The Red Soul of Christian Louboutin

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The New Yorker profiles Christian Louboutin but not the shoe.

So what’s the story with the red sole? In 1993 he had designed a pink shoe with a black sole, thought something was missing. He took the nail polish away from his assistant and painted the sole.

Does the red sole change our relationship to the shoe?  What does the same shoe with a black sole lack?

The red serves several purposes. It is, of course, a distinctive marker, a brand, “that renders an otherwise indistinguishable product instantly recognizable.”

It is an explicit gift to men, a peek, a signal.  A woman who wears the show [sic] is telling people she’s taking auditions, and though it’s unlikely she’ll pick you, you’re a fool if you don’t do a cold read. Louboutin said, “this red sole was a bit of a green light.”

It is a gift to the women.  “The red soles offer the pleasure of secret knowledge to their wearer,”  i.e. lingerie.

They also scuff easily, which serves Louboutin just fine but is itself a code: either you save them for special occasions– hence signaling to others that it is a special occasion– or you replace them often, which signals that you can replace them often, which means you can replace the men as well.

That Louboutin shoes are stiff and uncomfortable is part of the appeal. Louboutin hates the word “comfy.” “You’re abandoning a lot of ideas when you are too into comfort.” But the discomfort is a small price for your body being forced erect, elongated, calves and butt up.  And just as importantly the woman knows that, feels the artificiality of it.   It is making me sexier.  Louboutin, in fact, is uninterested in the shoe as a walking device:

There is a certain height where you just can’t walk with them. But, you know, you can do other things,” he says, not elaborating. “Some shoes are very, very, very high, so they might not be dedicated to walk[ing], but so what.

So what, indeed, she’s not supposed to walk in them, she’s supposed to be seen in them.  She has no interest in going anywhere there’s no chance someone might not want to carry her in his arms.

Interestingly, Louboutin hasn’t ever run an ad campaign until 2009, when he ran a series of campaigns showing the shoe as art:

Spring/Summer 2009

Fall/Winter 2010/2011

which is the only way to advertise it.  But whose shoes are these? Do they belong to a real person?  Does the painting reveal their use?  No, and it couldn’t.  High heels are already sexualized, fetishized, and Louboutins doubly so.   In order for them to remain a code for female sexuality they must remain abstract and unattainable. It’s fine to know that Jennifer Lopez was wearing them, it’s not fine to think of them as the shoe Jennifer Lopez wears.  They’re not her shoes; she’s their model.  Once a fetish becomes linked to an actual identity, it is no longer a fetish.

Just as the sexy nurse fetish survived a whole lot of less-than-sexy nurses, it was killed 0in the 90s by the abrupt appearance of male nurses.  Now, nurses are an S&M fetish.   The Louboutin can be worn by anyone but can’t be thought of as being worn by anyone; if it’s seen on a commoner (or a man), it has to be seen as incongruous– “what’s she doing in those?”

And so, always abstract.  Louboutin even teamed up with Professor of Insanity David Lynch for this NSFW photoshoot aptly titled, “Fetish.”  Or Louboutin’s directorial debut “Psycho-logic,” a Psycho remake has the woman killed(?) in the shower by a cloaked man wielding a spiked heel.  She crawls across the carpet and dies,(?) waking up to heaven– the Hollywood Louboutin boutique.

Does a woman who wears clogs (which Louboutin hates) feel different when she wears the stilettos?  Does she feel under the power of something else?  The shoes are drive, they want what they want.

Freud though the fetish calmed castration anxiety by substituting for the missing penis, but Lacan thought it was more subtle: a substitution for the absence of something.  There is no penis here, announces Kim Kardsahian, but I’m interested. 

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6 Responses to The Red Soul of Christian Louboutin

  1. fireandvice says:

    Does a woman who wears clogs (which Louboutin hates) feel different when she wears the stilettos? Does she feel under the power of something else? The shoes are drive, they want what they want.

    May I make a distinction? It’s not about how she feels when she’s wearing them, because that would be about possessing the shoes, and for the shoes to be drive, they have to possess the wearer. It’s really about what she *thinks* she will feel *if* she gets to wear them. And she knows she can’t really ever have them, because. . . .

    Unfortunately for Louboutin, Hans Christian Andersen already covered the whole “red shoes as powerful/wicked status symbol” theme with the fairy tale The Red Shoes.

    And let’s not forget *The Wizard of Oz.* Stripped to the bones, it’s about some women battling it out over a pair of powerful (red) shoes.

  2. rufibarbatus says:

    Cahiers: There is a great deal of blood in Pierrot.
    Jean-Luc Godard: Not blood, red.

    Cheers.

