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Trademark battles with Yves Saint Laurent aside, life is literally a cabaret for Christian Louboutin.
The shoe designer is the guest creator of “Feu” (or “Fire,” in English), a new show at the Crazy Horse for which Louboutin has conceived four tableaux spanning diverse themes such as hip-hop and great master paintings. It opens today.
Louboutin was involved in various aspects of the show, from the choreography to the set design. Then, of course, there are the shoes.
Many are conceptual. For the erotically charged tableau titled “Spoutnik,” two scantily clad Space Age dancers gyrate on a rotating table wearing silver half-shoes composed of just a heel connected by two fine straps around the ankle and foot.
Things get pretty surreal in “Legmania,” where a forest of black-stockinged legs performs a number in shoes with giant spiked heels that curve to be parallel with the soles.
And at one point during the show, a pair of gold shoes sashays across the stage and kicks an imaginary match to light up the name “Feu,” which appears in flames on the curtain.
All of the show’s barely there beaded costumes are by London-based knitwear designer Mark Fast, and original music comes from David Lynch and Swizz Beatz.
Here, WWD catches up with Louboutin on the realities of dancers’ feet, the fear of breaking heels and his treasured Love shoe:
WWD: Did you want to evoke something erotic with your Crazy Horse shoes?
Christian Louboutin: It was really more about the light, actually. I had to keep redoing certain shoes because the lighting makes things disappear. For example, in the number “Legmania,” you have those gigantic heels but you barely see them because it’s dark, so it’s going to be changed to a silver spike so that you see it catch the light. The biggest focus has been on the materials because it needs to be reflective. You cannot go only on the line of the shoe.
WWD: You interned at the Paris cabaret Folies Bergère when you were a teenager and have created shoes for Dita Von Teese and Arielle Dombasle for their performances at the Crazy Horse. Where does your fascination with show dancers come from?
C.L.: I’ve just gotten back from Brazil, where I went to the Carnival [in Rio de Janeiro], and I was shocked by the fact that I have never been when it is so linked to what I love — Bollywood, superproduction. And I have always, always loved birds, and I think that, in a way, everything that is linked around the music hall, those women are treated as exotic birds, birds of paradise. In nature, male birds have more feathers. The male peacock is much more beautiful than the female; most male birds are more beautiful than female birds, which I remember really shocked me as a child. And so it is almost a revenge of women, when they transform into birds, they are the leaders, and they are more beautiful, and I love that.
WWD: Is this show your ultimate fantasy come true, then?
C.L.: It’s a great and fun opportunity to work with a whole little cabaret, but really I see this as the entry point…I also really want to concentrate on doing a real ballet I’ve been writing with the Royal Ballet, but really work on a number created around shoes, yes, definitely. [For “Feu”], I didn’t concentrate so much on the shoes…. At the beginning I thought I was really going to, but it’s really about the gesture, and I really got into the girls’ movements. I always say that my shoes are at the service of women and not the opposite, and it sort of shows there.
WWD: Some of the footwear is quite spooky. What was the inspiration behind the Spoutnik shoe?
C.L.: The Spoutnik shoe is just a heel, it is almost an organic part of the foot. When you sketch a shoe but don’t have the intention to do a proper shoe, it remains a curvy sketch with no detail. The shoe completely morphs to the body.
WWD: What were the main challenges of creating shoes for dancers?
C.L.: Designing shoes for women to walk in the street is one thing, but designing shoes for dancers can bring out different aspects. It’s funny because on one side you have a lot of restrictions, like anything with even a tiny heel, you just can’t, because it breaks. It breaks not because the heel can’t support their weight of course, but because, with the way they are dancing, it can’t withstand three shows a day. Also due to the gestures the dancers make, they put a lot of pressure on these really tiny things. On the other hand, there are some moments where they are completely lifted and don’t really need to walk on [the heel], and suddenly, really, it’s the opposite, you don’t need to think about the pressure on the shoe so it allows you to go in a different corner and to really treat the heel as an object instead of as a supporting column for the whole body.
WWD: The show features a scene staged around the idea of heels that break and then go back together again. Is a breaking heel every shoe designer’s worst nightmare?
C.L.: Absolutely. I can’t speak for other designers but I’m pretty sure that everyone designing shoes on a professional level has this nightmare arriving. I remember doing shoes for Tina Turner and bringing them to Madison Square Garden for her show, and when the show opened all I could see was scaffolding on the stage, and I thought, Oh, my god, she’s going to climb on the scaffolding and jump from the scaffolding. I was paralyzed; I couldn’t enjoy the show as I was so worried about her breaking her neck. I knew the height of the heel. You just don’t want this to happen. At the same time, it’s almost comical because you have the feeling that people are just [praying] that it will happen to you, for the heel to break, so I thought with this tableau it would be funny to go, “claaak,” and then the shoe breaks, and everybody will be there thinking, “Oh, my god, he must be feeling awful,” and then they all break, and it becomes part of the choreography.
WWD: Some of the scenes in the show are very dark and erotic. Did you want to create a type of Lynch-ian atmosphere?
C.L.: Yes, absolutely, the venue totally lends itself to that.
WWD: Dancers are known for having ugly feet. Was that something that you thought about when designing the shoes?
C.L.: I did think about it, but it’s not completely true. The classical ballerina has, of course, this large foot, but at the same time it is often, if not always, compensated with a beautiful arch. You can’t be a really good dancer if you have flat feet.
WWD: If your archives were to burn down, what one pair of shoes would you save first?
C.L.: Probably I would go for more of an emotional one, which is a bit like the rosebud to “Citizen Kane”; I would go for the Love shoe, which was my first shoe and was really the birth of my company.