Christian Louboutin Gets Candid on 25 Years in the Business

Christian Louboutin’s iconic red soles are turning 25. The prolific footwear designer, who celebrates his 25th year in business this year, spoke with Footwear News editorial director Michael Atmore at the FN CEO Summit in Miami yesterday.

Louboutin — who is also FN’s cover star this week — reflected on a variety of moments throughout his career, including opening his first store and serving royal customers — plus, the moment he finally realized he was famous.

See the highlights below:

On getting his start:
“It’s still strange for me that it’s been 25 years. It seems like a long time, and it seems like a short time. The only date I really know is the day I started my company. It was October 21, 1991. The economy worldwide was going through a huge crisis. People were saying, ‘This is really stupid. This is the worst time.’ Yes, it was a very bad moment to start, but I did it and proved that I wasn’t completely wrong.”

On instinct:
“I do listen to people. But when you are the designer, you really have to have a big trust in yourself. If you have no belief in what you do, it becomes a problem.”

Christian Louboutin
Christian Louboutin
CREDIT: Patrick MacLeod.

On being an old soul: 
“When I was 12, I was quite old and mature. I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn’t necessarily interested by school. Even when I was 18, I thought, ‘It’s time to get a serious job,’ because I thought I was old at the time.”

On building experience:
“I worked for different people. My professional background has been shattered in two. One was more industrial, and one was more creative. I worked for Roger Vivier. He’s definitely been a mentor of mine. I also worked at Christian Dior when I was 18. The shoes were fabricated by Charles Jourdan at the time, where I worked for one year.”

On first hits:
“In my first collection, I had a pair of shoes that were quite successful. It was a pair of flats that said ‘love’ on them. They were inspired by an image of Lady Diana, who was looking very sad and looking at her feet.”

On celebrities versus performers
“When I see a red carpet, it’s only a red carpet. I don’t think a red carpet is a great exposure of someone. Someone crying in a movie is emotionally bringing me something. This is inspiring to me. I can create a sketch from that.”

On travel:
“I was born and raised in Paris. When I would walk from school, I would go to a travel agency — it was my favorite game — and I would take a huge book and have an imaginary travel. It was very good training because I was learning about the different currencies, jet lag. It opened my mind and my eyes to different cultures.”

Christian Louboutin
Christian Louboutin, left, in conversation with FN’s Michael Atmore.
CREDIT: Patrick MacLeod.

On his first store
“In 1991, I was trying to buy some objects in Paris. I was always buying furniture. At one point, this antique dealer said, ‘What about your shoes? There’s a place at the end of the gallery, why don’t you take it?’ Suddenly it clicked. So we took that store and started the company. W magazine came because they were doing a feature on new shops in Paris. The day the reporter came, Princess Caroline came because she was going to a store nearby. She looked at the window, she liked what she saw and bought some shoes. She became one of my first customers.”

On building a résumé
“I was never a good assistant. I never stayed at a company for more than a year. I was sad that people were firing me all of the time. I realized after I was a terrible assistant because I wanted to do everything. They couldn’t put me to bed. I was there early morning, late at night. You want help, but you don’t want someone there all the time, nagging.”

On learning the business
“[At the beginning] I didn’t know that you had to show a collection ahead. Buyers came and said, ‘Where is the next collection?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean, the next collection?’ They said, ‘We’ve come to buy the fall collection.’ And I didn’t have one — I had just finished summer.”

On recognizing his fame
“I remember being in California [at an airport] and I was carrying a Christian Louboutin bag. People stopped me many times. When I went to put the bag through the X-ray, one of the woman said, ‘I want to see the shoes, I want to see the shoes.’ So I actually realized [I was famous] going through customs.”

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