Christian Louboutin's Go Great With Sweats — Just Ask Priyanka Chopra
The Great Hunkering of 2020 has yielded some interesting fashion takes. There has been a palpable urge not to give in to all soft clothes all the time — on Twitter, writerRachel Syme (of the New Yorker and InStyle.com) advocates for a Sunday dress-up with the zeal of a politician — but then what? Since we haven’t really been dressing for occasions so much as for trying to reconnect with the outside world, the approach to building a look these days can get a bit itemy. Cocktail capes. Sparkly hats. Feathers. But with sweats.
Like most of us, Priyanka Chopra Jonas has been donning her fair share of casualwear; her ensembles are paired with Louboutins. “They look good with sweatpants!” she said by phone from confinement in Los Angeles, describing the nude patent-leather pumps she has in high, mid, and low heels. “The first time I had ever worn Christian’s shoes was for a shoot. I had just watched Sex and the City, and I was like, ‘These are SJP’s!’ I was really excited about it. If you want to feel a little bit more normal right now, you wear an amazing pair of Louboutins with your sweatshirt, put your hair down, add some red lipstick — and you’re dressed up for dinner.”
If one is going to pull out a fetish-object reminder of the days before the quarantine, shoes by Christian Louboutin make a lot of sense. The toes are the pointiest, the colors the liveliest, the motifs often the least practical. There is an element of service in how Louboutin approaches design. Even in the best of times, everyone needs and deserves happy feet. His work — which now includes shoes, bags, makeup, and fragrance — is there to lift you up. You don’t go into one of his 160-plus boutiques around the world to ponder the meaninglessness of existence. “I think women just want to look good,” he said over tea in his Paris office before the madness hit. “It’s a common drive to want to look good, to want to please yourself. No one wants to look shorter than they are.”
Louboutin, who decamped to his beach house in Portugal to ride out the storm and has been spending his days sketching his next collection, has known Chopra Jonas for a good 15 years. Their friendship led them to collaborate on photo shoots (he cast her in a massive Bollywood production that he did for T Magazine), music videos (he provided the hot pink booties covered in spikes she wore while descending into a pool for “Exotic” in 2013), and, of course, her 2018 wedding extravaganza with Nick Jonas in her homeland of India. The weeklong affair included multiple theme parties and costume changes. “I did some things that held the ankle with a mid heel,” Louboutin explained. “And then for emergencies I added some sets of sandals the color of her skin with gold inside.”
The designer especially values the intimate relationships he has with what he called “survivor women, who can be very strong and very feminine at the same time.” Along with Chopra Jonas, his circle of trust includes names you know — among them, J. Lo, Tina Turner, Diane von Furstenberg, and Dita Von Teese. He admires self-made and uncompromising women, which is not surprising coming from a self-made and uncompromising man.
One of his few professional regrets was telling his client and friend Elizabeth Taylor that a mint green outfit he had custom designed shoes for was “too matchy-matchy.” He recalled, “She looked at me and said, ‘Darling, I’m not afraid of matchy-matchy!’ I felt terrible. I mean, E.T. was the ultimate icon of matchy-matchy. And who am I to give advice to someone who knows herself so well?”
For Von Teese, Louboutin’s red-soled shoes were a gateway. “I’m from a farming town in Michigan and was a shy dishwater blonde, and I decided I would create my own quote, unquote glamorous life,” she said. “I first met Christian at a show for Jade Jagger back when she was designing jewelry for Garrard. Before he started making me custom shoes, I’d take a pair of something from his line, and my costuming partner and I would bedazzle them. We’d send him pictures and say, ‘Look what we did!’”
“I’m obsessed by detail and quality, and Dita is that to the thousandth power,” Louboutin said. “She’s low-maintenance but high-quality. I like people like that.”
In February Louboutin celebrated a milestone with the opening of "L’Exhibition[niste]” at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris. (He helped to renovate the museum, which is around the corner from his childhood apartment.) The exhibition — a career retrospective, conceptual installation, and curated cabinet of curiosities — is set to reopen in July and has been extended to January 2021. “Now it’s a sleeping beauty, frozen in time,” he said.
It includes some of his first designs, like a pair of pumps made out of mackerel skin, and the most outlandish custom creations, such as pointy red satin wedges with lacquered aluminum heels that dip and swirl and curl around themselves like a horn. That pair was made for Angelina Jolie’s press tour for the first Maleficent movie, and the heels were an echo of her character’s headdress. “I went to her house in Silver Lake, and we had lunch,” Louboutin recalled. “She really embraced the fact that it was a tough character who came out of deep pain and betrayal.” He made several pairs of the shoes, some in red, others in white. “For the white ones, Angelina wanted to add one red drop, like blood.”
Louboutin said that his mother (regrettably, no longer alive to witness his latest chapter) was the mold for the future survivor women in his life. His openness — to the world, to adventure, to clients who become collaborators and friends, to the kind of joy that is everywhere in his shoes — came from her.
“She was very solaire,” or sunny, he said. “She danced, she flirted, she giggled. I used to come home on the weekends at all hours when my father would usually be away visiting his own mother, and she’d always open the door. And if there were more than two of us who’d showed up, she’d let us take her bed and she’d sleep in mine, because hers was the biggest one in the house. She always told me, ‘If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge other people.’ So I don’t.”
Such closeness to his mother, his three sisters, and his honorary fourth sister, the model and documentary filmmaker Farida Khelfa, is why he has never been able to imagine one perfect woman or body type. He has internalized them, but not only them. “I have a fragmented character, so there’s a boyfriend, a father, a girl’s best friend, the macho side of a man, the gay side of a man, and the girl,” he said. “When I’m designing, sometimes one speaks more than the others.” The designer, with his serious attitude, rarely wins out. Louboutin is not here to give lessons but to enable something a lot more light-hearted. “I’m totally a guy, but when women meet me, they see no enemy,” he said. “I’m neither an enemy nor a judge. I’m someone to have fun with.”
All shoes throughout, Christian Louboutin. Grooming: Daly Mildrede. portrait photographed by Simon Procter. Shoes photographed by Jennifer Livingstone.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 22.