Last night I somehow found myself at the VIP opening of the Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Design Museum, rubbing elbows with Bip Ling, Alexa Chung (kidding, they had people to stop the likes of my elbows getting anywhere near Alexa’s) and err…Christian himself. It took about six seconds for me to start feeling underdressed.
There are people who would protest shoes being in an art exhibition. I am not one of these people. The English actor Peter Ustinov once said that “if Botticelli were alive today he’d be working for Vogue.” If you want to go a little more lowbrow (and I always do), The Devil Wears Prada‘s Nigel states in a monologue that “fashion is greater than art because you live your life in it.” (Side note: A good 60% of the men in attendance looked a lot like Stanley Tucci.)
One of the highlights of the exhibit is a 3D burlesque show (like Tupac at Coachella but…more boobs) featuring Dita Von Teese. I tried to take a video, but I have an iPhone 3GS so it looked absolutely terrible. Sorry. For Louboutin, sex and shoes are inextricably tied – ‘What’s sexual in a high heel is the arch of the foot, because it is exactly the position of a woman’s foot when she orgasms…so by putting your foot in a heel, you are putting yourself in a possibly orgasmic situation.’ Whether or not you buy into that philosophy, the fetish section of the exhibition definitely pushes the borders of fashion and, indeed, art.
Something strange happens when you’re around the work of Christian Louboutin. You start to get this feeling that everything you know is wrong – how else can a man who spent his youth sneaking into movie theatres and watching showgirls have created one of the most iconic symbols of recent history (both in fashion and popular culture)? How else can old Guinness cans and fish tails inform design in such a way that it makes women want to part with thousands of pounds? It is, for want of a better word, magical.
Is it a coincidence that Andy Warhol also began his illustrious career in the art world sketching women’s shoes? Maybe. Or is there something inherently artistic about the curve of a shoes? Louboutin himself thinks so – “When I do a shoe, I want a woman to look at how beautiful it looks, not how comfortable it looks.’ The fact that most of us will never be able to be afford a pair of Louboutins makes their appreciation as art even more grimly appropriate. But standing in a room with hundreds of them, it’s difficult to be too sad. A lot of themes appear in that big room – theatre, entertainment, sex; they’re the obvious ones. But there’s much more going on than that – an exposition of the creative process, history, industry, beauty, love. It’s all there – you just have to look for it. For of those of you who are interested in shoes – go and look at the shoes. For those of you who are interested in art – go and look at the art.