Regular visitors to the white, boxy Design Museum in Shad Thames will find it transformed for its latest exhibition. A retrospective of the Parisian shoe designer, Christian Louboutin, sees the normally sparse space revamped, with an emphasis on the vamp.
From the arched entrance with a neon-lit “Entree” sign, to black walls and curtains, red velvet sofas, and mirrors, mirrors and more mirrors (all lit with those back-stage bulbs), this is design as theatre. In many ways, this exhibition feels more like one of the V&A’s fashion shows than something at the Design Museum.
“Every woman wants to be a showgirl,” asserts Louboutin, and this showgirl aesthetic permeates the whole exhibition. Even Dita Von Teese gets a look-in, looped in hologram form on a large screen above a bright red (of course) stage, transforming into a glittery stiletto and back again over a sexy soundtrack.
Each section opens up different aspects of Louboutin’s career: his teenage inspirations (he grew up with three sisters); his internship at the Folies Bergère where he drew shoes for the dancers in his breaks; his work as a landscape gardener; his bespoke, made-to-measure work. After the heavy pummelling of so many painful looking shoes, so much black and red, and so many bulbs, there’s a brief respite in a recreation of Mr Louboutin’s Paris atelier, charmingly, creatively disorganised, with weird and wonderful objects from his workroom on loan. Here there’s a nod to the construction process, a reminder that this guy’s a cobbler as well as a showman. Then, in a curtained off section, you can sneak into a dark, black display of Louboutin’s 2007 Fetish collection, all preserved under bell jars, with accompanying photography by David Lynch.
Ever wondered how many different ways can you show off a pair of shoes? You’ll get an idea from this show. They’re back-lit, side-lit, reflected on mirrors, standing in mirrors; they’re in glass jars, on plinths, on swings; solitary, in pairs, in threes; upside down, hanging, reclining, thrust forward on blocks… it’s like being in the world’s weirdest shoe shop, where everyone’s looking, but no one dares try anything on.
There’s pom-poms, sparkles, glitter, feathers, flowers, spikes, frills; there’s something quite mesmerising about the 200-plus shoes on display. Indeed, so much of it is so over-the-top (a mirrored helter-skelter, anyone?), that the most pleasing section is a pared back display called “Shadow Theatre” where you can finally look at the shape of a singular, beautifully made shoe, with an exquisitely proportioned heel. Just don’t ask this Londonista to walk in them.