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My Cultural Life: Christian Louboutin

The legendary shoe designer on what he's reading, watching and more

Christian Louboutin 
Sophie Le Gendre

Christian Louboutin is a name synonymous with shoes. After stints designing for Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, he set up his eponymous label in 1991, producing sky-high pumps – replete with red soles – followed swiftly by sky-high sales. As the story goes, a young Louboutin found inspiration in a sign forbidding visitors to wear high heels into the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris, an institution which he says ‘played a major role in my creative trajectory’. It follows, then, that this must be the site for major showcase ‘Christian Louboutin, Exhibition[niste]’ – it is, he muses, not a case of the right time, but the right place. Until 26 July 2020 (palais-portedoree.fr; christianlouboutin.com).

The book that has influenced me the most is Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s a moving story about an actress, a fictionalised Marilyn Monroe, explaining why everybody is in love with her and her fragility. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk is an incredible murder story in the world of miniaturists in 16th-century Istanbul. I adore dark and mysterious tales.

My favourite record? Anything by Diana Ross.

Silvana Mangano in Le Streghe The Witches
Silvana Mangano in The Witches
Photo 12 / Alamy

My best-loved film is a 1960s Italian sketch movie called The Witches (or Le Streghe). It’s composed of five comic stories directed by Luchino Visconti, Franco Rossi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mauro Bolognini and Vittorio De Sica, with Silvana Mangano playing all the female roles.

My number one cultural institution is the Lahore Museum in Pakistan. It has the most extraordinary Gandhara sculptures – including an Ascetic Buddha – and beautiful miniatures, which is a type of art I really appreciate.

Exterior of Lahore museum building, Punjab, Pakistan
Lahore Museum
HomoCosmicos / Alamy

The last exhibition I saw was the mind-blowing ‘Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. He’s one of my favourite painters. I didn’t realise how many self-portraits he made in such a wide range of techniques.

I don’t define myself as a collector. A collection implies a precise direction, like Scandinavian design from the 1950s. I’m too curious for that. I like beautifully made objects, from furniture by Oscar Niemeyer, to Coptic crosses or paintings by Imran Qureshi and Gilbert & George. I have a personal connection with every piece I buy – I immediately love it, or it is linked to someone or something I cherish or admire.

Gilbert and George
Gilbert & George
AFP Contributor

One of my most-loved places is Rio de Janeiro, where I’ve been going to sketch collections for a few years. I like to visit Sítio Burle Marx, a breathtaking garden designed by artist and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, which is an hour’s drive outside the city.

Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Arco Images GmbH / Alamy

I was born in the 12th arrondissement and have always had a close and special connection with the Palais de la Porte Dorée. As a child, I went there during weekends for the Tropical Aquarium – I was fascinated by the shimmering colours and beautiful shades of the fish – and then began to explore the place, which at that time also housed Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens.

‘I don’t define myself as a collector. A collection implies a precise direction’

That was the beginning of infinite imaginary journeys, allowing me to travel, under one roof, across continents, and to discover distant lands and unknown tribes. As a child, it offered me a window onto the world and gave rise to my artistic and aesthetic education, my taste for world cultures and for objects.

Christian Louboutin shoe
Jean-Vincent Simonet

The red-lacquered sole was a lucky accident. I was at the factory and we had just received the last prototypes. I was satisfied with the result, but the shoes looked way heavier than the sketches I had in front of me – looking at them from the back, there was a black mass from the sole that didn’t exist in my drawings. That's when I grabbed my assistant’s red nail polish.

Earlier in the year, I spent two weeks in Brazil designing my 2021 collection. I don’t have long-term projects – I follow my instincts and I’m open to opportunities. My plan is to see what comes next...

A version of this article appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Decoration.

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