The Design Museum – Christian Louboutin Retrospective

10 July, 2012 | Design | 4 min read.

At EDGE, Creative Design is our true passion, it’s at the centre of everything we do and really drives us through every project we work on.

The Design Museum in London shares our love for innovative design and creative play and regularly hosts exhibitions honouring and celebrating all things design. The varied and diversified nature of the subject opens up a plethora of opportunities to put together engaging, topical and challenging collections.

Most recently they have been home to the spectacular retrospective of French shoe designer, Christian Louboutin and also Designs of the Year 2012 collection, also known as ‘the Oscar’s of the design world’.

I was fortunate enough to be able to experience both shows before they closed and what a day it was…

Over 200 shoes set out in beautifully constructed themed areas, a hologram performance by Dita von Teese in a truly Parisian set up and a staircase filled with a mobile installation of designs presented in twirling hula hoops. If only I was allowed to touch the designs on display, I would have felt as if I was in my own perfectly constructed playground.

With this being the first UK retrospective of the iconic designer, celebrating a career that has pushed boundaries of high fashion shoe design, my first instinct was to rush in head first to find if my favourite Louboutin’s were there, to stare adoringly at in the flesh. Reluctantly, I decided to hold back, and explore the retrospective through each step. With such interesting history and development behind the now instantly recognisable, glossy red soles of his creations, a showcase of over 20 years of design and inspiration was sure to reveal the true character of how a young French ‘rebel’ developed into one of the most recognised names in British and International fashion.

One thing that struck me most, aside from the overwhelming variety of charismatic shoes in one room was the degree of inspiration and carefully constructed design that goes into creating every pair. His widely travelled experiences resonate through the patterns, materials and constructions of his designs. From distinct tribal, earthy influences to the sleek seductive lines of inherently Parisian showgirl themes, his footwear designs take on individual characters of inspiration. His sketches show the originations of many of these designs, at first a fleeting thought, documented in fantastical shoe shaped sketches and squiggles, developed into refined works with every thought of material and detail as important as the origin from which it came.

The different themed areas also showed great insight into Louboutin’s world. Each section distinctively categorises his key influences and collections, the styles of which exude the passion he has for his craft. The sections in short spanned Travel, Entertainment, Architecture, Fetish, Transparency and Handcrafted. Each of these sections were as carefully constructed for their audience as the shoes for their wearer. At first a shadow puppet ‘shoe’ show, followed by a merry-go-round of fun designs. Next, wandering to a ‘Cafe des Paris’ style staging area, complete with shell shaped uplights, illuminating his showgirl inspired creations. The lights dim and a 3D holographic performance by none other than Dita von Teese appears on stage, dancing in perfectly crafted bejewelled Louboutins, paying homage to the designer who shares her intense appreciation for the seductive art of burlesque.

The next room (which can be bypassed if it’s not quite your thing) is the ‘Fetish Room’. Based on a 2007 collaboration with filmmaker, David Lynch, Louboutin produced a series of shoes to be photographed for the ‘Fetish’ exhibition at Galerie du Passage. The creations were not meant to be worn, instead the shoe-like objects were more like sculptures, built to visually address the intense line between pleasure and pain. The creations presented in this room can only be described as ‘beautifully unwearable’, drawing attention to the lines and arches of the women’s feet in the photographs, almost paralysed in pose from adorning the ‘shoes’.

After the dark, almost suffocating atmosphere of weaving through the ‘Fetish Room’, the light of the ‘Atelier’ is a welcome sight. Made up to represent the creative centre of Louboutin’s world, a perspex box sits proudly in the middle of the room, filled with various shoes, materials, sketches and general paraphernalia representative of what you would expect to find in a designers workshop. His designs, both sketches and shoes sit gallantly on the walls, almost like trophies of his achievements.

Quickly, from the ‘Atelier’ you enter a timeline of photographs highlighting key parts of the artists life and career. With an air of a theatre dressing room and a collection of tongue in cheek short films playing, a sense of theatricality and light hearted jest suggests more of Louboutin’s character through the retrospective.

A short wander through an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ style, pruned hedgerow, hints that once upon a time a young Christian almost became a landscape gardener, but still his influence from nature and architecture grounds a good collection of his designs.

Through the next arch, and there they were. The shoes I’d been waiting for.  The ‘Alex’ Louboutins. Carefully constructed, unlike any shoe design before it and probably a bit far fetched for some, the lion’s feet creation borders the insinuation of letting an inner part of you out. With the highly charged celebration of women through many of his designs, the ‘Alex’ welcomes the notion of pride, elegance and strength in a truly eye catching way.

When I was able to tear myself away, I was able to conclude that Louboutins fusion of fashion, engineering, craftsmanship and sculpture along with his undeniable passion for creating his designs through to fruition is the true testament of why he is in the position he is today. Take away the celebrity endorsement and the ‘label mabels’, his unarguable artistry and theatricality of design are the pure reason his body of work epitomises style, glamour, power, femininity and elegance.

Next week – The Design Museum – Designs of the Year 2012