Louboutin Retrospective - University of Sheffield

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Louboutin Retrospective - University of Sheffield
Louboutin
Retrospective
London Design Museum
March – July 2012
You go into a dark exhibition space where you’re faced with a
high wall of dull red shoe lasts, each dangling from string like
offal in some surreal butcher’s shop display. Round the corner
you find your way into a fairground cum cabaret. Louboutin’s
shoes – lots of them – are displayed singly on merry-go-round
chairs, in a privet arbour favoured by stately homes, and on a
turntable lit with dressing-room bulbs where mirrored surfaces
show each shoe from every possible angle. Beyond, people
are sitting in the pointed ‘toe’ of a giant, signature Louboutin
red-soled shoe, apparently watching a cabaret dancer in black
lace basque and suspenders, with an exaggeratedly hourglass
figure. She’s magically there and not there and as the dance
sequence finishes she morphs into a be-jewelled high heeled
shoe, a sophisticated hologram effect. What you learn is that
Louboutin’s shoes are not just about creating a particular kind of
feminine look; they are using that look, and the body associated
with it, as a kind of ‘last’. The shoes mimic the lines of the
hourglass body: the low ‘décolleté’ cutaway at the front creates
a second cleavage that is erotic or disturbing, depending on the
viewer’s perspective; and as the shoe curves outwards around
the wearer’s heel and inwards for the shoe’s heel, that hourglass
shape is repeated. Quotes from Louboutin himself confirm this:
it’s not the fabric or colour of the shoe that matters most. It’s
the silhouette or line. When we go shoe shopping with women
taking part in the If the Shoe Fits project, the precise curve of a
heel can be a deal breaker.
Prof Jenny Hockey
Principle Investigator
‘If the Shoe Fits: Footwear,
Identity & Transition’
July 2012
Department of Sociological Studies,
The University of Sheffield
www.sheffield.ac.uk/iftheshoefits/
I went expecting some sort of exotic elegance and initially found
the full-on diversity and extravagance of the shoes almost vulgar,
trashy even, but not in a good way. Again, a quote from Louboutin
asserts that he has no time whatsoever for minimalism. By the
time I left the exhibition – and the white leather jeans that ‘grew’
into white leather boots, the Guinness cans wrapped around
the heels of a pair of black patent shoes, the fish skin-covered
shoes (in mackerel or salmon), the mules decorated with the
garbage from a seamstress’s floor, the Rolls Royce enginefronted shoes, the Marie Antoinette shoes (complete with
anachronistic galleon) – I was won over by an exuberance and
playfulness I hadn’t anticipated. And this wealth of materials,
decorations and references was reflected in the
range of footwear. Dizzy-making stilettos were
not the only item of footwear, though they were
sufficiently in evidence to make my feet ache.
But there were low-heeled pumps and mules,
espadrilles, relatively simple gladiator sandals,
flat-heeled boots and men’s jewelled trainers plus
more sober brogues. And Louboutin, the text in
his mock-up studio said, draws and draws for
days on end, designing hundreds of prototypes
for each of his two seasonal collections, each
range then edited down to about 150 shoes.
Creating height was, however, always something
he aspired to, with its association with flight; the
trapeze that hangs in his studio is there not as a
prop but something he practices. And along with
height, transparency was a theme with boots
and shoes that enclosed the foot in fishnet and
lace, or framed it in a couple of spaghetti straps
and a toe post.
The immobilising fetish shoes produced through
a collaboration between Louboutin and film
maker David Lynch were concealed in a black
curtained cubicle. Notices outside in the Design
Museum warned the visitor to view them at
their own risk, a strangely coy or perhaps
deliberately titillating introduction to photos of
2
women wearing only these shoes, but ones that
had already appeared publicly in a mainstream
Sunday colour supplement. It was striking that
the fetish shoes which quite literally could not
be walked in were the only ones represented on
the body or the foot. Even the hologram dancer
simply turned into a shoe. We couldn’t see what
she had on her feet. This exhibition profiles
beautiful, inventive, witty shoes. For sure, they
are bought by collectors, simply as valuable,
eye-catching objects. But they are worn too and
it would have added another whole dimension to
see film or even still images of people wearing
them. Louboutin is quoted as saying that the
front of the shoe is about the look and the back
is about the walk or gait. This exhibition was
wonderful, theatrical fun. I was sad to leave it for
a greyer world outside – but I would so loved to
have been given the back view.
Photographs by Luke Hayes
Courtesy of the Design Museum
www.designmuseum.org