Celebrating a Classy Cobbler: Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum

28 May

Any regular reader of Artista who has laughed at my tottering tales or seen the signature photographs at the ends of posts, will know that I adore shoes.  And so I was possibly even more excited than most about the Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Design Museum as, to say the least, I have a bit of a thing for Louboutin’s.

Louboutin stiletto in the stairwell at the Design Museum. Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org

Even people who know nothing about shoes will probably recognise a Louboutin from their beautiful red soles that are now known as his signature.  Louboutin is one of those people who has had his fair share of luck – he had no regard for his academic studies and was expelled from school.  He had already begun sketching shoes from an early age; obviously talented, he wanted to make shoes that broke the rules and empowered women.   A job with Charles Jourdan led him to meet Roger Vivier in whose atelier he became an apprentice.  He continued on to design shoes for the likes of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent; there was no stopping him and, in 1991, he opened his first store – the rest, as they say, is history.  Women all over the world crave a pair of Louboutin’s to ‘enrich’ their lives and their wardrobes.

Christian Louboutin shoes – aaaah….  Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org

This exhibition is the first UK retrospective of Christian Louboutin’s designs, celebrating his career where he has pushed the boundaries of footwear.  The exhibition looks at the many sources of his creativity – performance, cabaret, fantasy, fairytale, art, architecture…  We are taken on a journey of how a shoe is made from the very first drawing right through to factory production.

Entrance to the exhibition. Own photograph.

The neon-lit entrance, velvet sofas and mirrors all echo the image of the Louboutin brand.  Louboutin’s shoes embody femininity at its most beautiful; in his designs, he understands the way a woman wants to be admired and desired and his shoes, in every conceivable colour, style and pattern, demand attention.  You can’t fail to look at a Louboutin stiletto.  The exhibition is a fashion show.  It is entertainment but somehow doesn’t quite work.

Watching the 3D hologram show featuring Dita von Teese. Own photograph.

There’s a small recreation of the Louboutin Paris atelier that is cluttered yet intoxicating.  But, it’s all a bit too much.  These shoes are beautiful enough not to need quite so much glitz surrounding them.

recreation of Louboutin’s atelier. Own photograph.

Christian Louboutin shoes are sensational, stunning, sublime…  They really are!  And, here, they are displayed and lit in every which way.  The shoes are designed to enhance the female form, to lengthen the leg, to ‘sex’ up an outfit.  A brilliant quote from Louboutin himself about one of his designs summed up the sensuality of his footwear:  “This shoe is very difficult to walk in, other than to go from a taxi to a party, from that party to another taxi, and from the taxi to one’s bed, with small steps, leaning on a man’s arm. Insofar as there exist shoes for every moment of life, from sneakers and flip flops to flippers, I think there should also exist shoes for bed, shoes whose primary function is not walking but the sexual charge they contain. As everyone knows, footwear can be highly erotic.”

 

Special effects at the Design Museum. Own photograph.

One area of the exhibition is devoted to fetishes although my personal opinion is that most of these shoes look more painful than erotic.  I found the shoes in the main exhibition more sensual and sexy than those in here.  Displayed on pedestals in this dark, prohibited space, alongside photographs by David Lynch, the fetish shoes are not meant to be walked in; they are subversive objects designed to fulfil dark fantasies.

Fetish shoes. Own photograph.

For me, this exhibition could so easily have been better; the shoes are beautiful but I could visit the Mount Street store to see them anytime to better effect.  Overall it was a bit underwhelming; it does reveal Louboutin’s character and the history behind his now world-famous brand but I left disappointed.

The story of Christian Louboutin. Own photograph.

I don’t think the exhibition did the shoes justice.  There is no doubt that people who would not normally visit the Design Museum will rush to this show and I was surprised by the lack of merchandise in the shop.  Other than the quite pricey catalogue and a few bits and bobs (including fake tattoos) there are no postcards or greetings cards specific to the exhibition.  I felt they were missing a trick or two.

I know not everyone agrees with the concept of women in Louboutin’s or like them but I not only find them divine, classy and elegant, but also comfortable!  They are exquisite and if you like shoes then you will probably enjoy this show but I expected to enjoy it a lot more.  Writing this and visiting the exhibition has certainly given me a serious yearning.  It may be time for a visit to Mount Street!

Christian Louboutin is at the Design Museum until 9th July 2012, www.designmuseum.org.

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