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India is at the heart of my work: Christian Louboutin

The designer on his show at Paris Fashion Week and the strength that comes from loving oneself

Since opening his first store in the French capital in 1991, Christian Louboutin has built a brand that goes beyond the red-carpet favourite of red-soled shoes. (Courtesy Christian Louboutin)

By Pooja Singh

LAST PUBLISHED 01.03.2024  |  11:01 AM IST

The Paris office of Christian Louboutin is buzzing with activity for the showcase of the brand’s fall-winter collection at the ongoing Paris Fashion Week, on 4 March.

“It’s quite a vast collection," says Christian Louboutin, 61, the mind behind the brand, over a video call. “I have gone a bit flashy this time."

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Since opening his first store in the French capital in 1991, Louboutin has built a brand that goes beyond the red-carpet favourite of red-soled shoes. The brand, which has a minority investment from the Agnelli family (owners of Ferrari and Juventus football club in 2021, sells bags, belts, accessories, make-up and toys for pets—all exhibiting his flair for the dramatic.

Growing up, Louboutin used to draw sketches of shoes, inspired by the fashion of showgirls in Paris. As a teenager, he visited Egypt and India, returning with sketches of elaborate high heels inspired by the landscape and people. At the age of 16, certain that he wanted a career in shoe design, he interned at Paris’ famous theatre, Folies Bergère, and created shoes for the dancers. He later went on to work with Charles Jourdan, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Roger Vivier.

He mentions India often while speaking to Lounge, not because he has two stores in the country—one in Delhi, which opened in 2012, and a second, which opened a year later in Mumbai; because he has a joint venture with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd; or because he presents an annual India-special Wedding Edit collection. India has influenced his personality, his design, his craft and his sensibility, he says. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Tell us a little about the Paris collection.

The collection is inspired by New Mexico, one of my favourite places. You will see a lot of vibrant colours; it’s kind of Western cowboy but more on the American Indian side of cowboy. It’s a vast collection for men, women, kids, even pets. We have sizes from very small to very large. There are leather goods as well.

Is this the first time you are presenting such a big collection?

Perhaps. It’s quite big.... Sometimes you are working on something, and it’s quite easy to edit and remove styles that are stronger than others. This time, we have more categories, and it was difficult to select and separate. We are growing the (category) families. So, it came kind of naturally to the design and selection process.

What’s your creative process like?

I isolate myself. It’s important for me to stay in a city that I know well, otherwise I will be out, eating and exploring the place. For instance, I can’t work when I am in south India. I want to see everything, eat everything… just know the place from every corner. But I can design a collection in Italy, Egypt or Rio. I know what I will eat, where I will go.

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Secondly, I don’t get what the French call “l’angoisse de la page blanche", the anguish of the white page (essentially, writer’s block). I like to draw, even when I don’t necessarily have something on my mind. Just drawing lines and correcting them reminds me of the simple joy and pleasure of drawing. Once you are in that zone, it all becomes easy. And sometimes my drawings depend on the things I have seen and heard, things that are floating in my mind.

Do fashion trends on social media define the way you approach your design process?

No. As much as I love fashion, when I sketch it’s more to do with style than fashion… It’s more about attitude than fashion. The only time I think about fashion is when I am working with someone. For instance, we did a collaboration with Maison Margiela for their January couture show (in Paris). John Galliano (the creative director of Maison Margiela) had this vision of the kind of characters he wanted to build for his show, and we had a discussion of how to translate that vision down till the shoes. But even then, nothing was trends-based or what people are liking now. If you are a designer, you either make it in an industrial way and incorporate trends, or you create what you want to, your vision, and hope people like it. Trends are more for the industry in general.

Any examples of how the travels in India have influenced your work?

So many. Just this last collection. It has some gold metal. Now, there are many ways of thinking of gold. When I was working on it (the collection), I was thinking of warm gold, like Indian gold, because, for example, the 1920s gold is very shiny and lavish. I wanted Indian gold, a bit hammered, a bit less shiny, almost close to copper.

In the same collection, we have some pieces with embroidery that has colourful stones, which are more milky and Mughal-era inspired than bright, shiny Harry Winston. I am also working on a pair of glasses for men that are very Mughal. In fact, it’s going to be called Mughal glasses. India is at the heart of my work.

Why do you like India so much?

I think it has to do with my childhood. There used to be this cinema hall near my school in Paris that specialised in Egyptian movies and Bollywood movies. This was the 1970s. I remember seeing a lot of Hindi films from Qurbani to Sholay, and I was fan of Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Hema Malini. I became very interested in Indian cinema, the dreamy Bollywood side. The colours, the dancing—they spoke to my 14-year-old self who was already drawn to singing and dancing. At that time, I had this desire to design for showgirls; they were the rage then in Paris.

I also liked the elegance in Satyajit Ray’s Bengali films. French films were all about existential crises which bored me. So, my interest in India came from watching Bollywood films, not from gods, not embroideries, not food. I have become a bit of a foodie (laughs), but now.

You have been creating the India ‘Wedding Edit’ collection for over six years. Why only weddings?

Because I have been doing a lot of weddings, not necessarily Indian. It’s interesting because for a bride, when it comes to shoes, she gets very excited. As a designer, it’s a good start. (The shoes are) part of a wardrobe where everything is permitted and there is no limit. So, you have to translate that level of excitement into a shoe. More so, if you are creating for an Indian bride because weddings in India are major productions. You can be more playful with the design and colours. In France, a wedding is, maximum, a one-day affair and mostly shades of white. I think India respects colour because they see colour around them, the bright skies, the greenery.

What drives you?

That’s easy, my kids (laughs). Their school is next to my office, so it’s easier to get to work. When you love what you do, it’s not too difficult to wake up and head to work. In general, I am a very positive person. A friend says this one thing, which might sound vain, but it’s true. She says, when you love yourself you are able to love others too. My grandma kisses herself at night before sleeping to show her love for herself. She also says that when you love yourself it gets transferred to others. This has become a ritual for me. I kiss my fist at night before sleeping by myself. Thoughts of doubt don’t just come in the morning; they are worse at night and when you have your own quiet company and know you are loved by your own self, it’s a better place to be in.

Who are you when you are not a designer?

I’m a father, that takes most of my time. It’s also my favourite part.

What makes a perfect shoe?

That’s a difficult question. It has to do with the equilibrium between the heel and the face of the shoe. Whether it’s pointed or rounded, it has to be in proportion with the heel. Rest is all cosmetic, you can change the colour, the body as much as you want.