CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN talks exclusively to NOREEN HALL about holidays in Ireland, why beauty matters and his fascination with Nefertiti …
The rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Paris’s first arrondissement could be renamed “Christian Louboutin Street”. As well as a flagship Louboutin boutique, there is a labyrinthine casbah of offices, ateliers, design studios, storage rooms, all part of the Louboutin empire. It is here, in a chic sitting room, that I meet Christian Louboutin, who zips on his Vespa from his home just a few minutes away, tucked behind the glamorous Place Vendôme, to discuss the relaunch of his eponymous boutique in Brown Thomas Dublin.
The accessories space on the first floor, he tells me, has been revamped and made larger as it was a little too small to showcase both shoes, including his signature red-soled, sky-high heels) and handbags. The beauty line has its own dedicated space in the Beauty Hall. The crystal-faceted nail polish bottles topped off with a lengthy spike which resembles one of his towering heels were Louboutin’s first venture into beauty. Precious gem-like lipsticks, fragrances and eye products followed shortly afterwards.
“There is something about Brown Thomas that is very warm and welcoming”, says Louboutin, as we we curl up on very comfortable couches, sip steaming mugs of ginger tea and joke about the damp Paris weather which is more often seen in Ireland. “It’s engaging and friendly, almost like a busy forum for gossip and ideas. Irish people talk, they are very open and engage easily in conversation.” On Louboutin’s first visit to Ireland, he tells me, a woman whistled after him in the street. It was the first and only time that this has happened to him. “It was very nice! Ireland is not a country of shy people.”
Louboutin is no stranger to Ireland. Over 20 years ago, he and a friend spent three weeks here, clocking up to eight hours a day cycling around the country, spending most of their time around Cork and Wicklow. “It was exhausting, but I adored Cork and Bantry Bay.” Louboutin made Bantry House his base for a week, exploring the bay and surrounding countryside. An avid horticulturist (he was briefly a garden designer) Louboutin loved visiting the many magnificent gardens in Wicklow. “I love gardens more than nature. I love the idea that a garden is man-made. Someone decided to make this … this is
someone’s vision.” This is Louboutin’s personal philosophy, which influences his approach to design. “I do not believe in what is natural. What is imposed by and created by a human being is extraordinary.” That is what he has always loved about design and beauty. Natural beauty is not easily controlled, he believes; constructed beauty is about women taking control of their own image. “It is a form of liberty. It is about taking charge of your destiny.”
For Louboutin, the source of his fascination has always been the Egyptian queen Nefertiti – his one beauty and aesthetic icon. “She has this extraordinary and at the same time mysterious profile. Her bust is always shown in profile as one eye is missing. There is a flaw, but in spite of this, she is extraordinarily beautiful. But if we look carefully, this is not a natural beauty, everything is crafted. Her eyebrows are perfectly drawn, the eye meticulously made up, the lips of her perfect mouth deliberately painted.”
From working at the Folies-Bergère, the cabaret music hall which has launched the career of many stars including Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker, to nights spent in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the Paris nightclub, Le Palace, frequented among others, by Grace Jones, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, Louboutin’s creative background is steeped in a sense of theatre. This sense of theatre has been the point of departure for everything since. “Le Palace was more than just a nightclub. Fashion, music and underground culture came together in a rule-breaking movement. Everything was excessive.”
For Louboutin it was logical to start a beauty line with colour, starting with a red nail polish which echoed the red sole of his shoe collection. The lipstick was conceived to be like a piece of jewellery: a vial, a precious object from antiquity, that can be worn around the neck. “Whether you create nail polish or mascara, it must be beautiful.” Louboutin says that he always finds it amusing when people say that they work in the beauty industry and then produce ugly products. “If I work in beauty, I will make beautiful things. I find the banalisation of everything that surrounds beauty incredible. It is important that everything is appealing. I scrutinise every detail.”
And as he loves the objects which inspire him, it is important that they are not throwaway or disposable. He is delighted when people tell him that even though they have finished their fragrance, they have kept the bottle and placed it in their bathroom. It has become a decorative object. “We are surrounded by so many ugly objects, there is no need to add one more.”
In beauty, he believes, the act of application is as important as the product itself. “Putting on lipstick can be a beautiful gesture. Usually there is frantic rummaging around a bag, rooting about to find a lipstick. I wanted to take away that rather ugly pantomime. I wanted my lipstick to be like a piece of jewellery, luxurious, a gem, a talisman.”
Putting on and wearing shoes also involves a sense of theatre, he maintains. “When a woman chooses a pair of shoes, she puts them on and immediately goes to look in the mirror. She looks at herself from head to toe, she turns around, she looks at her back, her legs and, only then, if she is satisfied, she considers the shoe. A woman’s shoe influences her whole silhouette, the way she walks, the way she carries herself.” In the same way, he says, he is careful about strap length on a handbag, as it will influence the way a woman looks and behaves when she wears a Louboutin bag.
Christian Louboutin knows everyone is different. “Not everyone has to wear high heels or make-up. My best friend has never worn high heels in her life. I am just doing what has always interested me. I have always loved the idea of beauty, theatre and representation. It takes a long time but I am creating a universe.” We can’t wait to see how the universe expands, no doubt playful and subversive, but definitely beautiful.
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