TORONTO - The signature splash of red colouring the soles of his famed footwear creations has helped Christian Louboutin earn instant recognition for his works and a unique foothold in the style world.
"It was to be faithful to one of my designs where the shoes, where everything was in colour — including the soles," Louboutin said of his trademark touch in an interview at Holt Renfrew's flagship downtown location prior to an in-store appearance.
"It was also very beautiful when a shoe was black and just the colour of the sole (was visible), so it gives it a better definition of the shape of the shoe and the heel."
The famed French footwear designer is offering a window into his creative process and an up-close glimpse of some his memorable works with a special exhibition making its North American debut in Toronto.
After earning record attendance at the Design Museum in London, the exhibition has made the voyage across the Atlantic to the Design Exchange. The Toronto design museum will house the retrospective, which features more than 250 shoes as well as sketches and personal artifacts from the designer.
"Christian's shoes are known the world over for their amazingly innovative design and very distinctive glossy red sole. But I wanted to understand more about the designer behind the famous shoes," said Donna Loveday, head of curatorial at the Design Museum, London, during a press conference with Louboutin in Toronto this week.
"It's an amazing story to tell."
The exhibition chronicles the designer's career and well-known creations through a display of various themes showcasing key influences and inspirations.
A brightly lit carousel near the entryway to the exhibit offers a novel, whimsical platform to feature shoes inspired by love of travel and showcasing images of the designer's experiences abroad. A section of the exhibition is also devoted to shoes Louboutin created for the 2007 "Fetish" exhibition produced in collaboration with acclaimed artist and filmmaker David Lynch.
Visitors will be able to see the step-by-step process of constructing a spider boot, and they'll also be able to view an accurate to-scale recreation of the designer's working atelier in Paris.
There seems to be no colour too vibrant or adornment too avant garde for Louboutin. Towering heels within an arm's reach on display are adorned with everything from tufts of fur and wispy feathers to metallic studs, shimmering stones and lush ribbons. Stylish yet slightly more casual offerings like plaid-patterned flats, embroidered high tops and leopard-print laceups were also showcased in the colourful exhibition.
"My relationship with shoes has always been linked to shoes, women, women in their shoes and performance," Louboutin said, wearing a pair of his own studded cranberry-coloured slip-ons.
"That's really what I wanted to do. I never wanted to design clothes. I never wanted to work for the fashion industry," he added. "Shoes sort of belong to the fashion industry which is why I'm part of the fashion industry. But that's never been my thought. My thought since I was a child was really to design those shoes for girls on stage."
Louboutin's first job at age 17 was at the famed Parisian music hall Folies Bergere. He recalled observing the careful movements by the showgirls as they manoeuvred up and down the stairs — all without looking at the steps themselves.
"First, the power and importance of shoes and the posture. No one like showgirls shows it better, that's for sure," recalled the 49-year-old.
In a year, Louboutin said he'll be starting a full cosmetics line. With his exhibition now open to the public, the designer has released Christian Louboutin's Little Red Booklet of Toronto, a compilation of attractions, events, dining establishments and more which will be posted on the Christian Louboutin Facebook page.
Despite a busy schedule during his Canadian visit, Louboutin relished the opportunity to meet with fans of his work, many of whom had lined up for hours in advance.
"It's a very big compliment," he said. "Sometimes people are flying to come to a place and they still thank me because they've been waiting and I've been there for often hours. And I always say: 'Thank you for coming because I'm there because you're there.'"
The Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Design Exchange runs until Sept. 15.