In Delhi for the launch show of the Sabyasachi-Louboutin collaborative line of handbags and shoes, French shoe designer Christian Louboutin met us in the royal suite of The Imperial hotel. He enjoyed joking around with his friend and co-designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. A fan of Indian cinema, especially “Bengaali” cinema for a long time, Louboutin says he delights in the ideas he shares with Sabyasachi—and these are not limited to spicy chilli chicken rice at an obscure Chinese hotel in Kolkata. Here, he tells us why an economic slowdown is the best time to reflect on a brand and why he has never been interested in “It” bags or “It” shoes. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Do you think the Sabyasachi-Louboutin bags will become ‘It’ bags in India?
It has never been a concern for me to provoke such a reaction from the luxury market or from my customers. I belong to the shoe industry and not so much the leather industry. I have never been a big visionary when it comes to iconic products, but I have to say that an “It” bag is a thing of the season. That’s not the kind of luxury I subscribe to.
How do you describe your design relationship with Sabyasachi?
We are very similar people. I feel I can see the soul of Sabya. Especially when he is questioning himself. We can both close our eyes to search for clarity and emerge with near similar responses. With focus and clarity. We both follow our voice, without which we feel lost. It is a very childish relationship, but we mirror each other in many ways. His Indian work is exceptional in my eyes. And our shoes and handbags are an Indian version of French work, so to say. Both of us own large companies. We are not accustomed to thinking out of our zones. Like me, he is brand-driven before being creativity-driven. His name is his brand, he is the most important representative of his brand, that’s like me. Besides the luxury mass market, we are also interested in a niche market, in a personal market.
What are your personal learnings after meeting Sabyasachi?
After meeting Sabya, I felt there are no boundaries to artistic work. That personal trajectories of designers play a huge role in their work. That nature and nurture may be completely diverse, yet create very similar people. Funnily enough, Sabyasachi and I live different lives, we have had different childhoods, in different cultures, our upbringing, languages, everything has been different. Even so, we are quite alike as human beings. We are street-wise people, survivors I would say.
Are you bored of creating red soles for your footwear?
That’s like saying, I am bored now that my child is 22 years old! No, not at all. It is very much the opposite. I discovered a taste and appreciation for it, and that continues to brew and develop over time. Throw me in a desert, I will somehow survive. I don’t need to make shoes to do that. But in the process of making shoes, no I am not at all bored.
The market for luxury goods has been sluggish in the last few years. How has it affected you?
There are different responses, first of all, to the market for luxury and to mass market luxury. The latter is an important and large part of the luxury business. Having said that, economic slowdowns are very good moments to think, to evaluate. The most incredible innovations happened during the Great Depression, when people employed their time to think and discover. Van Cleef & Arpels, the luxury jewellery brand, for instance, stumbled into their invisible setting design for jewellery during that time. Slowdowns are inevitable; how to use that time is what matters.
Some kind of celebrity fatigue has begun in India. Even Sabyasachi agrees that Bollywood is no longer influential or relevant in the fashion industry. What do you think about this since a number of Hindi cinema actors are your customers and endorsers?
I have never waited for star endorsements. I consider myself a doctor with solutions, not cures. The way I look at celebrities from the entertainment world is that they are people with the largest shopping choice in the world and yet they come to me. I have never had a problem with Hollywood stars approaching me as customers, nor with Bollywood stars. My fascination and involvement with Indian cinema began way back, when I was a kid in Paris in the 1970s, long before the current crop of stars began wearing my shoes. The first Indian film I saw was decades back. It was Mother India. Then, I got to see and appreciate Satyajit Ray’s films. I love the exotic and still enjoy the exoticism that Indian cinema brings. It is a value addition; it helps extricate oneself from the regular. But I am far more interested and intrigued by the work of cinema directors, including Indian film directors, not by celebrities. So the celebrity fatigue you are talking about doesn’t concern me.