In the Footsteps of Christian Louboutin

Director Olivier Garouste followed the inventor of the red-soled heels as he traveled around the world and prepared his retrospective show, L’Exhibitionniste, through January 3 at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris. The result is a unique new portrait that showcases the designer’s personality and the inner workings of his empire.
© Sophie Le Gendre

France-Amérique: What led you to this project?

Olivier Garouste: I work as a video maker and editor, and had just finished the documentary Rochline Rhapsodie about the life and work of my uncle, the artist David Rochline, depicted through the rooms in his house. My producer called me to say that a certain “Christian” had seen the movie and wanted me to film a making-of piece for his exhibition. At the time, I was convinced she was talking about the artist Christian Boltanski. I only realized my mistake when I arrived at the meeting, but I was delighted! I remember meeting Louboutin when I was nine in a little village in the Vendée département, where he was working as a landscape gardener. The first question I asked was: “Has he kept the same joie de vivre since becoming so famous?” The answer is yes!

What was your angle?

I wanted to show the work and personality of this man while moving past his flamboyant, “celebrity” side. The idea was also to focus on the importance of pointlessness. In a world where everything has to be profitable and have a specific function, shoes may be completely useless but they are things of fantasy – and that is something we need. I had to film behind the scenes of his exhibition in Paris and follow him closely for four months. I travelled to Milan, Bhutan, India, and back to the village in Vendée where I first met him. It is important to know that a day in the life of Christian Louboutin is about five days for a normal person! I also filmed him at his office to show how he works. He creates a new design every ten minutes and keeps working on them. Where you or I would see perfection, he sees something to be created or modified. I had enough footage to make 15 movies.

© Philippe Garcia/Arte
© Philippe Garcia/Arte

Christian Louboutin is portrayed as extraordinarily normal and someone who is eager to listen. Is that the case?

I was worried I would be filming a tyrant… But I could not have been more wrong. He is curious about everything and everyone! It is astonishing that he has not become jaded by his success; he continues to learn about artisanry and is interested about the lives and stories of the people he encounters. Despite having dozens of stores and three factories, he is lighthearted, joyful, funny, and receptive. I think he is down-to-earth because he comes from a modest background. Even with four days to go before his exhibition opened, and with so much left to do, he was still attentive. His employees certainly seem happy to work with him.

What is your favorite sequence?

There was a striking moment when he found the layout for the logo of the L’Exhibitionniste exhibition by overlapping the double “N” in the word. You can see how quickly he thinks. A little later, during a fitting for shoe prototypes, he reinvented a sandal on the spot without worrying about the extra work such a change would require.

What impressed you the most about his creative process?

Louboutin pushes the technical nature of his shoes as far as possible. He bases his process on design, not reality. I really love how he blends cultures – something that can now be accused of cultural appropriation. He does it naturally, because he believes things are supposed to mix. The fact he has been so successful offers even greater freedom to experiment and innovate, by adding embroidery and imagining new shapes for example. He would use glass in his shoes if he could! He is an alchemist who tests materials, and his creations are both funny and sexy when worn. It goes way beyond the name and the brand!

How did you film his shoes without making the documentary a fashion catalogue or a commercial?

We had fun with it! We were given carte blanche – Christian does not obsess over presenting things in his own way. He trusted me and I showcased his shoes, taking the time to look at them, touch them, and play around with mirrors and reflections. I tried to convey the idea that he works on his shoes in the same way others work on jewelry. His footwear transforms people, just like gemstones do. It reminded me of the treasure room at the Topkapi Palace in Turkey. While there I thought to myself that wearing those sorts of precious stones must change a person.

The movie is filled with interviews with his close friends and muses, including American model and burlesque star Dita Von Teese!

They are very close. Dita’s sensual, showy side appeals to Christian enormously. He likes the fact that she comes from a small town in the United States but that she has developed a love for European culture, Marie-Antoinette, and other things far removed from her life and upbringing. He likes to say that she is an “old soul.”

Does Christian Louboutin only wear Louboutin shoes?

He has an enormous number of shoes, and he does wear his own because he finds them to be very comfortable. Based on what I have seen, he has a preference for the laceless models!

=> The documentary
Sur les pas de Christian Louboutin will be broadcast on TV5 Monde USA on Wednesday, September 30, at 8:30 pm EST (5:30 pm PST).