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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.

Ceçi n’est pas une chaussure…

12 Apr

This is a slightly strange one…  Blame it on last week’s illness if you like (I’m in need of an excuse) but, earlier this week, I set off for the Design Museum, excited to see their Louboutin exhibition.  I had been disappointed that it was scheduled to open on 28th March, while I was on holiday, and I therefore assumed that I’d missed all the press hype and a visit was overdue.

The Design Museum. Own photograph.

So, as I sat in the taxi from London Bridge station down to Shad Thames and loaded the Design Musuem website, imagine my surprise to see a picture of a gorgeous Louboutin shoe in the section for forthcoming exhibitions.  It would seem that the dates have changed and it’s now not opening until the 1st May.  Great!  As beautiful as it is to come to this part of London I didn’t really need to trek down the Thames to the Design Museum but, having done so, I thought I might as well see what was going on.

The River Thames by the Design Museum. Own photograph.

The Design Awards are celebrating their 5th anniversary this year.  Currently on show at the Design Museum is the longlist including The London 2012 Olympic Torch, the Duchess of Cambridge’s Wedding Dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and the London 2012 Velodrome.  These are not designs to be taken lightly, with the exhibition including some of the big hitters from the worlds of architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport design.  The awards aim to be as wide-ranging as possible and the exhibition certainly shows off the diversity of design and the all-encompassing bracket of this term.  Many of the designs here have a conscience and seek to address vital needs.

Designs of the Year. Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org. 

The objects’ explanation panels help understand the motivation behind their creation and many of these deserve attention.  One work that caught my eye was the redesign for the ambulance by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art.  Their innovative new system enables a stretcher to be accessed from all sides and includes a digital communications and monitoring system that can send information ahead to the hospital.  The new ambulance is more efficient with a cleaner finish; it resembles a mini-hospital rather than the interior of a vehicle.

Ambulance redesigned. Own photograph.

Thisotropes by Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel and Eva Rucki of Troika was commissioned by Selfridges.  It is a light sculpture formed of eight mechanised structures, each of which consists of a series of intersecting geometric profiles.  It’s a dizzying combination of science, technology and art which come together to create a beautiful and mesmerising moving chandelier.

Thisotropes. Own photograph.

Also included is the 2012 Olympic Torch that will be used to carry the Olympic flame this July. The piece has been designed to reflect the celebratory nature of the games; the body is made of aluminium alloy skins, held in place by a cast aluminium top and base.  The skin is perforated by 8,000 circular holes – one to represent every torch carrier.  As well as creating visual lightness, the holes enhance the piece on a practical level by significantly reducing its weight.  It is not only practical but deeply symbolic and very British.

2012 Olympic Torch. Own photograph.

Even The Hepworth Wakefield is included in these awards; when I visited last September I was struck by the confidence and power of the building.  Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, The Hepworth is very exposed and isolated; it rises from the River Calder, like an old mill or Venetian palazzo.  Made from warm grey concrete, the building consists of ten geometric forms that can be viewed from all aspects.   The Hepworth is a strong, yet sensitive, design far removed from the ubiquitous sterile, white-box gallery space.

The Hepworth Wakefield.  Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

Although it includes some ingenious pieces of design, I found the exhibition to be messy; it appears cluttered and unforgiving to the objects on display.  The works are displayed on cylindrical drums that create an overload of ‘stuff’.  I was surprised by the lack of finesse and interior design here – quite ironic for a museum of design.

Clutter at Designs of the Year 2012. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, I will, of course, be back in May for the Louboutin exhibition – unless the dates change again!

Designs of the Year 2012 is at the Design Museum until 4th July 2012, www.designmuseum.org.  The winners of the seven categories and the overall winner will be announced on 24th April 2012.

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