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Christian Louboutin Is Taking His Red-Soled Shoes and ‘L’Exhibition[niste]’ Show on the Road. First Stop: Monaco

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Christian Louboutin Is Taking His Red-Soled Shoes and 'L’Exhibition[niste]' Show on the Road. First Stop: Monaco

One July afternoon, Christian Louboutin was doing media interviews in a quiet corner of Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, just hours before unveiling an important chapter of his journey as a shoe designer and an applied artist. Dressed in a flamingo suit for the occasion, Louboutin was about to greet fashion lovers, celebrities, and members of the Monaco royal family who graced the red carpet for the opening of his solo show “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II.”

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It is, essentially, a sequel to the exhibition of his work that took place at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris nearly two years ago. However, this new chapter isn’t a repeat. The designer stated that it is larger in size and ambition and more true to his original vision of the exhibition. It has been recontextualized for use on the French Riviera.

There have been other glamorous shows featuring Louboutin’s iconic red-soled shoes, some 300 of which he has designed over the past three decades, but “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” is much more than a retrospective, the designer said. It is, rather, a show that investigates and maps out Louboutin’s varied influences through a curation of works, while displaying his latest art collaborations as well as pieces on loan from institutions in Monaco.

Installation view of Christian Louboutin’s exhibition “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” at Grimaldi Forum Monaco, July 2022. Photo: Eric Zaragozza. Photo courtesy of Grimaldi Forum and Christian Louboutin.

“We did it the way I really wanted it to be,” Louboutin spoke to Artnet News. The vast space and flexibility offered by Grimaldi Forum, which has long been a major exhibition venue in Monaco, have given Louboutin as well as the show’s curator, Olivier Gabet, director of Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the freedom to redesign the exhibition as they envisioned it, without the constraints they faced when mounting the Paris show.

“Here, there’s no limit of height, no limit of space in general, which is very, very, very nice,” The 59-year old designer said. The exhibition occupies more than 21,000 sq. feet. “We have also been helped by the incredibly nice people of Monaco. The entire Principality opened their doors—to their collections, to the storage of their museums. I’ve been able to [borrow] really great pieces.”

The decision to stage the Monaco exhibition was not made randomly. Paris may be the place Louboutin was raised. He opened his first boutique on Jean-Jacques Rousseau Street in 1991. After learning the craft of shoemaking and shoe design from Charles Jordan and Roger Vivier, Paris is where Louboutin was born.

Christian Louboutin led Prince Albert II of Monaco (far left) and Princess Hanover on a tour of his solo exhibition “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II

Christian Louboutin led Prince Albert II of Monaco (far left) and Princess Hanover on a tour of his solo exhibition “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” at Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Photo: Axel Bastello. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin and Grimaldi Forum.

But it was Monaco that gave him a major career boost: Princess Caroline (now officially Her Royal Highness Princess of Hanover) walked into Louboutin’s Paris boutique just a few months after it opened, bought several pairs of his shoes, and became one of his most loyal customers. The princess’s shoe shopping was revealed by the press, which led buyers from American department stores to go knocking on the doors of Louboutin’s maison.

Naturally, the princess was a special guest at the exhibition’s opening, along with her brother H.S.H. Prince Albert II. “Apart from being a person I regard as one of my fairy godmothers, she has truly become a friend,” Louboutin gave them an individual tour of the exhibition.

It is divided into 14 rooms, each connected thematically and each featuring a unique soundtrack to immerse visitors into the Louboutin world. Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy plays in the first room, with its wall of shoe lasts immersed in red light. And old radio broadcasts accompany a display of some of his earliest designs and sketches, including those preceding his most iconic shoes, which were born in 1992 when the designer took his assistant’s nail polish and painted the sole of a prototype red.

The Nudes series by Christian Louboutin, with leather-clad sculptures by British duo Whitaker & Malem, on show at “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II

The Nudes series by Christian Louboutin, with leather-clad sculptures by British duo Whitaker & Malem, on show at “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” in Monaco. Photo: Eric Zaragozza. Grimaldi Forum and Christian Louboutin.