  3. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    If anything I would assume lou boutins are less sexualized than traditional stilettos, because of the artistry associated with the brand. Just as 50s pin up / burlesque artists are more artistic than penthouse, so is louboutin more artistic when compared to a sex worker’s stilettos. Owning a pair is like owning a piece of art. Many “commoners” do own them, assuming you have the means (it doesn’t take that much, just a few hundred dollars plus an interest in fashion and a pair can be yours). They are certainly out of reach for teens and 20 year old kids from working class backgrounds but it is not at all unreasonable for a woman who has a decent stable employment rocking 40k a year or something. Or a woman with a husband/boyfriend who would buy it as a gift.
    Loubous are certainly sexy, but they are not famous because of their sexiness, they are famous because they are both distinctive and classic. They are so distinctive, no one can mistake them for anything else. If you see a woman wearing loubous even if you know nothing of fashion you most likely can identify the shoe. The stiletto design is associated with classic glamour and sexiness, it’s like you are buying a bit of history, heralding a time where beautiful glamorous women truly were (as opposed to drugged out emaciated tragedy cases like lohan).

    Anyone who wears clogs for non job or athletic reasons should be regarded as a slovenly person, and many individuals are slovenly and unconcerned with their appearances apparently. Although it’s interesting to observe how self image is relevant to situation. My job as a healthcare worker requires clogs, I feel rather cute in the mary jane slip on type, but slovenly in the boxy yetti-foot kind.

    I tend to think nurses have been sexualized because the profession involves women serving people (men) in bed. It’s the bed, and the privacy between nurse and patient, and the request/service aspect of it. The fact that nurses are females (usually) isn’t the primary reason because if it were then teachers and waitresses would be just as sexualized (note: all female professionals are sexualized, but not nearly as much as nurses. “Sexy teacher/sexy waitress ” is not the #1 halloween costume in stores for women… although they do exist they aren’t nearly as popular as the sexy nurse costume). I find that men tend to react differently to you if you are their nurse, as opposed to if you just met them on the outside in a store or what not. The environment encourages sexual projection, given that they are half naked in bed and you are asking them questions like “how can I help you today?”. Find me another type of profession where this occurs other than prostitution or porn? Oh wait, many pornos feature nurse/patient scenarios. NM.

    What changed the image of nursing was a combo of feminism + the professionalism of it. Now you go to college to be a nurse and there are a lot of foreign nurses and male nurses too, and a lot of older women who go into nursing. A few decades ago, a bunch of little white highschool and college girls would become candy stripers and then stay away at dormitory for a few years where they would learn them how to be nurses. Also, back in the day nursing was a lot less intellectually demanding, you sorta made beds, took temps, and did more comfort care.

    That doesn’t happen anymore. The men are just a small part of why nurses are no longer sexy. Any nursing class features overwhelmingly older students, foreign students with families, male students. Just a handful of young girls now. Not to mention that whole pesky problem of respecting women is socially expected, or at least men are expected to pretend. Only a really old or really unhip / loser/ idiot would just blatantly treat a nurse like a sex object. Nurses don’t really tend to the bedside fluffing pillows and changing linens, they do a lot of the sorts of tasks doctors used to do but it is not longer financially feasible for them to do. Healthcare in general is not personal like it was. It’s a system of many people doing many different tasks. Doctors who made house calls and did everything with a nurse assistant or something… yea that doesn’t exist.

    I think the main reason nurses aren’t sexy anymore is that it is no longer cool for men to admit that they view women as sex objects, so men have gotten used to looking at women as humans who go to work and hold jobs like men do. It makes it more difficult to view a female worker as a faceless sex object. It seems downright strange to sexualize a female just because she is working.

  4. Vigil says:

    Three women go to a bar. One’s wearing comfy flats, one’s got uncomfortable heels of a nameless brand, one’s got Louboutins. They all go out intending to look sexy, confident.

    First woman walks in looking like she owns the world, but as soon as she’s comfortably situated in the bar she forgets and falls back into her usual slouchy habits, autopilot.

    Second woman sits, starts a drink, forgets she’s supposed to be putting on an air of confidence, until she stands up again. The shoes are a forceful reminder that she’s being a sexy woman tonight. It’s not just that they force her calves and ass to be tight and high, it’s that they constantly are shouting “hey, you! Put your shoulders back and chest out, so your upper body matches your feet. Put on your sexy face!” Eventually, though, her feet hurt, and she sticks it out as well as she can, which is maybe very well, or maybe involves a lot of sitting around complaining about her shoes.

    Third woman also endures the constant reminder that she’s supposed to be “on” tonight. The difference is, thinking about her feet also reminds her of the brand, the red (colour of pain) and how worth it it’s supposed to be. Wondering who has noticed the brand of her shoes, the red, the pain, gives her something to think about while she’s being hit on by someone cute but boring.

  5. Vigil says:

    I had never heard of (or taken note of ) Louboutins before reading this post, but today I recognized them on the woman walking down the sidewalk in front of me. Points for recognizable brand image, Louboutin.

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