The shoes suspended by the staircase gave a hint of what was to come...
It's clear from the moment you walk into this retrospective that the mood of Louboutin's world has been captured. With tiny spotlight bulbs highlighting vertiginous heels and clusters of irresistibly sharp spike embellishment, it's a visual feast. The working carousel, which boasts images of the designer throughout his life, is just one of the gimmicks that really works in this show, taking inspiration from his theatrical past when he spent the 1980s working at the Folies Bergere in Paris. You half expect the cast of Moulin Rouge to pop up behind displays of showgirl shoes and crystal-encrusted stilettos.
The entrance to the exhibition.
I was particularly drawn to the more outlandish styles that Louboutin offered, such as the text-based heel that moulds words around the foot, and the quirky cool of Deja Vu, a sling back platform heel covered in googly eyes. These were playful and not anywhere near as mass-produced as his famous Pigalle shoe, a celebrity favourite, but they stood out in their own right for their aesthetic appeal.
Check out the textual art on this shoe...
Louboutin's personal story is as interesting as the pieces he designs. Leaving school with no qualifications, he was always keen on the dramatic and the lure of the pin-up, finding himself in jobs that took him straight into the heady French nightlife scene. Once he began properly designing shoes, he almost gave it all up for garden design instead. Fortunately he returned to footwear a year later in 1990 and managed to garner his first piece of press coverage by 1991. It's clear from Louboutin's story that the attention of the right people in media and fashion is crucial; once he gained the right support then his career skyrocketed and he was opening his own boutiques.
Evidently Louboutin is also a savvy collaborator, choosing to work with only the best labels and the finest craftsmen. The best example is his work with Dita von Teese, who has created a hologram burlesque performance that illustrates the link between the stage and the shoes. The burlesque feel is taken further with the brilliant fetish room, which is another exhibition highlight, pushing the limits of the body with impossible-looking feats of design that lead to perilously high heels and a heavy use of metal, often with the complexity and surreal feeling of an M.C. Escher drawing. If you're confused as to how some of these products make it past the initial sketches then the reproduction of his studio will go some way to answering your questions.
If you get the chance to see Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum (until 9th July 2012) then don't miss out. This is a colourful and memorable show that will leave you inspired.