The interview: Christian Louboutin
ESQUIRE: Welcome back to Dubai. I hear you only landed early this morning?
CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN: Thank you. I did, but I managed to have a massage already so I’m good to go.
ESQ: You come to Dubai a lot…
CL: I come to Dubai quite easily. First of all it is not that far from Paris and secondly, it’s always on the way to somewhere else, which makes it nice. I often go to India, so it sort of makes sense and it is easy. I love Dubai actually.
ESQ: I like that you’re a regular part of the style scene here.
CL: I like to come to a places such as Dubai that are always moving and going forward. I never really recognise the city because it is always changing. It gets bigger but it is nice. I love that feeling of being in a city that moves at a rapid pace.
ESQ: When was the first time you came here?
CL: I did the tour of the Middle East, this was probably, I would say 15 years ago. I went to Bahrain and Qatar too. Hold on a second, I remember exactly when I came. When was Saddam Hussein extracted from his home or whatever, when the Americans found him…
ESQ: That must have been 10 years ago? [Googles answer on phone] 2003, so that was 12 years ago…
CL: Yes, I remember it very well because I was in Egypt and it was all on TV. I was at the airport in Egypt watching it. People felt quite a bit scared around me in the airport. It was not like a big feast or anything, it was a bit like people were shocked. Then I flew to Kuwait, and people were super happy. How come in Egypt the people seem shocked and not so in Kuwait? Someone then told me well, he invaded Kuwait. And I said, yeah I forgot. It was exactly the time that I flew to Kuwait, it wasn’t my first time in Kuwait but then after I went to Qatar. Qatar was really small, it was the size of a swimming pool. There was nothing in Doha.
ESQ: You were there for work?
CL: Someone wanted to open stores in the Middle East. So I said, listen I cannot do something that I do not know, so then I had to visit. It was a Lebanese guy who wanted to open a store, but we never did it, thank goodness. He was nice but I think he is in jail at this moment. But he was nice, he showed me around. He had an assistant, who was very sweet and who I became friends with, whose name was Hatem Alakeel. He was not a designer at the time.
ESQ: I love Hatem, are you in touch with him frequently now?
CL: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, we had been travelling together and the guy sort of dumped me in the hands of Hatem. So I sort of visited all the other countries as well: KSA, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Lebanon, not Jordan.
ESQ: I bet a lot of designers would not have been able to name those countries 10 or 12 years ago.
CL: I had heard about Qatar but I didn’t really know what it was all about. In reality Qatar was nothing, because there wasn’t the island, or the museums, there was nothing. I remember there was just this tiny hotel in the middle of a small island. That was about it. We visited the mall, I swear it was the size of that water fountain up there. It was full of sand and it only sold abayas. That is why I like Dubai because it’s expanding and you see a difference. You know how they always say Rome was built in seven days? It was a civilisation that grew very quickly and you don’t see that anymore. As a child learning about Rome in school I was very impressed with the idea of these temples and how they were built out of nothing. You go to New York and it’s meant to be the New World but it no longer is. You do not see things mushrooming everywhere and here [in Dubai] the streets are constantly changing. I don’t dislike it at all.
ESQ: Do you have a favourite Dubai memory?
CL: I went to a camel race here.
ESQ: I haven’t been to one yet.
CL: It was very nice, but almost my favourite thing here is when you arrive at customs. To have all these men in white, pure white. Everybody is groomed the same way, perfectly groomed, the beard etc. I don’t know why but for some reason it seems like a type of welcoming army and they are very nice. I am used to travelling and used to be badly treated in most of the I remember there was this airports. Here there is a sense of hospitality that is very nice every time I come back.
“I always wear my Alpha Male shoe (above). They have no laces so they’re handy for taking on and off at airports.”
ESQ: That is true.
CL: The entry of the country sort of sets you the tone. For instance, I never enter the US at Miami now as they are so rude. I would rather stay in New York and then fly to Miami rather to arrive straight to Miami. First you wait for hours, everybody is late, they ask you stupid questions and they are too rude. It puts me in a bad mood for at least 24 hours.
ESQ: Oh no! On a more optimistic note, we’ve noticed you’re designing a lot more sneakers these days…
CL: Basically, I started to introduce more sneakers into the collection as more and more men want to wear smart sneakers. Personally, I barely wear sneakers, I like them but I have to change to leather soles all the time otherwise my feet get kind of claustrophobic and then I have a headache. I cannot wear a rubber sole for a long time. I cannot.
ESQ: Like a true gentleman.
CL: I don’t know where it comes from but it is probably coming from the jungle thing and the need to be natural. One day I was feeling very bad and I had sneakers on. I had to lie down in my office and at one point I was on the floor and I took off my shoes, and as soon as I did I felt fine again. So it just had to be the compression on my feet or something, then I realised that it happens to me often, so actually it sort of works for me.
ESQ: You offer made-to measure for women, when will that be available for men?
CL: Men are less fussy than women, so we have less demand from men wanting shoes different to what we sell already. We have been offering a bespoke thing where we tattoo the shoes.
ESQ: What is the craziest design you’ve done?
CL: The craziest one was difficult to do. It was a man who had this tattoo on his arm of him and his head on a trident. It was his head on a body like a fish holding a mermaid. He wanted me to tattoo the same thing on a pair of shoes but the head of the mermaid as his girlfriend.
