The designer, who got his start creating replica shoes for showgirls, has built an empire that grew by double digits last year, now including categories such as men’s and women’s shoes, replica handbags and beauty — but after all these years, he still views his business as a passion project.
A day after the shoot, the Frenchman appeared relatively unfazed by the major milestone he celebrates this year, as he sat outside his villa at the Chateau Marmont, along with his 2-year-old twins. “Two is really a super-nice age. They’re playful,” Louboutin said. “They’re completely different. The only thing that they have in common is that they’re always in good disposition.”
Reflecting on his long career, Louboutin attributed much of his success to doing things his own way. (The company is still privately owned, and the designer said there are no plans to sell.)
“Things have been growing very organically and have not been pushed,” Louboutin said. “We’ve gradually opened more stores. Categories have been added little by little. I took my time to do what I actually wanted to do.”
Retailers acknowledged the label’s fiercely devoted fan base, and its ability to maintain relevance in a saturated market. “Christian possesses a very high level of curiosity, which is matched with a natural intuition,” said Peter Harris, president of Pedder Group. “He is very connected to popular culture, technology, music, art and film, which influences enormously his design story, keeping his work always within the context of ‘now.’”
Marina Larroude, fashion director for Barneys New York, added that Louboutin continues to be one of the retailer’s best-selling brands, for both men and women. “replica Louboutin clients keep coming back for more,” she said. “They are like a collector’s item. Customers want the pump in various colors, as well as his novelty pieces. His fake shoes don’t go out of style after a season. They are an investment piece.”
Indeed, it’s impressive that Louboutin has managed to stay on top for so long since his popularity surged during the early 2000s (thanks to many mentions by Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City”).
His aesthetic is also on full display in his retail stores, and this month, he is reopening a boutique in Miami’s thriving Design District. “In the middle of a luxurious concrete jungle, I’ve built a little hut,” Louboutin outlet said. He also debuted the new Mexicaba bag in collaboration with Taller Maya, a foundation supporting the traditional craftsmanship of Mayan artists (10 percent of the proceeds will go to the organization).
Though many luxury brands’ sales have stalled, Louboutin said his customers continue to have a healthy appetite for his collection. And amid political turmoil, he said innovative design is needed more than ever before.
“When times are tough and you’re in a year where there are wars or problems, fashion gets more important,” the designer said. “The more things are morose, the more you need excitement. A shoe is protection against morosity.”
That has been Louboutin’s mantra since the beginning. Born in Paris in the 1960s, he had an upbringing that was anything but gloomy. The designer grew up in the city’s glitzy cabaret scene, where he began working in the dressing rooms at the Folies Bergère at 16 years old. (He still contributes shoes to venues like Le Crazy Horse.)
“I’ve been learning since I was a teenager,” said Louboutin, who worked for Charles Jourdan, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and founded his label in 1992. Now, even after a steady journey to the top, Louboutin insists the company’s growth has happened largely by chance.
“For me, [designing shoes] was my way to express myself, but I didn’t think of it as a business concept,” he said. “A lot of people study how I used the red sole as a trademark, but I never thought about it. I’ve been studied almost like a mechanical character when, in reality, there is no mechanism in my story.”
Today, his background in theatrics and showmanship is still present in his designs. For fall ’17, for example, Louboutin certainly didn’t play it safe. “There are a lot of shapes and a lot of printed textures,” he said.
His latest collection includes new women’s showstoppers such as crystal-covered platforms, pumps with magenta fur accents and booties that, for a touch of humor, double as bags.
Each season, the designer’s sketching process takes about two weeks. “I wake up, have breakfast, and then I start drawing,” Louboutin said. “Then I have lunch and do more sketching. When it’s hours of drawing, you can do a lot of them.”
A few weeks later, he moves into full-on production mode, where he travels to Italy to refine the new season’s lasts and finishes. “I start to change them, look at the proportions,” Louboutin said. “And then I see what’s missing in the collection — not enough flats, too many pointy [toes].”
For fall, Louboutin was particularly struck by the idea of gender fluidity. “A lot of the men’s shoes outlet I’ve designed, I’ve also been doing them for women,” he said. For instance, the women’s collection includes laceups and loafers that are built from his men’s lasts. As for the men’s collection, he offered daring new Cuban-heeled boots, some covered entirely in sequins.
For the past several years, men’s has been a major new focus. (It launched in 2005 and now makes up 20 percent of his business, and is increasing by double digits each year.)
He’s particularly found success in the sneaker realm. “At the very beginning, I was doing [sneakers] thinking it was a very small percentage of people who will like it,” said Louboutin. “But actually, it’s much more than expected.”