Shoes are not designed to replace a woman’s identity, but to serve it

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My mother, Irene, was born in Brittany and moved to Paris just after her teenage years. I think of her as a Parisian woman. She was 42 when she had me. 

My mother was hoping for a boy the first time she was pregnant. That’s why I share a similar name to Christiane, my eldest sister. Claudine and Jocelyn are the others. I was the youngest by 12 years and often treated as a little puppet – always affectionately but I was the last to arrive and I was amusing to them.

I loved watching and listening to my sisters growing up. I especially enjoyed watching how their behaviour changed when men were around. Everyone became a different person.

It was no secret to me that women behave in different ways according to whom they are with. Similarly, it has always made me laugh that men, when talking in a crude way about women, don’t think or realise that women actually do the same about them.

As teenage girls, my sisters were always talking about boys and dieting, or were focused on their look. Seeing them in the bedroom gossiping and talking about the opposite sex, I very much felt like I was watching a play.

They weren’t so protective of me. They were always there but had their own concerns with guys – typical girl troubles. When they were in their twenties I was still a child. They were very sweet to me.

My mother loved music and had been a promising pianist when she was younger, but she gave it up once she married my father, Roger, a cabinet maker. There was probably a little part of her that was a frustrated musician.

I left home when I was 12 to live with a friend on Paris’s Rue de la Verrerie. I was a free spirit and I wanted to hang out with the artists, but I always had one foot in my parents’ house.

My mother raised four kids as well as another “sister” I brought home when I was a teenager, a runaway called Farida Khelfa – she became a world-renowned model. My mother welcomed her into our home from the first day.

Farida’s femininity, strength and fragility – all combined in a very animated way – stood out to me. When we first met she was 16, but in many ways she was already a woman. I always loved her mature nature, as well as the fragility hidden within her strong character. I admired Farida’s decision to take charge of her life at an early age.

As a teenager, I would go out and come home at different hours of the night. If it was the weekend, and my father was away, my mother would give my friends and me her bed, no matter who I was with – guys or girls.

When we woke up in the morning, all of our clothes would be washed and dried and she would have breakfast ready for us. I always remember people coming over for the first time, and being completely shocked that someone could be so warm and welcoming, especially about giving up her own bed. But to my mother, since her bed was the biggest it just made the most sense.

The best piece of advice I ever received was from my mother. She would always say, “If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge. If you don’t want to be criticised by people, don’t criticise them.” She was a free spirit and incredibly encouraging.

Being non-judgmental was completely natural to my mother. My godmother was from Haiti, even though during the 1960s France was very segregated and friendships between races were very rare. My mother was not trying to be nice; she was not trying to be good. She just was good. She died a year before I launched my business in 1997.

Women have always been a great inspiration to me – performers and dancers in particular. At about the same time that I started spending time at the [cabaret music hall] Folies Bergère, aged 12 or 13, I began drawing shoes. It never occurred to me that I could make a career of it. When I was around 16, someone gave me a book on the French shoe designer Roger Vivier. I was amazed to discover that I could actually make a living designing shoes!

I met Elizabeth Taylor in the late ’90s and she was every inch what I expected a glamorous Hollywood icon to be. She was incredibly elegant and very warm. I have fond memories of her; she was larger than life and vivacious in character.

Women want to inhale their femininity when they wear shoes. They want something that can make a big, flirtatious impact, but sometimes women want shoes that make them disappear by making the shoe the focus point. When I design shoes I want to make women feel super-attractive. They are not designed to replace their identity but to serve it.

Christian Louboutin’s sneakers for men are now available in Australian boutiques.

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