Louboutin’s Fetish Stilettos Lure Fashionistas to London

Christian Louboutin
French shoe designer Christian Louboutin is the focus of a retrospective exhibition at the Design Museum in London through July 9. Photographer: Stephan Gladieu/Christian Louboutin via Bloomberg

The “Fetish” section of shoemaker Christian Louboutin’s new exhibition features a slipper lined with steel spikes and stilettos clamped with metal handcuffs.

These were designed to be displayed, not worn, and produced for a show with filmmaker-photographer David Lynch. They’re now in a dark, curtained room in the enticing Louboutin retrospective at London’s Design Museum.

“Most people see shoes as an accessory to walk in,” reads the section’s label. “However, some shoes are made for running -- and some shoes are made for sex.”

“If there was to be just only one fetish element in a woman’s wardrobe, I think it would have to be her shoes,” goes the caption.

Paris-based Louboutin, 48, is a darling of the fashion set. Some women yearn to slip on his footwear, recognizable by a red sole. That single attribute is now the focus of a legal battle: Louboutin is asking a U.S. appeals court to prevent Yves Saint Laurent from selling red-soled shoes.

In London for the exhibition’s media preview, the designer wears an ochre jacket and steel-tipped lace-ups. His news conference is a mob scene: Reporters point camera-phones at him, including one with pink rabbit ears, and an eager questioner raises her hand to ask for an internship.

Painful Beauty

To Louboutin, ease of wear is not a top priority.

“My work is not about comfort,” he says in English. “I am concerned by comfort, and I know it’s important, but I do not want to have this evoked in my design.”

His show seems an illustration of the old French adage: Beauty requires suffering. The heels on display are like mini-stilts, towering and needle thin. Yet as Louboutin points out, “I never met a girl who wanted to have shorter legs.”

Strewn all around are items from his latest collection, which is certain to get a boost from the show. On the whole, the shoemaker looks back at his 20-year career, which started in 1992 with a public endorsement from Princess Caroline of Monaco.

Highlights include a pair of stilettos with heels made of Guinness beer cans, platform shoes featuring the Rolls-Royce hood ornament, low-heeled pumps crafted with dried salmon and mackerel skin, and boots made with palm bark.

Royal Shoes

The shoes can retail for between $450 and $6,500 or more. A lavish pair in the show, from the Marie Antoinette collection, features a miniature 18th-century hat over the instep, the work of master embroiderers in Paris.

Louboutin avoids turning the museum into a shoe store by bringing in the customer-experience design company Household. The main gallery has a catwalk-sized red sole running down the middle, with a cushioned salon at one end. There, visitors can sit and watch a holographic performance by the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, who is flanked by a pair of glittery Louboutins.

Nearby, a carrousel recalls Louboutin’s past as a dancers’ assistant at the Folies Bergeres in Paris, where he sketched shoes for the showgirls in his free time. The carousel is covered with pictures of Louboutin in exotic settings, and footwear inspired by those cultures.

“Christian Louboutin” is at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD, through July 9. Information: http://designmuseum.org or +44-20-7940-8790.

Today’s Muse highlights include: Richard Vines on food, Lance Esplund on art, Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

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