The Trail of the Red Soles

In a spectacular new exhibition, Christian Louboutin shines the spotlight on himself and one of Paris’ most underestimated monuments. Mademoiselle Lili is captivated.

The Palais de la Porte Dorée is located on the south-east edge of Paris, next to the Bois de Vincennes city forest. Only a few tourists venture this far and even Parisians are mostly unaware of this grand Art Deco building with luxurious wall reliefs dating back to the 1930s. Constructed as the Colonial Museum, the building now bears the politically correct name of Immigration Museum. Alongside artefacts and artwork from the former French overseas territories, it also contains a large tropical aquarium and now one of this season’s must-see fashion exhibitions. 

Christian Louboutin is probably the most famous shoe designer of our time and shortly before the 30th anniversary of his brand, he has created a monument to himself and the Cinderella of Parisian museums. “The Palais de la Porte Dorée is the key to everything”, he states. As a 10-year-old, he often visited the aquarium with his parents, was fascinated by the ornamental opulence of the reliefs, wall frescos and floor mosaics and dreamt of the faraway countries that they depicted. What really captured his attention, however, was a prohibition sign showing a high-heeled women’s shoe crossed out by a line: “I had never seen a woman wearing such a shoe before”, he explains. Inspired by the drawing, he returned home and started to sketch his first shoes on paper before becoming Roger Vivier’s apprentice and learning the art of shoemaking from scratch. In 1987, he finally created his first mackerel pumps made of fish skin – and photographed them in front of an aquarium in the very location that he has now transformed into a showcase of his life and works. 

With spectacular scenographic features good enough for the silver screen – from a dark hall with illuminated stained glass panels depicting his seven pillars of inspiration (from cinema to dance and right through to travel) and produced by the oldest workshop in Paris especially for the exhibition through to a Bhutanese theatre presenting apparitions of dance and burlesque legends like Blanci Li and Dita van Teese as ghostly 3D holograms or the fetish room inspired by David Lynch – Louboutin has transformed his childhood haunt into his own personal cabinet of curiosities and provided a dramatic stage for his favourite artists and artisans. The exhibition even reveals the secret behind his famous red soles: In 1992, he was working on a pop art collection. When creating the “Pensée” model, he was inspired by Andy Warhol’s “Flowers”. He didn’t like the first prototype in yellow, so grabbed his assistant’s red nail polish to paint the sole red. The rest is history. 

Open until 3rd January 2021,

© Soulier maquereau datant de 1987 devant laquarium tropical du palais de la porte doree basee sur le visuel d'archive de 1988 Christian Louboutin