ESQ: So he had himself…?
CL: …Holding his girlfriend the mermaid. He said the real thing he loved was her hair. He wanted to have her hair instead of her face and body. It was him holding her hair. So in the embroidery, he came and gave us a piece of her hair, and we stitched the hair of the girlfriend into the shoes.
ESQ: Real hair?!
CL: Yeah. It was pretty but it was also very complicated to have stitching holding her hair in place.
ESQ: That’s romantic in a totally weird kind of way.
CL: A while ago I did this thing where I’d make these shoes and you could have pieces of paper placed on the shoe and we’d cover it with PVC, so you can see what’s inside. Women opted to have it done with love letters, poems, and things like that, but this one woman wanted me to print her divorce papers. She just got divorced and was so happy. I told her she should probably do a copy of the divorce papers first as if she ever lost her shoes she could be in trouble.
ESQ: Was the ex the same guy who’d just cut a piece of her hair out her head?
CL: Haha, probably.
“You know how they always say Rome was built in seven days? It was a civilisation that grew very quickly and you don’t see that anymore. Here [in Dubai] the streets are constantly changing. I love it.”
ESQ: Your shoes have become more and more understated over the years. Is that you maturing?
CL: I think it has something to do with the fact that when things grow and evolve they mature. It’s the maturation of work instead of the maturation of the inner self. With my women’s shoes, I used to do very dressy shoes in the beginning, which I still do, but I came from a very decorative point of view. Then I started to shape, to put less on, to get rid of the decoration and to arrive at something naked. I like shoes that look good when you have them on, but also you can forget about them when you see the full-length outfit.
ESQ: It’s the opposite of wearing statement shoes?
CL: I think that when I started out at the beginning, it was more about me and about what I could do creatively. Then people start to recognise me and now, okay, here I am, so what do I have to say? Once you have been noticed you can actually go deeper in your work and explore different territories.
ESQ: You have more freedom to say what you want to say now?
CL: We will always have very dressy shoes in our collection as well as really nude shoes and nude colours. Now a lot of the shoes I have been doing over the last 10 years come in different shades of nude, so they can completely disappear once you see them from afar. I came from a strong colour background and that has now dissolved over the years.
ESQ: What shoes are you wearing at the moment?
CL: I don’t have a big rotation when it comes to shoes, but I live in the Alpha Male shoes as they look like classic lace-ups but they actually have hidden elastic inside, so they’re super handy for taking on and off easily.
ESQ: Good for airports.
ESQ: Do you have a favourite pair of shoes from your childhood?
CL: I was a huge fan of Kickers.
ESQ: They were huge in my native England too.
CL: Kickers had lot of colour and I loved that. I gave my mum a hard time about buying me a new pair of Kickers all the time.
ESQ: They were expensive!
CL: I don’t remember. But I remember I was really picky about shoes when I was 10 or 11. I hated the late 1970s as the big thing at the time were these army canvassed beigeish boots, but with a lace up. Everybody had those bloody things. I hated them. You looked like you were in the army. I really hated them.
“I like shoes that look good when you have them on, but also you can forget about them when you see the full-length outfit”
ESQ: What were you like at school?
CL: I was a big parrot. I loved colours. I was always really adventurous with my clothes. I went through this stage of being obsessed with overalls, you know the ones you have when you work in a garage with a big zip? I loved uniforms, not uniforms of the army or cops, but like work uniforms.
ESQ: The idea of belonging to an identity?
CL: Yes, I guess. I was accessorising or customising them, which I loved. And I was super showy. And then I did not like to eat at the school canteen because I didn’t like the food. I was super picky with food too. I was spoilt, basically. I made a point of going to the canteen 10 minutes late so everybody was sitting down and I’d make a real entrance. It was the biggest school in Paris with 3,500 kids so there were probably about 1,000 people in the canteen. I would make a point to arrive really late so everyone would look at me. [According to Wikipedia, Louboutin was expelled from school three times by the time he was 12, at which age he also ran away from home.] I actually bumped into a guy who was at my school recently and he said that him and his friends had hated me and they wanted to beat me up. I had no idea what he was talking about. I don’t even remember him. He apologised, but I said it was fine.
ESQ: I love it, “I don’t remember you”.
CL: It was a bizarre thing, because I was super showy.
ESQ: Are you still the same?
ESQ: A lot of 11 and 12 year-olds wouldn’t really care what shoes they wore.
CL: I was very strict on what I liked. I remember having a fight with my mother when I was 12 because I wanted to go into school wearing these leather lederhosen that I’d managed to get hold of.
ESQ: Leather lederhosen?
CL: Yes, very short. They had the suspenders, which I did not like, so I took those off. I wore them with a black tank top and these 1950s pointy shoes that I’d bought from the flea market. My mum looked at me and she said, ‘You are never going to school like that’. I said ‘Yeah of course’. She said, ‘You have to put socks on’. I was like, ‘mum I cannot put socks because the shoes are short, and they don’t go with the outfit’. So we had a big argument about that. In the end I put on socks and then took them off as soon I got out the house.
ESQ: She had a problem with no socks but not the short lederhosen?
CL: [Laughs] No. Can you imagine?