At first glance, the shoe is difficult to distinguish. At the center of the Treasure Room, where some of the designer’s most extravagant creations converge, stands a traditional Spanish sedan chair, a palanquin carried on the shoulder, usually used for carrying noble or religious effigies during parades. Like everything else in the exhibition, it is beautifully crafted, handcrafted by Spanish coppersmiths and adorned with curtains embroidered in the studio of Indian couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
Flanked by roses in silver urns, softly lit by a row of church candles and ornate candlesticks, a six-foot Christian Louboutin stiletto rises from its silver and gold altar, like a crystal slipper for a gigantic Cinderella. Designed to look like it was carved from a huge clump of rock crystal, it almost glows.
Created by French artist Stéphane Gérard, the sculpture was initially milled from a custom block of acrylic crystal in Germany, before Gérard’s studio added the artist’s signature finish by hand. From its initial mass of three tons, the final statue weighed 700 kg and took over three months to make. As the perfect metaphor for the designer’s art, it reigns over some of the most beautifully bejeweled, feathered and embroidered handmade shoes from the Louboutin archives.
Only one room out of 14, the Treasure Room makes for a breathtaking centerpiece to L’Exhibition[niste] II, a retrospective of Louboutin that also includes his broad sources of inspiration, through art and artifacts from around the world. The exhibition initially opened in 2020 at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris, a favorite children’s destination for young Louboutin, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. It was only open for three weeks, during which time Princess Caroline of Monaco, a long-time client and close friend of the designer, paid a visit and suggested that it reopen bigger and better, in Monaco.
After two years of false starts, the show opened on July 9th at the Grimaldi Forum and has seen over 10,000 visitors in just two weeks. From the first shoe Louboutin ever made—a fish-skin-covered pump created in 1987 while working for Roger Vivier—to a sneak peek of Spring-Summer 2023 with the studded Pumpkin Pump, via the iconic Pigalle, the exhibit is a riot of a journey through his imagination and a fascinating exploration of the art and travels that influenced him along the way.
For Louboutin, the Grimaldi Forum represented a blank canvas, “freedom of design and narration that allowed me to reimagine my own exhibition without any restrictions”. The Forum is across the street from the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, which has loaned several works and is currently on display Newton, Riviera, a wonderful sun-drenched overview of the photographer’s oeuvre. Both artists are fascinated by artifice and in a fine example of intertextuality in the art world, Newton’s True or False – A Murder Scene can be seen, with one of those famous red soles; when he got back to the Forum, Louboutin added the photographer’s photos Big Nude III in the Imaginary Museum, a room full of inspirations and influences that enter into dialogue with the art of the shoe.
Opposite Newton’s big nude, almost in response to this is a 16th-century portrait of a French aristocrat named Louis de Beauvau. “The painting had an immediate effect on me,” Louboutin says, “there’s one thing you see right away, and that’s this man’s legs.” The shapely thighs and the shoes that match his tights elongate the line of the leg so that they appear longer. The designer uses the same technique with his Nudes line, developed in nine leg-lengthening skin tones.
In addition to a feathered headdress worn by Josephine Baker and a foot trunk from an ancient Egyptian mummy, Lunae Lumen Satin Mummy Blue (above) by Dior Haute Joaillerie Creative Director Victoire de Castellane. The serpentine lacquered gold, platinum, emerald and diamond necklace presented on a sandcast silver rock as a art object, was created in 2013 as part of her individual practice as a sculptor. The piece recalls some of the vibrant hues of Louboutin’s gem-encrusted shoes in the preceding rooms.
Co-master of the curved line and the female body, British pop artist Allen Jones plays several pieces, including a new digitization of the metal suit worn by Kate Moss on the cover of Pop magazine in 2013, Allen’s first foray into digital art. His exploration of the female body complements Fetishism, a room at the end of the exhibition created in collaboration with David Lynch to show his photographs of fetish shoes designed by Louboutin.
Louboutin “loves the blending of civilizations when each brings the best of itself to the other” and as a body of work his rich shoe art is just that; a glorious mishmash of widespread influences from art and culture. L’Exhibitioniste II digs deep into the imagination of one of the most recognized designers of the 20th century to prove that great art – be it a painting, a photograph, a dress or a shoe – can never exist in a vacuum.
L’Exhibition[niste] II is at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo, Monaco, until August 28.
Newton, Riviera, is on the Nouveau National Museum of Monaco in Monte Carlo, Monaco, until November 13, alongside Christian Bérard, Eccentric Modernist, a retrospective of a little-known but prolific artist and designer from the early 20th century, until October 16.