by Dilshad Aliyarli
There are probably few well-known fashion designers who could easily locate Azerbaijan on the map, and then probably because they hope to find a new market in this oil and gas rich post-Soviet country. But there is certainly one world class designer who became interested in Azerbaijan for a different reason. French shoe designer, Christian Louboutin decided to travel to Azerbaijan to see the land where east meets west, to find out about its culture. He was under the influence of a book about Kurban Said, the mysterious author of the early 20th century novel ‘Ali and Nino’.
People in Baku have a special attachment to this book and its author, and a special interest in people who are familiar with the novel. I am not wrong in saying that Kurban Said brought me and Mr.Louboutin together in Virginia during a personal appearance by the latter at a leading department store in the USA. I had read an article on the Internet about how, after reading ‘The Orientalist’, a book written by American journalist Tom Reiss, he had decided to visit Azerbaijan. I checked his website, but I was unable to find any information about when he had made the trip, whom he had met and whether he had plans to open a store in Baku.
For the rest of the world Christian Louboutin is a shoe maker, the king of luxury shoes, whose signature red soles are his trademark. The creator of The Most Prestigious shoes for three years was inspired by the showgirls at Paris nightclubs. One more detail -- he writes his signature on the soles of his shoes. That´s a fact. There was a long line of ladies of all ages waiting for Louboutin to sign shoes, and shoes were everywhere when I entered the press room. But behind the shoes there was an interesting man, a master, a person with soul and with great imagination. I introduced myself, saying I was from Azerbaijan, and Mr. Louboutin replied, "How nice, you know I have been to Azerbaijan." "Such a welcome!" I thought and said: "I know. That´s why I am here to talk to you about Azerbaijan." Mr. Louboutin invited me to sit down and we started to talk.
D.A How did you find that book? Not many people are interested in that kind of literature these days.
C.L It is a very interesting book, a very good book. It is one of the reasons I travelled to Baku and Azerbaijan.
D.A Yes, I know. How did you hear about it?
C.L I love books. There was a nice cover. It was of Kurban Said sitting in his double breasted jacket and fez. Looking at it, I thought it was a nice picture. And then I looked at the back and read the story of a man who was a writer and was actually Kurban Said, but who was also Mr. Nussimbaum. And I also have a passion for that part of the world, the Caucasus. You know the textiles are wonderful, there are a lot of beautiful things in the Caucasus region. So I thought, “Perfect!” and I bought the book. And when I read it I was completely transported.
D.A Where have you been, besides Baku?
C.L I have been to Lebanon and then I travelled to Syria, and from Syria I was planning to go to Georgia by way of Istanbul. But then war broke out in Georgia and I couldn´t go. So I ended up staying in Syria.
D.A How did you like Azerbaijan and Baku?
C.L To me this is a country and a city with a lot of charm. It was very musical for me. What I could see immediately was a taste for music. There is something quite nostalgic, very beautiful and very musical. To me it was almost like being on the stage of an opera. It is a very musical country. You just feel the soul; there is a very romantic soul in Azerbaijan. It is a nice country, the people are nice. It is a Muslim country and it is very sweet.
D.A Do you have plans to open a store in Azerbaijan?
C.L I have been intending to do that because my partner in Russia is Azerbaijani. So I will be looking into that. But it is a little bit early. A little bit early for me too, because my production levels are not so high. Strange enough. So I concentrate on my work and I cannot open a store everywhere. Especially since when I open a store I have to go there, to be there. It is in my mind, but it is early. I am thinking of opening in perhaps 2012.
D.A How many stores do you have in the former Soviet Union?
C.L I have two stores in Moscow.
D.A It is really very interesting to see how books can influence your life and style. I mean the "Orientalist". Do you feel connected with the rest of the world?
C.L I feel totally connected with the world. That´s a very important thing for me in my work and for my freedom. I never judge. I never judge a country, or anything which has a reality I have never seen in my life, even if I have seen and didn´t understand it. I just do not understand that people can take so many responsibilities for things they have no idea about. You need to travel, you need to understand that your reality is not everybody´s reality. And that there are many other realities and there is not only one true thing. That´s why I think you should travel, because it is an important, mind-opening venture.
D.A How is fashion different in the 21 century? How do you feel this difference? What does it mean for you as a designer?
C.L You know fashion is different for many reasons. There is more freedom, people feel more free. But there are other reasons. The modern world, and the weather’s impact on fashion has changed it. I am talking about shoes specifically. In fact, talking about shoes - before it was something like, you had boots in the winter and sandals in the summer. But now you can have sandals in winter too, because you can walk pretty much anywhere and you pass from heated space to heated space. Because of that, fashion has changed. For example, I like tweed suits for men. But where can I wear tweed suits, apart from in an unheated English castle? You would be boiling in that type of thing. As much as I love thick tweed, there is no place for such things anymore, because life has changed more than fashion. You know fashion has changed according to what has happened to peoples’ lives. So modern life has transformed fashion.
D.A What gives you inspiration?
C.L Everything. Your eyes and your brain need to be open to whatever happens. I am always open and if you are open it benefits your design.
Here I am looking around and there are shoes everywhere, high-heeled, red- soled Louboutins. "Incredible!" is the only thing I have in my mind. And the next question is ready.
D.A Why do you think your shoes are very special, incredibly special?
C.L You know, when you give your heart and soul to something, it is worth it. I think what women see is that I respect women, I love women. My job is not to be a shoe designer, but it is about celebrating women. If I have to choose between a woman looking good, or the design looking good rather than the woman, I am always on the side of the woman, meaning I would kill the design if it does not fit properly. I think that is what people see.
D.A You started by making shoes for French women, who are considered very charming and elegant. But then your shoes became popular with other women. Who inspired you, who were those French women?
C.L Of course, I didn´t necessarily, or particularly, have just one person in mind. I was born in France. I was born and raised in Paris. Of course I met a lot of Parisian women and was inspired by them.
D.A Is there any woman in history that you would love to make shoes for?
C.L Of course, there are two women very inspiring in terms of shoes and they are completely opposite. One is Marilyn Monroe, because she had a walking attitude. She moved too much and played with her shoes. There are iconic pictures of her. And the other, because she was very elegant, is a different matter. It is not about her walking, but about her style. She is Marlene Dietrich. She was very picky about her shoes too.
D.A Louboutin shoes are universal, and Paris is somehow universal. Universal in terms of fashion, elegance and beauty. How do you feel about that?
C.L I cannot feel anything greater than that. Of course, I feel great about it.
D.A Do you feel satisfied with what you do, or do you think you can do more for fashion, to feel a sense of accomplishment?
C.L I think when you realize that you have achieved what you want to achieve, that is the end. For me that would be sad. I am too full of enthusiasm to think about what I have achieved. I think that things are in front of me, not behind. I am happy with what I have done, but I am also happy to keep going forward.
D.A How do you think women will look in the future? What kind of women will continue to wear your shoes?
C.L I do not know. It will depend on their personality.
D.A What makes you very happy in your life?
C.L To be free. To be independent. To be a free spirit, let us say.
We ended the conversation; I was surprised that Mr.Louboutin had been so generous in granting me a lengthy interview. He kindly agreed to take a picture and continued to chat after I had presented him with a copy of "Ali and Nino". He took the book and read the title aloud, "Ali and Nino. I will read it. This will be an interesting read."