Attending the Marrakech Film Festival in the unofficial capacity of BFF with the the blonde, French, glamorous festival director, Mélita Toscan du Plantier (after whom he's named a very high-heeled shoe), Christian Louboutin has plenty of his own goings-on to talk about. Among them, his red-soled shoe line turns 20 next year, for which he's painstakingly creating a book. Here, under the Moroccan sun, he borrows my gold-tinted sunglasses (perhaps testing them out for a future line of his own?) and keeps me afoot...
I take it you've been to Marrakech before?
If you're French, going to Marrakech is like going to Miami if you're in New York. It's only three hours away. It's something most French people do from the time they're children. So I've known Marrakech since I was a child. And Mélita, the director of the festival, is a friend of mine. I actually met her at the first Marrakech Film Festival ten years ago. And so for the 10-year anniversary, she told me over and over, "You have to come. You have to come."
Your company marks its 20th anniversary next year. What are you doing to commemorate the milestone?
I'm working on a book. The publisher is Rizzoli. Lately it's been taking up a lot of time. There are a lot of things to put together. There is a foreword, which is actually being written by an American actor [John Malkovich, president of the festival's jury this year]. There's also a lot of photography—all the still lifes, and then the catalogue raisonné, and the editor is writing a lot. And I have a hard time remembering. I mean, I never really look at what I do once it's done. Even with the current season, it's hard remembering because it was designed a year and a half ago. To look at what I was doing in the beginning, it's quite shocking.
What's changed since then?
I've become more minimal, compared to all the ornamenting I was doing before. In the beginning I was always adding things. It was more baroque, with the furs, etc. Now I'm all about strict lines. Also, definitions have changed. For instance, the high-heel shoe. I remember very well doing a shoe that people said was too high. And it was, like, three inches tall, a little shorter than four inches.
And you were used to making six-inch heels for Paris showgirls.
Exactly. Imagine my shock when I did mules and people said they were too tall, which is what people want now.
What's the tallest shoe you've ever created? The ones David Lynch photographed?
No, the tallest shoes I made were photographed for the New York Times on Salma Hayek. The inspiration was Venetian, so it was a big platform, really a wedge, not so arched, all in leather. It was over 30 centimeters, so around 12 inches. It gave her some height. The shoes for David Lynch were super-high, too.
Have you ever worn super-high heels?
Never. Well, twice. I went to a party once where guys had to dress like girls. And another time I was making heels and I was trying to understand the balance, the center of gravity. It was very technical, so I can't say I've worn high heels for the excitement, or to feel like a woman.
Do drag queens flock to you for shoes?
Yes, a lot of Asian drag queens, whose feet are not so big. Drag queens love to be in heels. It's rare to find a drag queen who wants to be in flat shoes.
A man's leg looks very flattering in a high heel. It looks more sinuous...
Except the thigh is still pretty thick.
Well, if you look at some women's legs, like Tina Turner or Serena Williams, they have those very sexy legs and the upper part is big. Most dancers, real dancers, have big upper legs, which I love. I never liked skinny legs.
What's the most important part of shoe design?
For me, the sketching. I sketch everything. It's a long process. I sketch and keep on sketching. I love it. I don't draw very well except for shoes. Shoes I can draw very easily. Ask me to do an apple and I'm unable to do it. And when I'm sketching a new collection, I have to isolate myself. I need time. I can't have phones ringing and people asking me things. Which means I'm never drawing in Paris, but I also have to be in an environment that I know. I'm a pretty curious person. If I'm in a place I don't know, I'm going to want to look around. Marrakech I know very well, so I could draw here. When I'm sketching a summer collection, I go to hot places, principally Egypt, where I have a house. So I stay in the house on the boat in Egypt. When it's a winter collection, I have a house in the country...
Yes. And I also have a house in Portugal. I isolate myself there, too. It always needs to be a place where I feel totally at home.
No house in America?
I lived in America almost 15 years ago. I was in New York for a year, but it didn't work out. I wouldn't be able to live in America now either. It's not easy for me because I keep going back and forth to the factory in Italy. If I were in America, I would be jetlagged all the time.
Of all the exciting moments in your career, what's been the most thrilling? Any standouts?
For me, it was when Monsieur Saint Laurent closed his couture house in 2002. I had already drawn a shoe for him. At the time, Alber Elbaz was doing the ready-to-wear. I thought, well, I don't want to do it for ready-to-wear. I wanted it for couture. So I kept it. I never showed it to Alber. So when I heard that Saint Laurent was stopping, I thought I should design that shoe. It's a beautiful shoe, but definitely only for him. So I sent the shoe to Monsieur. He loved it so much he wanted it for the finale in the last show. He asked me to do different colors and combinations, like black diamonds, patent, etc. Then he wanted to sell it for that one season. They created a label for this very ephemeral moment. It was called Christian Louboutin pour Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture 1962-2002. It's the first and the only time in the history of the house that another name was attached to it. I'm very proud of that.