I am a strong believer in what circumstantial, environmental and cultural stimulus a child receives has a direct effect and influence on the individuals creative output as an adult. This theory can be proven as case in point with the designer known for turning ballet pumps on point, into high heels. Christian Louboutin grew up in a household of women with a large family of sisters and single mother who instilled in him an inherent sensitivity for the feminine experience of life. Witnessing their demands and disposition he directly absorbed a respect for womankind and an intrigue for the glamorous expression of dressing up. He discovered this medium in its most extreme form via actresses in Hollywood films and the dancers of Parisian music halls. As a teenager he would sneak out at night and sneak into these venues to watch the showgirls and re-visit the same performances numerous times to fully absorb each detail of the spectacle. The word "detail" crops up repeatedly throughout his explanation of both his work and the curation of his 20 year retrospective which opened at The Design Museum this morning.
He even goes into great detail when recounting his history in explaining his journey to arriving at presenting his first major gallery showcase. It all began age 12, imagining the glistening cabaret costumes to be like feathers as natures own decoration adorning birds. From a child's imagination he glorified the showgirls to be exotic birds of paradise and fell under a spell to become involved in assembling these exceptional exoskeletons. A few years down the line he joined the music hall "Foiles Bergere" as an intern on an apprenticeship under the wing of the chorus, costumier and choreographers. Learning his chosen discipline through the medium of theatrical direction has dictated his distinctive magical and outre approach within the fashion world. To encapsulate this prominent period and acquired side of his personality, the major central space of the floor-plan has been given a "showtime" treatment. Lighting is low, shed from tiny gold clam shell lamps onto a red velvet banquette - it's as if you've stepped into The Crazy Horse........... until you realise the stage is formed in the shape of a sole with the toe dazzlilng as a 3D hologram of a corseted curvaceous Dita Von Teese dancing in thin air.
This all-encompassing clever trickery of the Design Museum's devised installation has been a year's worth of planning alongside Louboutin who considers every element of his life as one whole. He sees no separation between personal and professional life, regarding the complete course as a multifaceted process akin to the development in each of his designs. Great emphasis has been put on the "process" with an area apportioned as a recreation of his atelier complete with artifacts, sketches, patterns, paraphernalia and prototypes. This was my favourite part in addition to a little insight into his photo-albums with blown up snaps recording his own developmental moments from trying out blue lipstick to partying with Zandra Rhodes and Duggie Fields. Evidence of no differentiation between life and work is apparent from beginning to end in the exhibition and embodied in the broad spectrum of narrative concepts in each shoe. One is a Rolls Royce with the grill as a toe cap, one appears as if you have slipped on a slippery fish with real scales and tail on the heel. The little Louboutin boy who was swept up with fantastical dreams at the dance halls hasn't lost that fleeting naive uninhibited imagination.............
...... which brings me to the subject of style over substance. When challenged about comfort he has the perfect retort. He would simply wish that any reaction to his designs would inspire a positive response regarding its visual appeal rather than its practicality. This is followed by a fascinating anecdote of the dancers he shadowed who dined on veal capaccio only to disappear with the cutlets to discreetly tuck them into their stilettos. Apparently the bloodless slithers of meat were a primitive solution to in-sole cushion pads which made Christian aware of this short fall in high heels early on. He also explains that he adopts three minds when mastering a new model - firstly the woman who will be wearing them, secondly the man who is the partner to the muse and thirdly, himself the creative ego. With this triptych of perspectives, he aims to arrive at the ultimate outcome. Perfection does not interest him because it eliminates chance fortune in design floors, so he doesn't work towards any particular ideal. But as we know, he has met a few discernable characters with whom he has built a close bond through business including Dita. He tells us that his obsession is "objects" and footwear is fundamentally a fetishised object, so perhaps this is where the synergy of that special relationship lies. He has a very tactile disposition like most craftsmen do, unconsciously intrigued by surrounding surfaces and textures. As he answered questions at the press conference he stroked the table cloth, and even lightly punched the ceiling when he first came in, as if testing its solidity like a builder or architect. He is after all an architect of engineering ingenious framework .......... but for our feet....................... (*one similarity, a mortgage may be needed in both acquisitions.......... but if you go to this show, you will appreciate why).