He’s one of France’s most creative and renowned shoe makers. For the September edition of Première Vision Paris, Christian Louboutin gives us his view of the world of shoes and how it’s changed, from the crowning of heels in the 90s to the new challenges of traceability and eco-responsibility.
You began designing and creating in the 80s. How were shoes regarded then?
At the time no one thought badly of shoes, but I have to say they didn’t interest many people, at least not fashion brands. They were the only thing I was passionate about, and had been since I was a teenager. Shoes were looked at as an accessory. It was only in the late 90s that shoes became an entirely separate feature of women’s wardrobes, and, more importantly, an expression of female strength.
There’s been a lot of changes in footwear, from 12-cm heels in the present decade to the current reign of sneakers. What do you think have been the most notable developments?
I think the most important revolution was the changing status people ascribed to heels. When I started out, women who wore heels were essentially perceived as fashion victims or kept women who could afford to wear heels because they didn’t work. In the 90s, heels lost that image, and became instead a symbol of female power. A woman in heels became someone who was ready to assume her own femininity, who drew attention to herself, but who was above all free, and who asserted that freedom with the help of a uniquely feminine attribute.
The triumph of accessories, especially shoes, also changed the fashion business as a whole. Fashion houses too began to introduce footwear lines. Has this changed the work of footwear specialists?
I think my role has always been to design shoes, or, more generally, objects having to do with the world of accessories. First shoes, then bags, then a collection for men, and finally a beauty line. The fact that fashion houses are starting to take an interest in shoes is intricately related to a business issue, which is entirely respectable, but I will never go in the opposite direction. I started with shoes, I will continue with shoes, and I have no interest in launching a fashion house and designing clothing. But I totally understand why fashion houses are interested in shoes. Shoes are highly visible items that define a silhouette, a genre, a certain strength.
There have also been significant changes in what women want. What kind of relationship do they have with shoes today?
A fairly physical one, a very personal one, which is radically different from the relationship men have with their shoes. In fact, it’s even opposite. I’ve met very few women over the course of my career who were proud of wearing the same shoes for 20 or 30 years. They change them frequently and are pretty happy to. They have no problem with that. Men on the other hand take a real pleasure in polishing their shoes every week, in taking care of them so they can keep the same ones for years. Women’s desire for shoes just keeps growing and multiplying.
The relationship to leather has also changed quite a bit. Now everyone is increasingly concerned with traceability and eco-responsibility. How has that changed your work?
Working with skins of known origin has always been very important to me, and that’s been true since I founded my fashion house. It’s a guarantee of quality. And even after 28 years (Note: 1991 was the year the Maison Christian Louboutin was founded), I’m still working with the same suppliers. So this hasn’t drastically impacted how I work. But from a more global standpoint, I see it as very beneficial – this awareness of the major importance of a fashion article’s manufacturing origins, and how it is made. And that is particularly true of Millennials, who no longer consider just the product, but the brand’s personality and values as a whole.
Where do you source your leathers? And for how long have you worked with your suppliers?
I’ve worked since the beginning with the same tanners, based in France, Italy and Spain. It took me a while to find these suppliers, but I trust them absolutely, both in terms of their leathers’ quality and provenance.
Next September at the show, follow our comprehensive trail for the design of leather goods, shoes and leather apparel collections:
300 tanners, 300 accessory manufacturers, a selection of fashion contractors specialised in leather manufacturing and an updated presentation of the sector’s trends in the fashion forum. Halls 3 and 4.
In the meantime you can consult our leather selection in the Première Vision Marketplace