The innovative creator of the “sammy red soled shoes”, Christian Louboutin, has a fascinatingly colorful history to match (and perhaps complement) his design style. A person who creates serious work but does not take his work too seriously, Louboutin’s unorthodox approach to life and work make for a great story.
Born in Paris to French parents, Robert and Irene, Louboutin was the only son in a family of four children. He noticed at a young age that his skin tone was significantly darker than his sisters and his parents, and as he said in an interview in 2012,
I felt I wasn’t French. My family was very French and so I decided they had probably adopted me. But instead of feeling it was terrible and that I was an outsider who had to go and find my real family, I invented my own history, full of characters from Egypt because I was very into the pharaohs.
Incredibly, just two years later he was to learn that his biological father was, in fact, from Egypt, and that he was the result of an affair his mother had.
Louboutin’s independent, rebellious streak was evident at an early age. After being expelled from school multiple times and running away from home at the age of 12, his mother agreed to let him leave school and move in with a friend. It was around this time that he entered a punk phase, dabbling in independent films and working behind the scenes as an assistant at the cabaret Folies Bergères. He also began to travel, visiting far off locales such as India.
Beginnings as a Designer
Louboutin claims that his interest in women’s shoes began in 1976, after a visit to the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. A sign at the entrance forbade female guests from wearing stiletto heels, claiming that the shoes damaged the wood flooring in the building. “I wanted to defy that,” Louboutin said. “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.”
Louboutin began sketching his ideas for women’s shoes, incorporating the stiletto design extensively. He received some training at the Académie d’Art Roederer, and eventually found employment as a freelance designer for established brands like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. His work led him to meet Roger Vivier, the man who claims he invented the stiletto shoe, and Louboutin became his apprentice.
The Rise to Fame
His attention strayed in the late 1980s, when he took a break from fashion to become a landscape gardener. His passion was women’s shoes, however, and he eventually decided to set up his own company in 1991. He opened a shoe salon in Paris and had the incredible fortune of Princess Caroline of Monaco stepping into his shop and becoming a client. After she complimented Louboutin’s store in the presence of journalists, his brand quickly rose to fame. He quickly became to “go to” shoe source for multiple high end celebrities, ranging from Diane von Fürstenberg to Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Nicki Minaj.
Since establishing his own company, the Christian Louboutin brand has remained a best seller and highly sought after commodity. He has topped the Luxury Institute’s annual Luxury Brand Status Index (LBSI) for three years, which is not an easy feat. In spite of all the acclaim, Louboutin is very matter of fact about what he does for a living. “I think that I make very useless work and I’m very proud of it.” But, he adds, “It’s very important to design things that you don’t need.”
So maybe you don’t need a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. But you should own at least one pair. Indulge yourself! What other shoes do you need? You might also like our list of iconic shoe designers.