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The BoF Podcast: How Christian Louboutin Turned Red Soles Into a Status Symbol

Just as he unveils his L’Exhibition[niste] showcase in Paris this week, the luxury footwear designer speaks with BoF’s Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed about transforming his namesake brand from a single-store enterprise into a global success.
Christian Louboutin | Photo: José Castellar

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PARIS, France — Christian Louboutin's first foray into the world of footwear was as a child in the late 1970s. Visiting the Musée National des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie, he was captivated by a sketch of a stiletto heel that went on to inform his designs.

But it was in his teenage years, armed with an anthology dedicated to Roger Vivier’s famous shoe collections, that he decided to pursue a career in creating footwear. “When I opened that book I realised that my obsession with drawing shoes was also beautiful work,” he said. “I thought, this is it, [this is] the job that I’m supposed to be doing.”

Louboutin’s appreciation for the transformational quality of shoes was not rooted in a traditional craftsmanship education. Before securing a job as Vivier’s assistant, he shopped his sketches around the top French fashion houses, including Dior, which landed him a role at Charles Jourdan, where he amassed an arsenal of technical abilities.

After working on a series of women's shoes for storied brands like Chanel and Maud Frizon, Louboutin took a step back from fashion in the 1980s to concentrate on his second love, landscape gardening. But ultimately the call to shoe design was strong and in 1991 he opened his first store inside a gallery. "I didn't feel like working for anybody else," he said.

[A shoe] has left the domain of just being an accessory. It has become its own identity.

It wasn’t long before Louboutin’s eye for detail caught the attention of Princess Caroline of Monaco, whose support landed him on the radar of influential department stores such as Barneys New York. He sold his first collection to top international players in 1993.

“[A shoe] has left the domain of just being an accessory. It has become its own identity,” he said.

But the red-soled heels that Louboutin describes as "a happy accident" went on to become a status symbol. Speaking to BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed, he describes how spontaneously deciding to paint a prototype heel with a model's red nail polish transformed into a signature look that he has spent over 10 years attempting to protect. In 2010 the brand launched the Stopfake platform which cautions consumers about websites that sell counterfeit Louboutin footwear.

Fresh off the heels of his L'Exhibition[niste] showcase in Paris, the storied designer discusses the cultural influences behind the exhibition in this week’s episode of the BoF Podcast.

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