Christian Louboutin launches nail polish and shoes collection
A fortuitous moment 20 years ago, when Louboutin saw his assistant paint her nails red, inspired him to create the Rouge collection, writes Vivian Chen
Depending on who you ask, Christian Louboutin's receptionist could have the most or least coveted job. The receptionist should expect the unexpected, especially when it come to deliveries.
These could range from Moroccan wooden doors to Egyptian wall panels and, on a good day, a full-grown cougar specimen that's proudly on display in Louboutin's Parisian apartment.
The many things that Louboutin has collected across the globe from artisanal ateliers, flea markets and street hawkers are sources of inspiration for the maestro in creating his collection of whimsical and ultrasexy high heels.
Women all over the world have fallen head over heels for his signature red sole. Sometimes perhaps too literally - Victoria Beckham's slipped disc, for example, was reportedly a result of wearing high heels, many of them red-soled. Even Louboutin himself calls his shoes "pleasure with pain". But most of his fans are not concerned about the pain. From spiky stilettos to crystal-embellished towering heels, a pair of Louboutins are the symbol of bona fide sensualness.
Louboutin has won over tonnes of celebrity fans. His Paris atelier is filled with racks of customised shoes for A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, Mika and Dita Von Teese - who have personalised lasts for some Louboutin classics.
As what has now become one of the world's most valuable trademarks, Louboutin's red sole was inspired by the woman who tended to his front desk - so you see why a Louboutin receptionist has big shoes to fill. The epiphany struck the designer when he saw his assistant painting her nails red. He grabbed the nail polish and tested it on the prototype for the Pensée, and voila - he discovered his missing piece of the puzzle.
More than 20 years on, Louboutin is giving his muse the credit she deserves by launching a collection of nail polish.
The key product, called Rouge - the Louboutin red - just arrived last week at selected Louboutin stores and retail partners such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Bergdorf Goodman in New York. A total of 30 more colours, including pastel and metallic hues, will be available in the following months. All the nail polishes are named after classic Louboutin heels and bags - think Lady Page, a dark plum shade, or Very Prive, a strong red. The packaging also echoes the brand's history. The elongated brush handle measures 20.5cm, the same height as his record-breaking Ballerina Ultima, the highest heels Louboutin has ever designed.
Meanwhile, a much-anticipated capsule collection of shoes inspired by nail art hits stores next month. Expect to see classic satin pumps with elegant handprints, suede boots with metallic nail embellishments, and spiky flats featuring decorative nail details. Louboutin says he's giving back to nails what his shoes took from them many years ago. And he's not saying it lightly.
For Louboutin Beauté, the project that has been looming for almost two years before its launch, the French shoe cobbler recruited Catherine Roggero, a former Lancôme and L'Oréal director, to head the beauty business. Boutique cosmetics label Batallure Beauty is cast for production. A traditional glass factory has been commissioned to create a specially designed glass container inspired by Louboutin's architectural influences - 17th- and 18th-century classic balustrades found in European buildings.
He has even called upon long-time collaborator David Lynch to produce a visual campaign for the launch. It depicts an imaginary universe called "Loubiville" envisioned by the luxury shoemaker himself. "I need [the product] to make sense, otherwise I won't do it," Louboutin says as we sit down in his Parisian office prior to the collection's global launch. "I don't have the intention to put my name on things that I would never be fully happy about or proud of."
Louboutin's pursuit of perfection has transcended from shoes to nail polish. "You bet I have tried on all the colours," he says with a smile.
"The formula part was really challenging for me, because that's not my forte," Louboutin adds. "But I'm glad we took the time to do it properly."
Taking the time that luxury needs has always been in sync with Louboutin's philosophy. He's not the kind of person who has a five-year or even 10-year plan.
"In a way, I have a long-term plan," he says. "I make sure that I have enough time to create objects d'art."
Louboutin's passion for "objects d'art" began when he wandered around his carpenter father's workshop as a child.
"I was never a minimalist. I love looking at the details of things, even a door knob or something like that," he says. "You don't need to do big to do well. My friends said to me that shoes are so dainty and that I should try fashion. But I believe that even with small objects, you'll have infinite lines, shapes and shades to play with."
It was indeed a series of small and somewhat odd encounters that led Louboutin into shoe design.
First, he became intrigued with shoes when he saw a 1950s sign in Paris' Musée National des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie, depicting a woman's pump crossed out with a red line for protection of the museum's wooden floors. In the 1980s, as the young Louboutin fell in love with the burlesque dancers at Palace club, he began making shoes for them. To this day, he still creates shoes for the burlesque dancers of the Paris cabaret Le Crazy Horse.
Louboutin's professional career in design officially began when he started freelancing for prestigious labels such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s.
In 1992, he founded his own house on the historical covered passage Galerie Véro-Dodat. While the rest is history, the elegant passage is now dotted with Louboutin establishments ranging from men's and women's stores to a press office, showroom and atelier.
"I love shoes," Louboutin says. "And I love the way shoes put women in a [position that brings out their figure and gestures]."
But there is a price to pay sometimes. Comfort may not come first in the house of red soles.
"We are quite serious about the inner construction of the shoes, but I would be sort of offended if people say my shoes look comfortable. I want to hear that they are comfortable and they look fantastic. It's important how women feel in my shoes."
Born in Paris
Works as an intern with Charles Jourdan, who produced shoes for Dior
Opens first Christian Louboutin boutique in Galerie Véro-Dodat
Designs shoes for Lanvin, Chloé and Givenchy
Designs Yves Saint Laurent’s final runway show
Collaborates with David Lynch on “Fetish” exhibition
Guest-directs Feu for the Paris cabaret Le Crazy Horse