One room is dedicated to Louboutin’s Nudes series—shoes designed to match skin tones of all types—accompanied by nine leather-clad sculptures by British duo Whitaker & Malem, commissioned by the designer himself. There’s also a “Hall of Treasure” spotlighting Louboutin designs that draw inspiration from around the globe, including the Lady Grès shoe that pays tribute to Madame Grès’s turbans and pleats; styles referencing art from Africa, Oceania, and America; and sculptural pieces (not made for walking) inspired by sea creatures—a nod to the Aquarium at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris, which Louboutin frequented as a child.

Louboutin wanted his audience to see more than his amazing designs. “Okay, we talk about the shoes, but as you see, overall, the exhibition does not feature so many shoes—a lot of the exhibition space is devoted to artists such as Allen Jones and Lisa Reihana,” Gabet agreed. “Christian, as a young guy, was very close to the museum where chapter one [of the exhibition] took place. For him, it’s important to show the power of transformation of art, and the way that museums, and the discovery of art, can change your life.”

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Louboutin dedicated a space to New Zealand artist Reihana, whom he met at the Venice Biennale in 2017, and whom he asked to create a new, monumental digital work titled A Reverie, in which the artist traces the designer’s creative journey.

Allen Jones (left) and Christian Louboutin. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin.

Christian Louboutin (left) and Allen Jones (right). Christian Louboutin.

Meanwhile, the room “All(en) in Wonderland” is the outcome of a discussion that Louboutin had with Jones nearly two years ago, after he invited the British artist to see his Paris show. It features Cover Story II, a new body of work that renders a digital take on Jones’s iconic piece from 2013, projected onto a 36-foot-long screen. It is displayed alongside five of his controversial sculptures, which refer to the female form and their shadow play.

In the “Imaginary Museum,” objects from Louboutin’s personal collection (say, a ca.-200 Egyptian mummy foot case) sit beside items that he and his curatorial team handpicked from local institutions. You’ll find, for example, a blue silk taffeta headdress designed by André Levasseur, on loan from the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. The piece was worn by Josephine Baker, the American-born French singer and dancer who was also a spy for the allies during WWII, while performing Josephine at the Sporting d’Été in Monte-Carlo in 1974. It is how Louboutin first fell in love with feathers.

A headdress designed by André Levasseur, on loan from the collection of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. Courtesy of Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

A headdress designed by André Levasseur, on loan from the collection of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. Courtesy of Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

When the designer first opened his Paris shop, he decorated it with a photograph of chickens, despite a friend’s note of caution. “Her mother said it was an offense to women to have chickens in a shoe store,” Louboutin remembered. Louboutin refused to remove the image. It was only after many years that he realized why he was so attached to it. “To me it was not a representation of women. I liked the chickens because I liked feathers.” He said that they were linked to his passion for showgirls, such as Baker.

André Derain’s 1926 set-design model for Jack in the Box, a one-act ballet by Éric Satie for the Ballets Russes (also from the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco), and Ernst Haeckel’s lithographic plates detailing the study of sea creatures from Monaco’s Musée Océanographique, which Louboutin visited as a child, serve to map the designer’s influences as well.

A Christian Louboutin design inspired by sea creatures, on display at

A Christian Louboutin design inspired by sea creatures, on display at “L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” at Grimaldi Forum Monaco. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

“I’ve always liked fish scales, or fish that are silver,” Louboutin pointed out. “If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t necessarily see or imagine that. But then when you put all the puzzle pieces together, it’s pretty coherent. It was a bit of a shock for me [to see these influences] have been going on for a long time.”

Louboutin could learn more about himself as well as his influences over time as the exhibition travels and is reimagined in new locations. In 2024, it will be staged in China (Shanghai Chengdu, Beijing). It could also be staged in Australia and North America.

Louboutin said he has no interest in parachuting into different destinations and imposing his show—rather, creating future chapters for local contexts is important to him. “I want to take time in each place, actually look around, work with the people there,” He said.

L’Exhibition[iste], Chapter II” The Grimaldi Forum Monaco will host the event until August 28th.

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