Christian Louboutin on Bike Polo; selling a million pairs of shoes a year; and why no deal with Nike
Christian Louboutin returned in triumph to Pitti on Tuesday, turning the legendary Piazza Santa Maria Novella into a Bike Polo ring, and entertaining a pack of editors and fashionistas with his bon mots and dry wit.
Louboutin is France's greatest shoe designer, though in conversation and in style he remains the charming maverick, enormously proud of independence.
"I don't have to do anything. I only like to work with people I like, and if the feeling is not there, why bother?" says Louboutin, who opened his first boutique in a tiny store in Passage Véro Dodat in Paris' first arrondissement on November 21, 1992, and has since grown his luxury marque to well over one billion euros.
"The thing is, I just wanted to design shoes. But to do that I had to make a company and also a shop. And everything grew organically from there," shrugs the designer, who now has 126 stores worldwide,
For Pitti he revamped his Aurelian sneakers in new colors, like the soft fire engine red worn by the Bike Polo players. Like Yorgo Tloupas, the French art director and hard charging member of Raclette Party, one of eight teams in Louboutin's tournament. Then again, the blood red lacquered sole is this creator's most famous logo.
Two decades ago, Louboutin did a massive mise en scene in a villa in Pitti, in the hills above Florence.
"Since then, we've developed men, and wanted to come to Pitti, becomes it has an extremely relaxed ambience. A mix of sport and relaxation," adds the Franco-Egyptian Louboutin, in-between bites of pizza.
"I don't like to brag but when I sold one million pairs of women's shoes in one year, that did make me happy," says Louboutin, noting that one quarter of his sales are in men's accessories – meaning he sells a 1.25 million pairs a year. Considering that his footwear sells for upwards of 500 euros a pair, his annual turnover is now close to one billion euros – not bad for largely self-taught shoe designer.
After spending a year in India in his twenties, he returned to Paris and armed with a series of sketches began creating shoes for the likes of Chanel and Saint Laurent before taking the plunge and opening his own house.
His DNA is always witty and Parisian "but in a disrespectful way. That's important. In Paris there is always this sense of equilibrium between elegance and sexuality."
He now has his own factories in Parabiago, Italy; and has added a significant bag business and, since 2012, a beauty line with Batallure Beauty. Though he is picky about with whom he works.
"I've been to Portland to visit Nike. I think technical shoes look great in the gym, but they are too limiting for me in my mind, even if I love sneakers," he concedes, munching on his pizza margherita.
He commutes to work on a Vespa in Paris, and shares his life between southern Portugal and Egypt where he owns a home. Notoriously litigious, he has sued everyone from Zara to Saint Laurent and served multiple digital millennium copyright notices against Google to remove sites selling fake versions of his goods. One does not mess with Christian.
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