Art objects, often singular, sometimes in pairs
Curated by and first presented at The Design Museum, London, the exhibition presenting the work of iconic French shoe designer Christian Louboutin is now travelling the world. We had reviewed the show when it was in London; it is now the turn of Ingrid Mida to share her experience while visiting it at the Design Exchange in Toronto. All images included in this article are by and copyright Ingrid Mida.
To step inside the Christian Louboutin exhibit at the Design Exchange feels like what I imagine it would be to enter the cabaret music hall Folies Bergère in Paris. The darkened room is punctuated with mirrors, oversize light bulbs, a fairground-like carousel, a giant spinning top, and other theatrical backdrops for an exhibition of more than 250 shoes from the private collection of shoe designer Christian Louboutin. It is an immersive spectacle celebrating the most outrageous and fanciful shoes created by the designer who first used red nail polish to make the glossy red soles that mark his iconic and highly ornamental footwear.
Curated by Donna Loveday with the cooperation of Christian Louboutin, this exhibition originated at the London Design Museum in 2012 and brought in record crowds to the museum. Now a travelling exhibition, Toronto is the site of the first stop in North America.
At the Design Exchange, the main exhibition room features Christian Louboutin shoes and boots displayed like art objects, often singular, but sometimes in pairs. Each is labeled with the name of the shoe such as Kryptonite, Olga or Mort en Venise as well as the year of production. This room also includes the centerpiece of the exhibition — a hologram that appears on the half hour featuring the transformation of an iconic red-soled Christian Louboutin heel into the burlesque artist Dita von Teese. Adjacent displays include: “The Life and Times of Christian Louboutin” with photos and highlights of the designer’s life; a recreation of the designer’s atelier including sketches, coloured pencils, postcards, and other ephemera; a small theatre showing a loop of three fashion films including “The Christian Louboutin Story: A Fashion Fairytale”, “Christian Louboutin Dancer in a Daydream”, and “The Loubi’s Angels”. A small back room lays out the steps in the creation of the shoe from the colored sketch to the attaching and nailing of the heel. This exhibition makes explicit connections between high-heeled shoes and sex, especially in a side room (marked with warnings as to the adult content) called “Fetish”, where shoe-like sculptures are displayed under bell jars adjacent to photographs by David Lynch (from their collaborative exhibit “Fetish” at Galerie du Passage in Paris). It is clear that Louboutin is a designer who creates with “a naked woman in mind”.
I like pretty shoes, but do not own a pair of Christian Louboutin’s, nor have I ever worn more than a 3-inch heel. I cannot fathom paying extravagant sums for shoes that are impossible to walk in and painful to wear. Having been to several other shoe exhibitions this year including the Shoe Obsession exhibition at FIT Museum, I wasn’t particularly excited about this retrospective of Christian Louboutin’s work, and much to my surprise, I was completely won over.
The creative spectacle of the exhibition itself is a sensory delight. There is a dose of humour in the design, referencing Louboutin’s time spent in music halls and burlesque shows. And how can one not laugh at the inclusion of one of the trapezes that Louboutin uses to relax during his studio breaks that carries the sign “Do not swing on the trapeze”.
I also gained an appreciation for the depth of talent of this innovative shoe designer who had no formal training. Materials that range from leather to beer cans, heel heights from flats to towering chopines, fanciful decorative elements from spikes to ribbons – such innovation and creativity are hallmarks of an artist who knows no limits.
This exhibition is a dark fantasy of seduction and aesthetic delight. Although the flow of rooms makes some backtracking necessary and feels a little bit like a backwards path of discovery, the experience is simply unforgettable.
The Design Exchange,
234 Bay street,
Until September 15, 2013
All images by Ingrid Mida
Written by Ingrid Mida
Ingrid Mida is the Collection Co-ordinator of the Fashion Research Centre at the Ryerson University School of Fashion where she is responsible for the curatorial and management duties related to the research collection. As well, she is a freelance fashion writer, focusing on fashion in the museum. Since 2008, she has written a scholarly blog called Fashion is my Muse, where she also explores the intersection of fashion with art, history, books, creativity, theory and life. As well, Ingrid works as a freelance artist and curator, creating artwork and installations related to fashion, and has had her photographs and illustrations included in several newspapers and magazines. Ingrid is currently working on a book for Bloomsbury Fashion called “The Dress Detective: The Practical Guide to Object-based research in Fashion” for release in Fall 2015.
Ryerson University School of Fashion
350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3