As he wiggles into a more comfortable position on the divan, Louboutin says that he has been enamored of shoes for most of his life. In fact, he dates his obsession very precisely to a visit to a museum at age 12. At the entrance he was struck by a sticker picturing a prohibitive slash through a pair of stilettos, warning women to keep their heels off the gallery’s delicate parquet floors. “I was totally fascinated by that sign,” he recalls. “I’d never seen shoes like that. I started to draw shoes all day long at school.”
At 18, Louboutin landed a job at Charles Jourdan and then worked as an assistant to the late master shoe designer Roger Vivier, who became his mentor. He also juggled freelance assignments for houses including Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent and, in 1992, struck out on his own. His supersexy styles and distinctive red lacquered soles were immediately successful, and soon glitterati such as Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve and Gwyneth Paltrow were beating a path to his door.
“I’ve had my share of offers [from investors]. But I don’t want to change my way of working.”
These days Louboutin says he sells about 340,000 pairs of shoes a year. He has two shops in Paris, two in New York, two in London and one each in Moscow and Los Angeles. Over the next year he plans to add additional boutiques in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo and Las Vegas. Business may be robust, but Louboutin insists that the visceral process of design remains his principal source of joy. That’s one reason, he adds, he would never compromise his freedom by selling his business to an outside group. “I’ve had my share of offers [from investors],” he says. “But I don’t want to change my way of working. If I were to join a group, I’d have to follow a group strategy, which I think is contrary to the individual. Individuality feeds my creative force.”