When I found out Christian Louboutin, one of the greatest shoe designers in the world known for his sammy red soles, visited Pakistan in April this year, it stirred nostalgia for the country I was born and raised in. While he’s no stranger to South Asia with his frequent travels to India, this was his first trip to Pakistan. He visited the city of Lahore and capital Islamabad, witnessing some of their design and art treasures – visual marvels the country isn’t given enough credit for.
Brimming with natural beauty and beloved for their cultural offerings, their pull is hard to resist. I remember driving past the luscious greenery that dots the famous Lahore Canal and Islamabad’s iconic Shah Faisal Mosque by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, located at the foot of the verdant Margalla Hills that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad
“I think Pakistan has amazing places that are full of inspiration as it’s on the valley of Gandhara, and I love Gandhara statues,” Louboutin says about the ancient kingdom that existed centuries ago in what’s now partly northern Pakistan. He was invited for a dinner hosted by Pakistan’s Foundation Art Divvy, a platform that promotes contemporary Pakistani art, to celebrate the exhibition Two Wings to Fly, Not One by husband-wife miniature artist duo Imran Qureshi (a dear friend of Louboutin) and Aisha Khalid. “Two of my favourite artists from South Asia are Imran and his wife Aisha who had a fantastic exhibit in Islamabad,” he shares.
Louboutin meets artisans in the Walled City of Lahore. Photography by Ritu Upadhyay
Louboutin visited the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad to view the show by Qureshi and Khalid, which is named after a verse by Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. “My artworks often have titles by Rumi as I’m inspired by Sufi concepts, poetry and spirituality,” says Khalid. “My inspirations come from my life, and in terms of material, from my love for textile and pattern.” The exhibition showcased about 60 works including sculptures, installations, videos and miniature paintings exquisitely created on Wasli paper. “My visual vocabulary is driven by Islamic art, particularly geometric patterns,” she shares.
Aisha Khalid. At the Circles Centre. 2016. Gouache on Wasli paper
Louboutin also interacted with students of Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA), a noted public art school in Pakistan. “It’s the best thing I’ve seen in South Asia,” Louboutin says about the NCA. “The school is an amazing space for new artists in Pakistan. They focus on miniature traditional paintings as well as modern techniques,” he explains.
Lahore and Islamabad are contrastingly unique in design and form; where Lahore is the poster child of traditional Islamic, Mughal and British colonial architecture, Islamabad is laid out as a modern urbanscape. Lahore’s heritage buildings such as mosques, forts and havelis boast intricate inlay work, kasha-kari tile mosaics and brick structures, and Islamabad offers contemporary design, its axial roads and grid-iron plan are set against naturally lush greenery.
Filigree walls inside Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore. Getty Images
Louboutin experienced a few such visual treats in the Walled City of Lahore (Old Lahore), one of the most famous examples of Mughal architecture, where he visited the remarkable Wazir Khan Mosque and Lahore Fort. The area was fortified by Mughal emperor Akbar starting 1556, with 5 of its original 13 gates still intact. Known for its bustling bazaars and narrow streets lined with heritage buildings, Old Lahore is a melting pot of various cultures and religions. These buildings include temples, gurdwaras and mosques, a spectacular sight in a country often criticised for religious intolerance.
An exterior view of Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore. Getty Images
Louboutin’s deliciously decadent shoes, make-up and leather goods are heavily influenced by his travels, so I wondered how he would draw on his visit to Pakistan. “What I bring back to the collection in terms of inspiration is motifs and textiles, as they are often fantastic and super interesting. You can find old motifs in any museum – the Lahore Museum has a collection of miniatures that are incredible,” he says. “The country has a history of small motifs and small paintings, and when I design shoes, my own canvas is very small. It’s about making things that are very detailed and very rich on such a small space.”
Detail of Pakistani truck art, a popular form of folk art in the country. Getty Images
When Lahoris say “Lahore is Lahore,” they say it for a reason. The local food is rich, vibrant and fragrant with spices – Louboutin relished Lahori dishes at Andaaz, his favourite restaurant from the trip. He dined on the rooftop of the converted 19th century building in the Walled City, taking in breathtaking views of Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort. Louboutin’s trip to Pakistan lifts the curtain on a country often misunderstood.
Domes of Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. Getty Images