Every girl dreams of owning a pair of red-soled Louboutin heels – exquisitely designed with stilettos reaching impossible heights. And the Design Museum’s current retrospective of Christian Louboutin’s career indulges the shoe fanatic in everyone, exhibiting all of the iconic designs that one would expect, along with a few added surprises.
The shoes on display are as colourful and varied as can be, but each pair serves as an ode to femininity and the beauty of being a woman. While many variations feature glitter and lace, the femininity championed by Louboutin is not about passivity and daintiness; women clad in these shoes are strong, confident, yet still elegant.
Upon initially entering the main space of the exhibition, the viewer is confronted with a darkened room featuring displays of shoes dramatically lit. From a towering three-tiered pedestal lined with mirrors, to a carrousel design, the shoes are not the only objects on display. The centre of the space is laid out as the red sole of a stiletto. The ‘toe’ becomes a bench and the instep is a display platform. The bare bulbs behind each shoe along this platform are surrounded by shell-shaped sconces that recall Botticelli’s Birth of Venus – celebrating the contemporary Venus. The heel of this shoe-shaped exhibition design features something quite unexpected – a holographic burlesque performance by Dita von Teese. As a celebration of one aspect of Louboutin’s inspiration, a dazzling, larger than life shoe becomes von Teese who dances in a pair of red-soled shoes. The Showgirl adds drama and sensuality to the exhibition while seamlessly blending vintage entertainment with modern technology.
The retrospective celebrates all aspects of Louboutin’s creative output from the whimsical to the subversive. In 2007, Louboutin collaborated on a project with David Lynch called Fetish. The works from this project are sexy, dark, and a bit twisted, but, placed on pedestals, illuminated dramatically in the dark space, they become more sculpture than footwear. Paired with Lynch’s photographs the shoes that form the Fetish collection expand on Louboutin’s interest in transparency and use of metal embellishments, but these shoes are not meant to be worn, or at least not walked in.
The last part of the exhibition focuses on Louboutin as a designer. The recreation of the Paris atelier is exotic and a bit chaotic, much like the 19th century cabinet of curiosities. Small treasures from around the globe come together among sketches and tools and even a trapeze in this eclectic and creative space. From the initial conception to the final fitting, Louboutin remains present throughout the design process. The art of designing a luxury shoe rests in the fact that “the shoe has to look good on the foot, but it is the leg that should make the impact, rather than the shoe.”
Beaded sandals influenced by travels, impossible platforms inspired by architecture, and even a pair of trouser-boots (yes, boots that are not simply thigh-high but waist-high) all feature in the exhibition chronicling twenty years of the Frenchman’s career. At times it is easy to forget that one is in a museum and not the shoe department at Harrod’s, but the inclusion of film, biography, and the holographic performance adds dimension to both the exhibition and the character of the man behind the shoes.
Words: Emily Sack © 2012 ArtLyst