoes for her wedding, Louboutin’s single biggest client is the American novelist Danielle Steele who reputedly owns about 6000 pairs of his shoes – she is said to have purchased 80 pairs at a time!

Not a bad achievement for a guy who didn’t boast a formal education, don’t you think?