“When I visited Bhutan for the first time, I started by exploring its unique nature, its mountains,” says Christian Louboutin, as he describes his first experience in Bhutan, a place he dreamed of visiting since the age of 16.
“The second time, I settled in the capital and explored the cities. I wanted to meet the locals and get to know their culture, their way of life, their traditions. That’s when I discovered the Royal School of the 13 Royal Crafts of Bhutan,” he says as he begins to describe the inspiration and handiwork of his newest capsule collection, LouBhoutan.
Unveiled in Dubai recently, the capsule collection comprises 13 exclusive styles was displayed at the Leila Heller Gallery in Alserkal Avenue for a private viewing. The place itself was transformed to take viewers on an immersive journey into the heart of Thimphou, Bhutan, where the creation of the collection took place at the School of the 13 Royal and Crafts.
“I met the students and the principal of the school and we got along very well,” recalls Christian of his first encounter with the aspiring students. “From there, I came up with the idea of having the students sketch to see what their skills could offer in terms of sculpture or embroidery on shoes.” After several visits back and forth to meet the students, the king of soles explained the entire manufacturing process to the students and began to vet their initial sketches. “I showed them various forms of shoes and patterns and outlined the manufacturing steps.
From that point on, I asked them to unleash their creativity and take pleasure in sketching. I believe that people give their best when they are completely free. I saw a lot of drawings that I liked and my capsule idea started to come together.” It was from this point that the capsule collection began to harmonise into a striking reality: each piece unique in its appearance, form, structure and embellishments.
Offering the students a complete carte blanche, Louboutin wanted to give them a chance to express their own creativity or desires, where each shoe features not just painting and embroidery, but also handmade platforms sculpted to perfection on wood and then delicately beautified with colour gradation along the height of the platform. The upper part of the shoes have all been made in Italy or India and are a tribute to Louboutin’s creative universe, while the culture and savoir faire of the students create the perfect balance between both worlds.
Inspired by nature, arts, colours and traditional iconography, the handcrafting of each piece includes varying irregularities representing the handiwork of the Bhutanese craftsmen who spent six long years perfecting every detail.
Each of the 13 pieces showcase traditional Bhutanese art in the form of arabesques, clouds or symbols of Buddhist culture like the lotus flower. Like true works of art, each piece is named after the majestic beauty of the land or the royal figures who inspired it such as Thimphu Queen (refers to Her Majesty Jetsun), Punakha Hills, Bhoutan Beauty or Fairy Garden.
“The names of the shoes are very precise for each collection,” says Christian. “For example, there’s the Bhoutan Beauty which became So Jetsun because it was His Majesty’s favourite shoe. There’s one called Himaya, a word that we found very beautiful because it refers to the Himalayas but in a shorter form. We decided that Bhutan should be written the French way. There is also the River of Paro. It sounded like a nod to Paris which I liked.” He adds, “I don’t like naming something that might be doomed to disappear. Until the shoe is prototyped, I don’t name it.”
Out of the 13 exclusive styles in the collection, only eight were presented in Dubai - which is one of the six cities in the world to house the collection alongside London, New York, Paris and New Delhi. “The shoes I prefer are those that mix different techniques,” says Christian. “The Beauty of Heaven is a platform sandal embellished with sculpted clouds and has a gradient that goes from turquoise to sky blue.
The shoe is beautiful from every angle.” Fascinated by the heavenly aspect of the Himalayas and the local flowers, the exquisite collection is a testament to Christian’s love for nature and the kingdom of Bhutan, along with its rich history and culture. These details have been intricately captured in each piece within the collection and stand as symbol of his love for the arts that speak no particular language and yet connects the world on one common platform of captivating cultural aesthetics.
Available for purchase at the Mall of the Emirates, the eight shoes in Dubai are; Himalayan Flowers, Beaute du Ciel, Fairy Garden, Thimpu Queen, River of Paro, Punakha Hills, Bhoutan Beauty and Tsipatra along with only five bags from the 32 created as part of this collection.
Images courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery and Christian Louboutin
From the Winter 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art