“Look, it’s Christian!” squeals a member of our press group from the red tram, pointing to the king of the red sole, dressed casually, inconspicuous under a panama hat. He could easily be mistaken for tourist, blending into the crowd with an ice lolly in hand. He doesn’t see us, but a surprise glimpse of the legend has just made the tour even more eventful. He’s the reason we’re here after all, 25 journalists flown from all around the globe to glorious Lisbon for his highly anticipated fragrance first.
The iconic tram, protagonist of many a Lisbon postcard, is filled with editors and Christian Louboutin Pr reps, all appropriately soled and toting fierce studded handbags. As we traverse the classic route through cobble stone streets, our private trolley stops to let on a beautiful girl in a chiffon green dress, who air kisses the driver before flouncing to the back of the gondola, hopping off minutes later before disappearing into the crowd, her basket and red soles a blur – hang on a minute…
It’s the first of many coincidences. At the charming Casa Do Leao famed for its breathtaking view of the Alfama, and one of Louboutin’s favourite lunch spots, a devastatingly attractive couple quarrel heatedly in front of the restaurant window. It looks like a scene from a black and white film, the woman’s coiffed mane and vampy red lips looking a little too polished. That evening at the Palácio Belmonte cocktail party, a statuesque siren draped in an embellished kaftan makes her way through the crowd, striking enough to turn heads and bring conversation to a complete standstill as she slinks onto the terrace.
We discover the next day that they are actors – each embodying a different kind of woman in Louboutin’s imagination. And the distinct personality of each has been expressed through the collection of fragrances. We arrive at the magnificent Palace of the marquesses of Fronteira Villa, owned by a close friend of his, and each of them appears again in a sprawling manicured garden, staying in character all the while.
Heart and Sole
The intricate plot sheds some insight into Louboutin’s commitment to storytelling, and how no expense has been spared to make this seemingly straightforward product reveal an epic mystery. Bikini Questa Sera is the raven-haired goddess from the party who chases the heat of the sun on her skin; Tornade Blonde the energetic girl who disappeared as quickly as she appeared in a haze of excitement, and Trouble in Heaven the self-assured girlfriend who owns her power and sensuality.
The thought of debuting with just one fragrance debut was simply not an option. “I cannot limit myself to one person, so why should I limit myself to one scent? In the morning you may feel one way, and in the afternoon, another. One person is many people.” In the same way Louboutin creates personas through his shoes, he wants fragrance to be another tool with which women create their own destiny, through man-made beauty, a topic which fascinates him.
“In everything i do, it starts with an attitude. Shoes are not just a pair of shoes. It’s the way we walk. A bag animates the upper body and shoulders. With fragrance it’s a very strong evocation or suggestion.” One of his most memorable anecdotes to bring this to life was while waiting for the elevator in New York. As the doors opened, he caught a whiff of a heady fragrance he was certain belonged to someone overly sexual; he pictured an Asian woman with a thick mane of glossy black hair. When he waited to see whom the aroma belonged to – margaret thatcher emerged. “It was shocking and not what i was expecting, so it’s a side of a person you don’t necessarily know.”
An element of surprise often defines Louboutin’s work, with his edgy beauty offerings no exception. the celebrated red sole of his shoes was inspired by watching an assistant painting her nails in his workshop. Transfixed by the bold red shade, he took the polish and began painting the underside of a pair of heels – a spontaneous decision which changed his career forever. “When entering a vast category like beauty with so much to be done in a beautiful way, I started with a small object which has been so important for me – which is the red. I wanted to be legitimate to my own story.”