The new Christian Louboutin L’Exhibition[niste] exhibition at Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris holds a prism up to the footwear designer’s incredible legacy. Through a series of connecting rooms – each with its own aesthetic motif – his career, creative endurance, and iconic designs are presented in both thoughtful and provocative ways. With the help of fellow artists like Imran Qureshi and David Lynch, the Christian Louboutin world is superbly illuminated.
One room, which is decorated with stunning, highly detailed stained-glass scenery created by Maison du Vitrail, takes you on a journey of Louboutin’s archives, while the ‘Atelier’ room shows the inner workings of his design process. Through this labyrinth of ideas, his work is enshrined, dissected, and artfully represented in myriad ways, giving the guest tremendous appreciation for just how big his universe – and his universal influence – is.
In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, Louboutin illustrates the importance of the Palais de la Porte Dorée to his creative history, the inspiration he discovered in the 12th arrondissement while growing up there as a child, and the reason behind the title of the exhibition.
What influence did your childhood in the 12th arrondissement have on you?
My earliest memories are from there: of school, love, play, the Foire du Trône and its fluorescent lights, the Rue de Fécamp, the Palais de la Porte Dorée, and the Paul Valery and Elsa Lemonnier high schools. On the Avenue Daumesnil, there was a cinema – the Athéna – that screened Indian and Egyptian movies. The 12th arrondissement is a relatively unknown area, even to Parisians, yet it has a very rich cultural history. It is also where I made my first friends, who I am still friends with today.
How did you discover the Palais de la Porte Dorée? What is your relationship with it?
It was pretty normal for a neighborhood kid to go to the Palais de la Porte Dorée as there was a Tropical Aquarium. My sisters accompanied me there on most weekends; I was fascinated by the shimmering colors and beautiful shades of the fish. Given that the aquarium was located in the Palais de la Porte Dorée, I started to explore the place, which was also home to the Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens. That was the beginning of infinite imaginary journeys, allowing me to travel across continents and discover distant lands and unknown tribes – all under one roof.
By exhibiting my work, I expose myself more intimately.
It is at Palais de la Porte Dorée that you saw what would be an inspirational drawing for you. How did it help shape your future?
Every time I visited it, I saw this sketch on a sign banning the wearing of heels. This was in the 1970s, and I had never seen stilettos – it was a style that dated back to the 1950s. At the time, the heels’ top-lift was made of metal, so it risked scratching the precious wood floors of the Palais and chipping the enamel on the mosaics. I was intrigued by this sketch for a long time because it looked like an imaginary drawing representing a nonexistent woman’s shoe. It is with that in mind that I started to design shoes and understood that everything began with a drawing.
Can you tell us more about the title L’Exhibition[niste]?
It’s a title that came to me quite quickly. It’s a play on words between ‘exhibition’ in English, which means exhibiting, and the act of revealing a part of oneself to others. To expose oneself is to show oneself, to lay oneself bare. An exhibition is about displaying. Both concepts are therefore quite close, but there is a more subversive notion in exposing oneself that I like because by exhibiting my work, I expose myself more intimately. I’ve invested a lot in this project, both professionally and personally. I reveal a great deal about myself, my inspirations, and my creative process in this exhibition, and I wanted this to be understood from its title.
The Treasure Room holds a lot of very powerful messages. What do some of them mean?
The Treasure Room is centered on the idea of a magic, unfinished shoe – that of fairytales. Shoes have attained an iconic, almost sacred dimension and, today, there’s a kind of idol worship around the shoe as an object. Hence the idea of placing an unfinished crystal shoe, embodying that dreamlike aspect, on a silver palanquin created by Villarreal of Seville coppersmiths. Surrounding the palanquin and protecting the unfinished shoe are other shoes – special, magical, and important to me – surrounded by an architectural structure borrowed from Babylon and the Nabateans and created by Egyptian architect Tarek Shamma.
‘L’Exhibition[niste]’ will be on display at Palais de la Porte Dorée until July 26. Book your tickets here.