“Footwear was truly as the allure of a sacred totem.” — Christian Louboutin
Text: Jing Zhang
Photography: David Lynch
Images Courtesy of On Pedder & Cat Street Gallery
As collaborations go, the one of cult film genius David Lynch and famed shoe designer Christian Louboutin is a particularly enticing one. The result is a set of wild shoes made exclusively by Louboutin for Lynch for his Cartier Foundation exhibit and a set of Lynch photographs, featuring the shoes being worn by nude platinum blonde dancers from the Crazy Horse in Paris (‘Baby’ and ‘Nouka’).
During his visit to Hong Kong for the ‘Fetish’ exhibition at Cat Street Gallery, WestEast caught up with Christian Louboutin, just before the VIP opening, to talk women, Lynch, sex appeal and the perfect foot.
Louboutin elaborated immediately on the project and his partner: “David Lynch is one of the greatest film directors alive. As his films are often times very evocative I wanted to create ‘fetish’ footwear, because fantasy also follows a certain aesthetic code.”
These shoes feature multiple straps, handcuffs, studs, fake blood, sheer soles, as well as dagger sharp heels. The photographs evolve into a beautiful twisted narrative concocted by Lynch and ‘Fetish’ thus became an elegy of bodies, shoes and shadows.
With their common regard for the woman’s innate sexual appeal, it is no surprise that instead of using stick thin fashion models, the collaborators went with sensual dancers who would bring these shoes to life. Louboutin explained:
“I wanted to have them photographed a la Lynch… and if you want something a la Lynch, then who better than Lynch to do it. His one condition was ‘no bones’, and he is totally right about that. I don’t like skinny girls either. With a skinny girl in a very high heels shoes it goes either on the side of fashion which was not the idea or on the side of something almost like sickness, something very fragile.”
“I knew the Crazy Horse and what I really wanted was a really arched foot… I really concentrate on the arch when I did the casting. She(Nouka) had an arch just like a sketch. Nouka has almost the perfect foot. It’s not about the size or the length, but it’s really about the drawing of the foot. It’s really about the curve.”
Louboutin described the process, as “almost like a kind of laboratory… it’s always good to do things, and design not for commercial success but just for pleasure.”
The two maestros were on set together when the images were shot; for Louboutin, Lynch was an incredible director, who “demands remarkable talent” with that elusive surrealist “Lynch trademark”. Lynch surprised him at the two-day Parisian shoot with his choreographic sense of directing and what Louboutin describes as the “enthusiasm of an art student and the religious fervour of someone like Pollock or Picasso. His images possess a pictorial dimension evoking the likes of Bellmer and Bacon, and also Baldini in his depiction of flesh tones.”
“She(Nouka) is a very sweet girl but there is something about her that is almost animal. He(Lynch) had to tame them in a way. But he was very, very gentle and very, very sensitive… putting her at comfort.”
“What I liked most was about how genuine he was about his work… His visions are definitely a reality, just a wonderful and different reality, but definitely a reality” said the shoe designer of Lynch. Whether fantasy or reality, there is no doubt that the result is always sublime.
The Master of the Arch and Heel
Born in the 12th Arrondisement, a working class district of Paris, Louboutin’s feminine upbringing with his mother and three sisters are cited as an inspiration for his work. A fervent interest in shoes and women’s feet, developed from the age of 12 in the 70s, at the Museum of African Art from a 50s poster of a woman’s high heel crossed out by a striking red line (20 years later he would again encounter this image at a friend’s house over dinner). It was a warning to prevent heels damaging the museums wooden floors, in an age of hippies, chunky heels and flats. From this point on he was hooked and after discovering the sensual belly of Parisian nightlife, clubs and music theatres, at the tender of age of 16, Louboutin decided to sell his own designed shoes to the dancers he encountered.
The 80s proved to be his first calling and after apprenticeships, began working for prestigious fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel and YSL but soon gave it up to become a landscape gardener of all things, and contribute to Vogue in his spare time. His lifelong passion beckoned again in 1992, when he returned to begin his own name label and boutique, was spotted by W Magazine and subsequently shot to fame. In 2008, Christian Louboutin was honoured with a retrospective by the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
What exactly is that gives shoes that extra Louboutin “oomph” of sex appeal? Is it the jewels, the irreverence, the femininity? More likely it’s his attitude. He simply replied, “I do not dress women. What I basically do is undress them. ”
If shoes create that state of undress, it is only logical that Louboutin finds that it is “very natural to be naked with high heels” for a woman, citing the powerful images of Helmut Newton, commonly invoking defiant women in little more than a pair of heels.
Louboutin’s infamous fire engine red soles possess legions of ardent fans of including Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Dita Von Teese. But when I asked this admired designer, what in particular makes shoes sexy, his diplomatic response showed true sensitivity about how he brings his creations to life:
“Number one is the woman. She makes it really sexy. It depends on the woman. Definitely flat shoes can be sexy but it all depends on the woman, it’s the posture of the woman, the way she walks, presents herself.”
Over dinner in Los Angeles, Lynch and Louboutin would discuss further collaborations, which a devoted public might hungrily await. I have a feeling, however, that they will make us wait. Both are too talented in the deft psychological art of creating desires to give in to ours that easily.
Published in Issue 27 SPICE, 2009