Ever since Christian Louboutin created his first collection, there has been a magical, otherworldly quality to his designs. From his innovative use of fabrications to his iconic red sole, Louboutin has cultivated a distinctly unique vision for his brand—one that has garnered global acclaim from the world’s most avid fashion lovers.
Often channeling references both personal and provocative, each collection feels at once fresh and new, but distinctly Louboutin. Now, however, after the culmination of more than six years of work, Louboutin is on the cusp of his most exciting project yet. This fall, he will release LouBhoutan, a 13-piece limited-edition capsule collection in partnership with artisans of the Royal Academy of Bhutan. The collaboration is a first of its kind for the designer, with work being done outside of the iconic house’s own workshops.
All 13 styles will feature wood platforms and heels hand-sculpted by craftsmen from Bhutan, making each shoe unique. On the decision to work with the Bhutanese artisans, Louboutin says: “The Bhutanese are real virtuosos when it comes to working with wood. It is a multi-century-old practice, almost a habit. You can see the ease with which they manipulate it, following the direction of the veins to turn it into a beautiful sculpture.”
With pieces being sold exclusively in select stores globally is sure to be an iconic collector’s piece from the brand. Sitting down with the master himself, we chatted about his love of travel and so much more.
When did you first discover your fascination with and love for Bhutan?
It is a place I’ve always wanted to go to since I was young. I have always thought of it as an extraordinary kingdom, hidden at the heart of the Himalayas, open and inaccessible at the same time, like something straight out of a fairy tale. For more than 25 years, the idea of going to Bhutan stayed with me before I was finally able to visit.
What inspired you to create a collection around the country and to collaborate with the local craftsmen?
Just as I like to rewatch films I love, it’s in my nature to go back to the places I have visited, to deepen my knowledge and discover what I may have missed during prior explorations. When I first visited Bhutan, I discovered its unique geography and stunning mountains. The next time, I examined its cities to get to know the culture, its people, and their traditions.
Then, some friends of mine introduced me to the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, where the 13 royal crafts of Bhutan are taught. I was amazed by the expertise and savoir faire of students there. When I first started working with them, there was no idea for a capsule in mind. But over multiple visits, during which we discussed creativity, techniques, and patterns, I naturally suggested they create some wood bases inspired by their historical craftsmanship, and I would work on the upper portions of the footwear, translating their works through the lens of my creative spectrum. The project began in 2013 and was completed in 2019. It took us six years to make the shoes.
Can you walk us through the design process of taking such a historic cultural art reference and transitioning that into the creation of the collection?
The craftsmanship in Bhutan is exceptional and very particular. The artisans have an extreme sense of color, and their architecture and artistry are very joyful. The Bhutanese are an astonishing people, rooted in very secular traditions but with an intelligent and modern gaze of the world around them. The first thing I did when meeting with the students was to bring them shoes, because building footwear is a complex thing. It’s essential to have it in front of you to understand the design and fit; drawings feel very two-dimensional. So I showed them various forms of shoes and patterns and outlined the manufacturing steps. From that point on, all I asked was that they unleash their creativity and take pleasure in sketching. I believe that people give their best when they are completely free.
Can you share a little about the experience of working with the artisans in creating the collection?
I was surprised by the way the students chose colors and the sustainable way they used materials to create their crafts. On one occasion, they showed me some small Chinese scarves: They took the fabric and cut the hems to pull apart the threads, turning them into spools. I’d never seen fabric reverted to its original form before. On my subsequent visits, I would bring fabrics with colors that I liked because I knew that they could be turned back to threads and that from those pieces, something else would be born.
Can you share a couple of your favorite styles from the collection and why?
When designing the collection, I selected a variety of sketches to showcase the personalities of the different artists. It was important to me that the styles were not similar and that they featured different aspects of Bhutanese craftsmanship.
My preferred shoes are the ones that mix different techniques. They are a perfect blend of my work and that of the craftsmen combined. We shared the conception of the collection, from start to finish. The platforms were entirely handmade in Bhutan. The rest of the shoe, embroidery, and assembly was done either in Paris or in Italy by our workshops. The perfect example of this is Beauty of Heaven, which is a platform sandal embellished with sculpted clouds and has a gradient colorway that goes from turquoise to sky blue. The shoe is beautiful from every angle.