December 31, 2016 / Rachel Gallaher / Images courtesy of Nordstrom
Few people are as associated with a single color as Christian Louboutin. For decades now, the French shoe designer has been churning out an array of classic and avant-garde heels, flats, and boots—all bottomed with an iconic red sole. Born and raised in Paris, Louboutin began sketching shoes in his early teens, then spent several years in Egypt and India fueling a fascination for travel, art, and culture. Throughout his career, Louboutin worked for Charles Jourdan, apprenticed with Roger Vivier, and undertook freelance design work for Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
In 1991, he opened his first shoe salon. Princess Caroline of Monaco was his first customer, and the ensuing rise to fame hasn’t slowed since. Last winter, Louboutin visited Seattle’s Nordstrom flagship store and chatted with GRAY about his design process, keeping things original, and how a brief stint working in landscape design influenced his career path.
Tell us about your design process—how has it evolved or changed over the years?
It’s funny—for some reason people think my design process has changed lately, but to be honest it’s always been the same. I sit down with a pen and I sketch something and that’s it. For 25 years it’s always been the same. The thing about starting with drawing is that it means I start with pleasure. Even if you have a blank moment while you’re working, you’re not doing nothing—for me it always goes back to the pleasure of drawing.
As a designer, how do you keep things original?
I think the most important thing is staying true to yourself. I always wanted to design shoes for showgirls, ever since I was a kid. I’m not a fashion lover; I’m first and foremost a shoe lover. My obsession is shoes, not fashion in the larger sense, and I continue to stay true to that.
Before launching your own line you worked for Roger Vivier… what was that experience like? How did he influence your design process?
Roger was probably one of the best and most creative designers working between the ’30s and the ’60s. I didn’t design for him, I was just an assistant, but I will always remember him as a perfect gentleman. My biggest impression from him was how to be an elegant Frenchman in the ’50s. Something I think we had in common is that he had a huge enthusiasm for life and for design. There should be no boundaries when it comes to design.
How do you view the relationship between fashion and art? Certainly fashion is design, but can it be considered Art?
I think that nowadays there is a lot of crossover. When I look at some painters’ work it looks very decorative, and there are fashion designers whose work is very artful. I think that the two fields draw a lot of inspiration from each other. If I’m talking about myself, I always consider myself a luxury artisan.
You worked in landscape design for a period of time. Did this have any influence on your shoe design? Did the jump between two mediums give you any kind of clarity or insight into your own creative process?
Yes, definitely. For instance, when I do a mix of colors it’s affected by my experience of looking at plants together. I see a connection between different flowers and materials—for example, the pansy reminds me of velvet, and in the magnolia leaf I see patent leather. You can recreate these plants through color and texture. Nature gives me a lot to work with.