Red State:Q&A With Christian Louboutin

The designer opens up about two decades and talks about big plans.

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A Christian Louboutin boot for spring '13.

Photo By Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

A spring '13 men's style by Christian Louboutin.

Photo By Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

How much growth potential is there for men's?
It has become very large already. The first afternoon we opened here [in New York], we sold 240 pairs of shoes in three hours. It was almost like a riot.

What drove your decision to launch beauty?
It was so organic and became quite obvious. So many people were referencing Louboutin manicures [where the underside of the nails are painted red]. There were fake products being made. When I first started to speak to Alexis about it, he said, "I don't exactly see it," and I said, "Neither do I!" I can't say this is my idea, but it was on everyone's mind, and my antennas just captured something.

Can you give us any hints about the collection?
Nothing! But there is a lot of concentration on it. In 20 years, I haven't touched any other category besides handbags and men's shoes.

Are there other product extensions you want to explore?
For the last 10 years, I've gotten proposals to do everything, from cars and glasses to swimwear and ready-to-wear — everything. But it never seemed right to me. I'm just not interested in having my name everywhere. I don't want it becoming a name you can license.

You've devoted a lot of time and energy to your trademark lawsuit against Yves Saint Laurent, which in effect was settled last month. Why was it so important for you to defend your signature in court?
I'm not someone who likes to fight, but I had to do it. I'm very happy with what happened, that the American [courts] recognized it was a valid trademark. It is a trademark, period. I felt a bit weird and quite betrayed and offended by the behavior of a group that has a lot of luxury brands. They should know what is luxury and actually protect that because they live out of luxury. Because it was a big group they were thinking I would not stand up for my identity and trademark, which proved they didn't know me that well. It was weird for me that they wouldn't see it as a double standard. I own a color in a very specific place on a very special object. With Gucci, they own the red-and-green stripe. How can they own that trademark and tell someone they can't own a color? A lot of people were very supportive. They related to me. I was fighting for myself, but also my customers, for whom my design and identity is so important.

Has your design aesthetic changed over the years?
The biggest difference is heel height. What was considered a high heel when I first started out is considered a kitten heel now. I remember designing a 90-millimeter mule and people went, "Oh, my god, that is much too high." Now people who say they won't walk on heels are talking about 4 or 5 inches. In the history of shoes, there have never been such high heels. My drawings are very high, and I want to remain as true as possible to my drawings.

Have you saved most of your sketches?
Now I do. After the first seven or eight years, I didn't have anything. One day this girl I worked with started screaming at me that I would end up regretting [not saving them]. I said OK, so take care of it, and she started to keep the drawings. When you start, you don't think about your legacy or history. You just want to keep on producing.

Christian On...
Seeing women wear his shoes in unexpected ways:
"I don't feel that a woman belongs to me. I don't want to do a uniform. Even when someone wears it in a way I think is really awful, I don't really dislike it. It might be hard to imagine, but I like to be surprised."

His dream celebrity client:
"I always say I would love to dress the Queen of England, but she's more of a symbol. ... [pauses] I would love to dress the pope!"

Another footwear designer he admires:
"I loved the relationship Salvatore Ferragamo had with people from all different industries. All the work he did in Hollywood was very inspiring, especially the shoes he did for Elizabeth Taylor."

His alternate career plan:
"I would have been a director or screenwriter. I started writing a script with a friend of mine ... but the best time to do a movie is in your 20s, when you don't care what people have to say."

An inspirational locale:
"Bhutan is a very serene country with an incredible history. It has an incredible group of great artisans."

His favorite stateside destination:
"Los Angeles. I can concentrate more there [than in New York] because it's a nine-hour time difference with Paris. I can speak to my office when I wake up in the morning and then again when I go to bed. New York is more exhausting. I also have very good friends in Los Angeles. I'm always happy there."

His favorite part of the 20th anniversary celebrations:
"There have been a lot of key moments. My exhibition at the Design Museum in London is one. It also was interesting to do my book. It gave me a moment to look at my drawings and family pictures, to stop and step back."

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