Super-high heels can free women. Controversial? Well, not according to legendary French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who insists that wearing his towering six-inch stilettos is a “form of liberty.”
While some feminists see vertiginous heels as sexual enslavement, he believes the opposite – even if it means women have to walk slowly and carefully in his iconic red-soled creations.
“Women do not want to give up wearing high heels,” he said before The Exhibitionist, a retrospective of his 30-year career, opened in a Paris museum earlier this week.
While Louboutin also makes trainers and flat shoes, he admitted that when it comes to the spike-heeled classics that made his name: “I don’t think about comfort when I design.”
“No shoe with a 12 centermeter, or 5 inch, heel is comfortable … but people do not come to me looking for a pair of slippers,” Louboutin, who helped bring high heels back into fashion in the 1990s and 2000s, said.
They are not meant to be worn all the time, but super high heels allow women to express themselves and break free of crushing norms, he added.
“To be a woman is also about enjoying one’s freedom to be feminine if you want. Why renounce [high heels] when you can have them and flats,” he said.
“I don’t want people to look at my shoes and say: ‘They look really comfortable!’ The important thing is that people say: ‘Wow, they’re beautiful!'”
Even if they can only totter around in their Louboutins, that is no bad thing, he pointed out.
If the shoes “stop you running,” that is something “positive,” he added.
Having learnt his art under Roger Vivier, the man who claimed to have invented the stiletto, Louboutin became a household name in the 1990s after Princess Caroline of Monaco fell for one of his first solo creations.
Pop stars from Madonna to Tina Turner and Jennifer Lopez were soon competing with half of Hollywood for fittings.
But even as some luxury brands such as Dior, led by feminist designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, have taken an axe to towering heels, Louboutin insisted they still had their place.
“People project themselves and their stories into my shoes,” he said, pointing to a particularly high pair of intricate lace boots called Corset d’Amour, embroidered with scenes of love-making.
Louboutin revealed his life-long fascination with heels was sparked when he was 10 years old and saw a sign banning the shoes at the Palais de la Porte Doree – the museum now holding his retrospective.
“I started to draw them because of that sign,” he said, which was put up to save the museum’s parquet floors.
“I think the fact that high heels were forbidden played on the unconscious … there was also the mystery and the fetishistic side … the simple drawing of a high-heeled shoe is often associated with sexuality,” he added.
Louboutin also credited the sign with plunging him into “the universe of curves” which was to shape his art.
And he insisted that is art was not just about making heels higher and higher.
He has also been working on making his shoes disappear into the wearer’s leg in a series which he calls Les Nudes – in a variety of skin colours – as well as designs which lengthen the leg.
Other highlights of the often cheeky show, which runs until July 28, include a hologram of a shoe that turns into the burlesque star Dita Von Teese as well a series of Louboutin-sporting nudes shot by the American film director David Lynch.
Louboutin rejoices in the fact that his shoes have now become so iconic that his name has become a shorthand for luxury and sexiness, popping up in rap songs, films and books.
“Pop culture is neither controlled or controllable, so I am very happy about that,” he added.