Christian Louboutin is a man on the move. Last week, Style.com caught up with the globe-trotting shoe designer in Morocco, where he was attending the Marrakech International Film Festival. (He’s good friends with the festival’s chic director, Mélita Toscan du Plantier.) Over breakfast poolside at La Mamounia, Louboutin discussed changing tastes, exotic styles, John Malkovich (yes, John Malkovich), and what’s in store for the 20-year anniversary of his red-soled label next year.
You’re here with Mélita, whom you’ve named a shoe after. But you also name shoes after women you’ve never met. How does that work?
Some people are close to me; some are an evocation of an idea. I called a shoe a Marilyn a long, long time ago. It was sort of a sandal—bombée, or padded. Marilyn is an evocation of something open. Mélita, on the other hand, is constantly working. She always has her phone next to her, she texts when you’re speaking. It’s the way she is. And she always loved fashion, so it definitely had to be a high-heel shoe. But it had to be a closed one, because to me a pump is a working shoe. Unless you’re living in Miami or whatever, a sandal is more of a leisure thing.
How do you decide which women get their own shoe?
It’s not like I’m thinking, ‘I have to do a shoe for this [person].’ Often the name comes after. I look at the thing and it really makes me think of [a particular woman]—that’s one process, and it’s not difficult. Basically, if you don’t know the person, it’s more liberating. It’s easier.
Yves Saint Laurent found lots of creative inspiration in Morocco. Do you?
If you’re French, you sort of go to Morocco the way you would, say, go to Miami if you lived in New York. I’ve been so many times, and I travel a lot and I see [Moroccan style] everywhere now, so I don’t actually find it exotic. But still, the coloring, and the artisanship—it’s very alive. You have all types of people working in iron, wood, et cetera, so if one person does a thing that’s well designed, it goes in the souk and becomes the new type of “traditional” Moroccan style, even if it didn’t exist ten years ago. The artisans are smart enough to evolve, rather than stick to the same thing over and over. I have a house in Egypt, which I much prefer to Morocco, but Egypt has no handicrafts.
You’re celebrating your company’s 20th anniversary next year. What do you have planned?
I’m working on the book. It’s a lot of archives, shoes that no longer exist that I have to redo. The foreword will be done by someone who is here [at the Marrakech film festival], John Malkovich.
And you’re also curating an art exhibition?
Yes. It’s a traveling exhibition that will start in Paris, and it’s a double exhibition—an exhibition of my work, and one about style in the art collection of Johnny Pigozzi.
Looking back at the history of Louboutin, what’s most surprising to you now?
What was called extreme 20 years ago definitely isn’t extreme anymore. When I started, I remember people saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t walk in that!’ It was like, three inches—they look like kitten heels now. The low cleavage I was doing was considered too sexy, but now what I call a low cleavage is much lower. It’s really very much a mental shift. I remember doing very pointy lasts. People would say, ‘I like the shoe, but it’s too pointy.’ And then the year after, it’s fine.
Do you think that doubt, that initial resistance, is a good thing?
I don’t do it for that, but yeah. Definitely. It’s not super-violent—you don’t beat people or anything—but when you are a bit abrupt with them, when you shake people, it’s actually very quickly accepted.
Photo: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com