The upcoming solo exhibition of Christian Louboutin’s work at the Design Museum promises to be very exhiting. Volt Café caught up with Donna Loveday,
 Head of Curatorial
 at the Design Museum, to delve into her experience of curating the enormous archive of Louboutin’s work, working with the man himself and also how to display the highlights of 20 years of design in a way so it doesn’t just look like a giant shoe shop!

Volt Café: The past 25 years have seen a fantastic amount of new talent in shoe design emerge. A solo exhibition at the Design Museum is a tremendous honour, especially for a Fashion Designer, as in the past just a chosen few (Blahnik, Williamson, Paul Smith, Chalayan, Basso & Brooke amongst others) has been exhibited there. Why was Louboutin chosen?
Donna Loveday: The exhibition will be the first UK retrospective of iconic French shoe designer Christian Louboutin. In 2012 he will be celebrating twenty years since opening his first boutique in Paris in 1991. The company has since become a global brand, with thirty-five stores in sixteen countries. The exhibition will celebrate a career, which has seen Louboutin push the boundaries of high fashion shoe design. It will present his celebrated shoe designs, referencing the origins of the iconic red sole, through to the latest Louboutin collections including a range for men.

The Design Museum has previously staged a number of very successful fashion exhibitions, including exhibitions on the milliner Philip Treacy, fashion photographer Tim Walker and designers Paul Smith, Matthew Williamson, Basso & Brooke and Hussein Chalayan. The museum’s exhibition of shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, in 2003, remains one of the most popular exhibitions at the Design Museum.

VC: Without giving too much away, what is the overall concept behind the exhibition?
DL: The exhibition celebrates Louboutin’s career to date and showcases twenty years of designs and inspiration, revealing the artistry and theatricality of his shoe design – from stilettos to lace-up boots, studded sneakers and bejewelled pumps. Louboutin’s shoes are the epitome of style, glamour, femininity, elegance and craftsmanship.

A strong narrative informs the exhibition and addresses the following key questions,
 who is Christian Louboutin?
 What was his route to shoe design?
 What are the inspirations and influences that have informed his work over 20 years?
 What is his design process?

The exhibition will present a carefully chosen selection of shoes from collections spanning twenty years. Alongside the shoes will be more personal mementos from Christian’s archive including photographs of his early years growing up in Paris, early sketches and shoe designs. The exhibition has had unique access to Christian Louboutin’s personal archive. A dramatic exhibition environment will present Louboutin’s artistic personality and creative approach. It will examine the many sources of his creativity, shoes inspired by performance and the showgirl; entertainment; transparency; travel and architecture. The exhibition will also focus on the handcrafted shoe, one-off designs which incorporate highly innovative ideas, forms and materials. There will be a special section dedicated to the shoes designed for Fetish, an exhibition at the Gallerie Du Passage, Paris, in 2007, which was a unique collaboration of photography between Louboutin and acclaimed film maker David Lynch. At the core of the exhibition will be a unique exploration of Louboutin’s design process, taking the visitor through every stage of the design journey, revealing how a shoe is constructed, from the initial drawing and first prototype through to production in the factory.

VC: What was the greatest challenge you faced?
DL: The challenge for me, as curator, has been the scale of the object with which I am working – how do you display shoes, divorced from the wearer, in a static exhibition environment, and allow a focus on the construction and detail of each shoe? How do you successfully convey the artistic personality and creative vision of the designer? This exhibition attempts to successfully combine both elements within a dramatic and immersive exhibition environment.

VC: Was there a particular theme in Louboutin’s designs that you were drawn to and if so, why?
DL: Christian’s route to shoe design is a very interesting one and it is very much the influence of the world of Parisian cabaret that made him turn to designing shoes. In 1980 after leaving school, Louboutin was offered an internship at the Folies Bergère where, for six years, he was an assistant to the girls, making coffee and sewing buttons onto costumes. In his spare time, he would draw shoes for each of the dancers. Following a meeting in 1992 with Hélène de Mortmart, the fashion director at Dior, he was offered an internship at Charles Jourdan, the premiere French luxury shoe manufacturer that created shoes for the House of Dior and Pierre Cardin. This was an important period for Louboutin where he learned the technical aspects of shoe design.

In 1985 Louboutin assisted on a retrospective exhibition of the shoe designer, Roger Vivier, at the Musee les Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Vivier was well known for his exquisite forms and use of extravagant materials and had been designer to Christian Dior from the 1940s to the 1960s. Vivier was among the first to design stiletto heels, created to complement the hourglass silhouette of Dior’s New Look collections. This period proved to be an important turning point for Louboutin, as it was Vivier who first made him think seriously about designing shoes. Louboutin went on to design shoes for prestigious design houses, including Christian Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, before giving it all up in 1989 to become a garden designer. In 1991, he returned to designing shoes and opened his first boutique in the Galerie Vero Dodat, close to The Louvre.

VC: The Louboutin archives must be incredible. Were you free to roam at will? Describe the setting to us!
DL: I was so impressed with how organised the archives were – with every shoebox, arranged in chronological order and carrying a photograph of the shoe inside. There had been a lot of early research for Christian’s book, published by Rizzoli in 2011, and which helped me with locating early designs and the eventual selection of shoes for the exhibition.

VC: I presume Louboutin was very involved. What was it like to work with him?
DL: Yes he was, I wanted Christian to feel that the exhibition presented an accurate reflection of his work and achievements over twenty years. As curator of the exhibition, I worked closely with Christian to define the narrative for the show and to select content. I undertook a period of research finding out as much as I could about the designer, his philosophy and design process. A storyline was presented to Christian and we discussed in depth. We then worked together on a detailed design for the exhibition with exhibition designers, Household, acclaimed for their design of the Christian Louboutin concept store in Selfridges and for interiors at Shoreditch House, London.

VC: Which is your absolute favourite Louboutin design? And do you own any yourself?
DL: I find it very difficult to name a favourite design, as for me each of his shoe designs are remarkable for different reasons – either because of an innovative form, materials, artisanal skills – or  because they carry a wonderful story behind their creation.

VC: Do you feel that working on this has changed how you view his particular brand of high-octane glamour shoes?
DL: Definitely – from working with Christian and gaining a better understanding of his design process, I now clearly understand why his shoes are admired and sought after by so many women – and the powerful impact they can have on the wearer.

Thanks to Donna Loveday at the Design Museum

Christian Louboutin
The Design Museum
28 Shad Thames
London Se1 2YD
01 May – 09 July 2012

Illustrations by Michalis Christodoulou at Kramer + Kramer

Words by Anna Bang


anna bang, Christian Louboutin, Design Museum, Donna Loveday, Michalis Christodoulou,