Louboutin at the London Design Museum: a fabulous world of lightness and glamour, but also studs and chains, for the sophisticated forms of the quintessential, vertiginous, sexy shoe that captivates even those who don't wear heels.
French designer Christian Louboutin — a master of fashion but also of fetish (a whole section of the show is devoted to the topic, enriched with provocative photographs from his 2007 collaboration with David Lynch at the Du Passage gallery in Paris) — is the inventor of the famous shiny red sole, creator of dreams and emotional atmospheres that enrapture both women and men. At the Design Museum, Louboutin presents vertiginous shoes — architecture that can be used in daily life —, exceptionally extravagant, impossible to wear shoes with heels extending beyond the sole, and sole-less shoes, which can be owned but not worn. For Louboutin, the heel is a podium for women, a column that transforms the foot's arch into a dome; but then again, he was the first to affirm that a certain kind of shoe is for walking while another is for having sex.
At the exhibition entrance, the visitor is welcomed by 144 pairs of suspended red shoes. The lighting becomes increasingly softer until we reach a shadow play theatre, displaying Louboutin's most famous silhouettes. Spotlights illuminate shiny feathers, sequins and satin ribbons that alternate with thigh high spotted boots or more sober stilettos. Shoes parade on a carousel, while others are displayed in gold shells. To see more, the visitor must pass through a faux-grass arch where a giant Fabergé-style pea-green egg from Louboutin's London studio displays yet another precious walking device.
The exhibition's design constantly evokes and echoes the ubiquitous red sole: one of its main events is a striptease by queen of burlesque Dita Von Teese (alas, censored before she took it all off), a showgirl who, at the end of the sensual but artificial performance, is magically transformed into a giant silver diamond shoe — with the inevitable red sole. Staged every 30 minutes, the performance also features a typical English line waiting on sinuous lacquered red benches.
In another room, silhouettes of flying boats replicate the designer's chaotic and colourful worktable, with a multitude of objects and tools scattered here and there while presenting the workshop's production process. A section of the exhibition is dedicated to these precious shoes' production — even the simple pumps are precious — with drawings from the Louboutin's personal archives, studies for the soles, and the use of sophisticated materials from the finest leather to punk nails which, in the Frenchman's hands, become surprising embellishments that can be worn every day. "I need to surround myself with objects," the designer points out, "but I admire the work of architects because they design places where people must live, sleep and eat. An enormous responsibility."
The Louboutin show is a story of unspoken words, impossible possibilities, intimate and barely-mentioned suggestions, of holograms that become real and transport the visitor to the creative world of one of the most successful designers of our times. His inspiration comes from cabaret, world travel ("always look where others don't look," he says), from the limelight, from carousels, from the seduction of the art of illusionism to his most beloved films. In fact, there is also a small movie theatre in the show. "Designing shoes means applying the art of magic," he says, adding, "a shoe should be visible, but sometimes it's better if it's not."
The Christian Louboutin — 1992-2012 exhibition is the first English retrospective devoted to the designer. Curated by Donna Loveday, it narrates the story of the 1964 Paris-born creator of Egyptian origins, and explores the uniqueness of his shoes as a fusion of fashion, crafts, engineering and sculpture. The exhibition portrays the atmosphere in which his creations come to life, a place of shadows and spotlights, of richness and profusion of sophisticated and unexpected details. The designer himself states that he has no sense of minimalism. For Louboutin, an empty room is like a prison, and in this show, the path through the museum rooms is saturated with sensorial stimuli, while narrating the opulence of his extraordinary creativity. In a brass structure with bare dressing-room bulbs, the visitor can enjoy a special selection of footwear whose smallest details can be examined through a small set of magnifying lenses.
Here, the selection ranges from stilettos to tennis shoes; from the heel with the famous Guinness beer logo to those with Louboutin's name embroidered in coloured satin; from the Show Girl, designed in 2012 for Dita Von Teese — black mesh with a profusion of feathers and pom-poms designed —, to a dizzying 40 centimetre high pair of cream damask slippers, to the 2011 spring-summer Très Decolté — baring the toes while allowing the wearer to walk to a pair of leopard's feet complete with claws in shiny black rhinestones. Christian Louboutin's oeuvres are the embodiment of style, femininity, glamour and power. And at the end of the exhibition, two large upside-down cardboard legs dancing a perpetual can-can are there to bid visitors farewell. Maria Cristina Didero
Through 9 July 2012
28 Shad Thames, London