Christian Louboutin says designing for Cuban Olympic team ‘like dressing superheroes’

Shoemaker joins other big names designing for the Games by collaborating on ceremonial outfits for Havana’s team in Rio – and in the process produces his biggest ever shoe, a 51.5 for a wrestler

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2016, 6:24pm

The master of the alluring red sole, Christian Louboutin has partnered with e-tailer SportyHenri.com (founded by French ex-professional athlete Henri Tai) to design ceremonial outfits and shoes for the Cuban team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

“Professional athletes are in a way like modern superheroes,” Louboutin tells me. “It was so interesting to work with people who are such great technicians as well ... there’s an incredible elegance and fluidity about these people who have incredible control of their bodies.”

“The process has actually been quite simple. It started with me helping Henri, who is a friend, with a shoot in Cuba for this company and we were discussing how naturally elegant Cuban athletes and Cubans in general are.”

With the support of Cubans, as well as the French ambassador to Cuba, the pair started working with the Olympic team and the athletes themselves to create outfits that tap into Cuba’s rich heritage.

The outfits will be some of the most stylish in the Olympic arena. The influence of the country’s flag (blue and white stripes with a red triangle and white star) is clear on the tailored jackets, cropped trousers and skirts, designed to show off the athletes’ physiques.

Louboutin’s shoes are distinctive and as colourful as you’d expect, with a short, kitten-heeled sandal for women and either high-top trainers or sporty, leather loafer styles for the men. “And also, I’ve never done such big shoes,” he laughs. “With these athletes, we went all the way to a 51.5 - for wrestler Mijan Lopez Nunez.”

Tai, a former professional handball player, said in a statement: “These outfits need to fit spectacular bodies – they’re definitely not sample size or average ... in length or limb or proportions. It was our mission to make them look tailor fitted and great.”

“It’s such an important moment for every country, but perhaps even more so for a smaller country like Cuba,” Louboutin explains. “It’s so important that the athletes look and feel good on this stage.”

The Olympics has become a major stage for fashion designers to show off their credentials – whether by designing sportswear or ceremonial outfits. The designs are more functional, and hi-tech, than those seen on the fashion catwalk, and as Tai noted, must accommodate some powerful bodies.

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There is prestige attached to designing for such an important global event, and one influential way beyond the narrow world of high fashion. Italian mogul Giorgio Armani dresses Italy’s Olympic team, Lacoste dresses the French team and Stella McCartney, a designer who, like Armani, has strong sportswear and fashion credentials, dresses team GB. Ralph Lauren, not surprisingly, has been the go-to designer for the US team for years.

Relatively new on the scene is rising Chinese powerhouse Masha Ma, who designs this year’s ceremonial outfits for the China team – the first time the country has assigned a high-fashion name to work on its Olympic outfits.

Cuba is having a moment this year, with the historic visit by US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama following the easing of American sanctions against the communist-ruled island. Louboutin, though, is clear he is not making a political statement by taking on the design role.

“I’ve been coming to Cuba for 15 years,” the Frenchman says. “I love the place, it’s style and beauty.”