Why Christian Louboutin and Sabyasachi team-up is more spikes than saris
Launching in Hong Kong this week, Christian Louboutin’s ultra-limited new shoe collection might use original fabrics from Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s archives, but it still has all his signatures – including the spikes
Christian Louboutin is getting an Indian formal outfit tailored at his Paris flat near the Place Vendome when I walk in for our interview. It is a fitting setting, given we are going to talk about his trip to Hong Kong this week to launch a colourful collaboration with Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee and his label Sabyasachi.
“We first met three and a half years ago by accident when I went to his store in Mumbai,” says the famed French shoe designer. “I knew and loved his work before and I passed by his store and went in to buy some kurta [Indian-style knee-length shirts].”
By sheer luck, Mukherjee happened to be there, even though he is based in his home city of Calcutta. When the pair started to talk, a creative chemistry sparked and they kept in touch. Louboutin even visited Calcutta, where he was charmed by the city’s “romance and remembrance, those almost-creepy old palaces”.
He explains that when he first started talking to Mukherjee it was not about fashion but food, cinema and how Calcutta and Paris have so many things in common. “He then asked me to design shoes for his shows to fit his clothes. This is how it started.”
The new collaboration sees bright tapestry-like fabrics and embroidery-style embellishments adorn strappy knee-high boots, sexy sandals, mules, trainers and lush slip-ons. But despite the bright mix of Indian fabrics all taken from Sabyasachi’s archives, it is more about Christian Louboutin: the shapes, the heels, and yes those signature spikes.
“I’m thinking more in-depth here – it’s inspired by [Mukherjee’s] clothes, but not necessarily meant to be worn with them,” Louboutin says. “Some [of the shoes] are very Indian and Sabyasachi, but then they will have the spikes at the back – it’s something very me. I like to always mix things up.”
The key to the collection is having lavish, colourful shoes that avoid just looking “ethnic”, he adds. “I like that while some pieces from the archives are from 20 years ago and some are from last year, they both look quite contemporary.”
Few in the West might recognise the Sabyasachi brand but in India, Mukherjee is highly respected and extremely popular with the Bollywood set. For Louboutin, the appeal of Mukherjee lay in interesting contrasts: “He can go bright in pink, rose or chartreuse but also earthy or neutral tones. He has a very subtle way with colours.”
Mukherjee’s designs, Louboutin adds admiringly, range from “Mughal to almost tribal” and while he can do work that is rich and lavish, “he’ll then do the most beautiful, simple kurta, in cotton, just block painted”.
Instead of reproducing Sabyasachi’s archive fabrics, Louboutin decided to use the original materials in his collection – meaning some styles are extremely limited.
“It was a different type of challenge to have this limitation,” he says. “Sometimes I had just one metre of fabric so could only make two or three pairs. Other fabrics might have enough for 10 pairs. It was a different way to do things. It made me really travel through the archives.”
This recycling and reincorporating of existing materials give the shoes a sense of unique heritage. Giving new life to something old was also Louboutin’s own “modest little way” of showing that recycling and luxury can go hand in hand.
Louboutin is fond of collaborations – and this is not the first time he has done one with an Indian Bollywood creative, he says. Indian cinema, both Bollywood and classical movies, have been a passion of his since living near a cinema that played Indian films in his youth in Paris. And by the age of 16, he had already made his first trip to the country to visit Madras (now Chennai), the then capital of India’s film industry.
It is Louboutin’s famous fascination with showgirls and performers that fundamentally steered his attention towards Indian design, colour, glamour – and Bollywood: “The songs, dancing and sense of entertainment! I always loved it.”