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#CNILux Day 1: Christian Louboutin on Balancing the Artisanal with the Industrial

Suzy Menkes interviews Christian Laboutin at the CNI Luxury Conference in Lisbon

The shoe king talks to Suzy Menkes about how he started designing for men, and why he expanded into beauty products.

By his reckoning, Christian Louboutin has designed over 15,000 red-soled shoes and boots since he founded his brand in 1992. Nowadays, he is still based in Paris – the location of his first shop – but divides his time between homes in the South of France (Vendée), Portugal (Melides), and Egypt (Luxor) where he still sketches some 600 shoe designs a year. Travel, or more specifically, different languages and cultures, have always been a motivation behind his shoes, which might be synonymous with celebrity but have always been about luxury, and straddling the fields of artisanal and industrial markets.

“The artisanal side is important, because it is like a laboratory for me,” he told Suzy Menkes. “I can do one, two or 50 pairs, and not worry about making 1,000. [The process] is original and enriching. But, I like to go from one to the other. The artisan side nourishes the industrial side.”

Understanding his international customer – both the lusophone woman, who is at the heart of the Condé International Luxury Conference, and his Asian and Angolan fans – has been his success in the business. But, he clarified, “When I design it’s a blank piece of paper, I don’t think about certain markets. Once I finish a design, then I think about creating it in certain colors. I adapt my designs… they are free because I am a free designer.”

Although Louboutin is renowned for his stilettos and his sensual shoes for women, he is keen to discuss his burgeoning men’s appeal (he even organized a sporting event at Pitti in Florence last year to celebrate this). “It’s funny, because for a long time I didn’t consider designing for men, but then a French singer asked me if I would do the shoes for his tour. I said: ‘Well, why not? But why have you asked me, a man who designs women’s shoes?’ He said: ‘I have three sisters and a girlfriend and they get so excited when they put a pair of your shoes on. I need the same feeling when I go on stage!’ Suddenly, for me, it was easy to design for an entertainer.”

A previous internship at a French cabaret and his youthful desire to dress showgirls helped him get in the right mind frame – “there’s a showgirl in every woman – and now a man!” He put the shoes in his store in Paris, and the excitement from his customers was palpable.

Women’s, men’s, and now the shoe-man and showman has branched out into beauty. His dramatic iterations of nail polish and upwards to lipstick and mascara have created a new channel for him. “I was born in the mid-Sixties when it was important to be natural, but I was never really excited by power of natural,” he mused. “Beauty – when women decide what they want for themselves and what they want to show – is far better than being natural.” His love of small objects, which was born from watching his artisan father work as a child, spurred him on to create beautiful “objects of desire”.

“I do something that I like, and if it’s a success, it’s great, but if it’s not a success I am always proud of it. [With the beauty line], I did what I did by my standards, and it was worth it.”

Is a clothing line within his sights? “No,” he told the conference flatly. His greatest ambition would be to sing, but alas, he doesn’t believe he is gifted. For Christian Louboutin, that’s all right, because he’s quite happy with what he has achieved.

The fourth annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference is in Lisbon, on the 18th and 19th April. For more information, visit the website.

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