Glossy red lips, emblematic red telephone boxes, and the sumptuous vivid spiraling red of a voluptuous red rose. There is something about red which strikes a devilishly powerful impact. In fact scientists declare that red is the colour most instantaneously attractive to the human eye: and it’s true. Look around a room, survey the rainbow of colours and shades all around you, and the first colour you notice will always be red. No wonder then that throughout the ages, it’s the scarlet woman, the red lights of shady backstreets and the unctuous red-painted lips of Hollywood prima donnas that have become so indubitably emblematic of seduction, attraction and the height of munificent glamour.
No wonder then that when one, previously unknown French Cameroonian son of an ébéniste (ivory wood carver) turned shoe-maker decided to place a seamlessly lacquered vivid red sole on the bottom of his women’s shoes, he became an instant hit. When you see a woman in high polished black stilettos sauntering down the street, and as her shoes lift with each step, you see a hint of glossy red, you know that the woman has taste – instantly glamourous, emblematic of sexy chic and seductive sophistication, that red sole can only mean one thing, and have only one maker – it’s a work of art, and it’s made by Christian Louboutin.
Yes, Louboutin, iconic French designer and the man who made red soles his signature, is now celebrating an illustrious 20 years of shoe design, during which time he seized the shoe, and in particular the daringly high stiletto, and lifted it into a new ascendancy of design significance, when, through darlingly innovative designs, and unhindered imaginative genius, he made the shoe the star of the show, as well as the means to make a woman’s legs, and figure, beautiful. Such is the theatricality of his designs, that it comes as no surprise that in celebrating 20 years of iconic shoe design, London’s Design Museum on the South Bank has put on the show of all shows, like a retreat into the cabaret of 1900s Paris at the Moulin Rouge, as a vast illuminated stage, a playground carrousel, and a garden of delights play host to shoes and only shoes, singled out and exhibited in all their fantastically original glory.
The Dita Von Teese hologram
The exhibition exudes the playfulness of Louboutin. At its centre is a wonderfully raunchy Hologram video of the deliciously sexy Dita Von Teese, herself spectacularly bedazzled in a pair of sparkling diamond-encrusted Louboutin’s, demonstrating just how seductive a woman in these shoes can become. Meanwhile at the back of the show is a den of iniquity, a naughty display of fetish shoes designed to push a woman to the maximum of pain and pleasure and panda to every man (or woman’s) every sexual desire when shoes are their ultimate proclivity. I loved the little garden, when crazy platformed shoes were displayed like fantasy creatures in Alice’s wonderland, and the recreated studio of Louboutin himself, where a vast array of objects, instruments and other paraphernalia provide daily inspirations for his ingenious creations.
But amongst all of this showmanship, let us not forget that the stars of the show are the shoes – and there were so many beautiful designs it’s hard to choose from amongst them. But being something of a magpie, I was instantly attracted to all those which sparkled, while the delicate sophistication of shoes and boots covered in lace held a particular attraction. But amongst all of these design gems, from hugely built-up platform boots, with corset-style laces crisscrossing up to the thigh, to sleek yellow open-toed stilettos bursting with tropical flowers, perhaps one of my favourites was the most understated of all, the simple, sleep shiny black stiletto, albeit with that trademark red sole and a frighteningly high 5 inch heel.
The shoes amazed, the red soles seduced, and the diamonds and studs aplenty dazzled, yet when I left the exhibition, I still came out wondering why and how Louboutin had hit upon the red sole that has become his signature. How did he stumble upon it? What was his inspiration? All of this goes unexplained in the history of Louboutin’s 20 year retrospective, and at £125 a pop, I wasn’t about to put my hands in my pocket and pay for the vast (and admittedly very beautiful) exhibition catalogue to find out. Besides, I was too busy trying to escape from the unnecessarily copious groups of “girly” women, giggling all over the place and drooling over shoes they could barely ever afford, enjoying themselves far too much and occasionally yelping as though on a hen night. This is art darlings, take your window-shopping to Aldo.
So why is Louboutin worthy of my praise? I am after all a man. I’ve never worn a stiletto, let alone owned one, and, unless I undergo some kind of hither unanticipated breakdown in my life, never intend to. Well the answer is simple – it’s because Louboutin has suspended his shoes into a design ascendancy which goes way beyond dress choice. These shoes are art, pure and simple, and best seen encircled by a spot light, up on a little stage or under a glass cloche where they belong, preferably sans foot, sans sweat and definitely sans ground surface to scratch that perfect lacquered red sole.
Christian Louboutin is on at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London until 9 July.