On most days, iconic shoe designer Christian Louboutin treats his stupendous success garnered by his signature red soles with impressive magnanimity. But the diminutive French designer saw red, when fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent allegedly stepped on his toes by rolling out its own set of red-bottomed heels last year.
"The trial is still happening… I know in the fight I am David against the Goliath. I know that I am a mosquito that can be hammered… But this is my identity, my signature, my trademark," said Louboutin stressing the word "my" in a chat with tabloid!.
Ironically, the multi-million dollar legal battle over trademark protection is being carried out as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in the sole business.
"It's very unfair because PPR [who owns YSL] owns luxury brands and they should know better. I own a colour in a very specific place and it's a weird thing because they themselves have a specific colour to some of their brands. For instance, Gucci has their red and green ribbon, and I wouldn't take that ribbon and put it in my shoes. Why? Because I have some respect," said Louboutin, whose designs have covered the heels of Hollywood A-listers including Blake Lively, Sarah Jessica Parker and Scarlett Johannsson.
His battle is also a war cry for freedom, a bid to protect his individuality, he adds. As many as four bright red outsoles were a part of the YSL 2011 collection to which Louboutin has sought injunction to stop production.
"Anyone who has a trademark has a trademark. Fighting just proves that people think they have massive amount of money and can spare a few lawyers can just elbow and crush someone. This fight is not only for me," he says.
Ever since he opened his boutique in 1992, his success story is the stuff of legends. Fashion folklore has it that this Parisian school drop-out, born to a cabinet maker and a housewife, led a rather unorthodox life.
Leaving home at 12, internships with the infamous cabaret group Folies Bergere helping backstage dancers and finally swiping his assistant's red nail varnish to add zing to one of his extravagant designs are a part of his colourful, well-documented past..
"I feel I am a role model to many not just for my designs, but also for the fact that I started my own company with the help of my two friends. I became a success story and people relate to that. People come up to me and say that mine is a story of freedom. I am defending all of that in this trial."
But this grim episode has not tainted other aspects of his life. Even today, the 49-year-old designer — whose flamboyant creations have ruled the red carpets, royalty wedding and glitzy parties with incredible consistency — dubs himself as a child on a new adventure.
"Funny, it doesn't seem so long though. Even today, I am still very child-like while designing. It's a bit like Christmas — each of your designs you create is like unravelling your presents. It is the same enthusiasm I have while starting my own collection."
Appetite for life
And his formula to success? A voracious appetite for life.
"If you are not bored by life, and your primary motto is enthusiasm and if you like your friends, family around you, it all translates into your designs. That's what keeps the creativity alive."
His simplistic explanation for his inspirations may be diametrically opposite to his swoon-inducing, sensually-charged flamboyant creations. But in Louboutin's world — it's all about being zen.
"In the last 20 years, did you know I have never had set goals. But not having any set goal was a good thing. When you are too specific on a target it can drain you. Ask me where I will be when I am 60 and I will have no answer to give."
In fact, Louboutin never thought that he would have a world of adoring fans at his feet nor did he think that he would have a full-fledged factory to run. What began as a three-member unit is now a 300-strong shoemaking factory in Italy.
"The only time I feel very responsible — a feeling that I don't particularly like — is when I go to my factory. It has allowed us to produce more designs but it also put me in a position of great responsibility — for the first time you realise that they [his employees] look at you as a person who provides them with work. Like I cannot now go to India and live there for nine months no matter how much I want to."
His commandeering position may not allow him to act on his whims, but he's still game to tour the world as a part of his two-decade reign revelry. At the time of interview in Dubai, Louboutin had just jetted in from Mumbai hobnobbing with the Bollywood brigade led by Hrithik Roshan, his wife Suzzanne Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan. And as he went around spreading his fabulousness, he's armed with a bound book that charts his rise as one of the most influential shoemakers in the world.
"It was a good pretext for me to actually oversee what has happened in 20 years. Fashion industry is a quick industry. You finish with one collection and you start with another. Things just keep rolling … So when the publishing house came to me in Miami and said you have enough to show, I told them it's going to take a long time to sort out the mess. My shoes are everywhere, I don't even know where some of them are. But they said it was perfect timing with 20 year completion," said Louboutin.
He may come across as flaky, but he doesn't take his craft lightly. Just before designing his vertiginous collection, he follows a certain ritual.
"I am right now more structured towards building my collection. I have to isolate myself and I am quite sensitive to the climate. When I design for summer, I go to a hot place and in the winter I have a house in the country. And if it's not cold enough I turn the heater off. In my head it makes sense. Believe me, when you are boiling, it is hard to imagine something lined in fur, it just doesn't work."
Calling his designing process "organic", he said he just lets things flow.
"I cannot draw in the evening because my brain is never completely fluid and imaginative at that time. So I guess, I am spoilt — but in a nice way."
Christian Louboutin on ...
...HIS FIRST SHOE:
"It was the love shoe. It was a flat shoe and when you put the two feet together the writing ‘love' flows from one shoe to the other. I like it because you get to see the full design only when you put the two feet together."
"I love Bollywood. I have seen quite a few of their films like Devdas. And what I love about them is that it has retained the charm of that 1940s classical Hollywood — all that dancing, singing and colour. Look at Shah Rukh Khan — he's an actor but he is able to dance and move just like the American actors in the ‘50s. I absolutely love the entertainment, costume, colour — all great."
...HIS BIGGEST FAN:
"My sister Farida is my biggest inspiration and she's brilliant. There are so many famous and non-famous people wearing my shoes. But the collaboration that I will always remember is the one with Elizabeth Taylor. When I met her she couldn't wear high heels any more — she wanted a lower heel. We worked so well together — she's such a fantastic character."