PARIS, Nov. 18, 2011 -- While few people might recognize his face, his sole is one of the most recognized in the world.
Famous French shoe-designer Christian Louboutin is the man behind the sexy, sky-high, signature red-soled shoes, which have been seen on the feet of superstars including Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johannson and Jennifer Lopez (who has a song about the shoes called "Louboutins"). Even Barbie dolls have their own custom mini-sized Louboutins.
This month, Louboutin celebrates his 20th anniversary with a new self-titled book, published by Rizzoli. It's an ode to his outrageous shoes. His next project -- a line of red-soled shoes for men, is due out next spring.
This 47-year-old sole man, who practices the trapeze and rides around Paris on a bright red Vespa scooter, can often be found at his atelier, where his famed shoes are designed and handmade. He makes no apologies for those sky-high prices either -- Louboutins can sell from $495 and up, with crystal-encrusted pair costing $6,000.
"I would say that a good shoe is exactly like a good wine," Louboutin said. "These shoes are going to stay and last for a long time."
While fashion overrides comfort for Louboutin -- many of his shoes are seven-inch high heels -- the designer says he has a very specific customer in mind when he sketches a shoe.
"It's sort of you know it's a sort of expression. I like my customer to be fierce," he said.
This fashion icon said that his obsession with high-heeled shoes started on a visit to a Paris museum in 1976. While inside, Louboutin said he saw a sign that had a picture of a high-heeled shoe with an X over it, indicating women were not allowed to wear them in the museum.
"It was crossed...like, forbidden, in red," he said. "It was a forbidden sketch."
From then on, the young designer started sketching shoes any chance he got, including during his studies. He was expelled from school at age 16.
"I was always shouted at by my teacher because I would draw straight on the table in the school," he said.
He left home, studying design by day and spending his nights as a freelance shoe designer in Paris, making shoes for burlesque show girls and working with shoe designer Charles Jourdan before starting his own company in 1989.
Then, three years later, the prototype of a shoe he created came in, but seemed to be lacking something.
"I had a girl working with me, trying on the shoes," Louboutin said. "So when she was not trying on shoes, she sort of had nothing to do, so she was sort of waiting, and, so she was doing her nails, at that time... and I thought, why, this black has to be the red! So I grabbed her nail polish, and painted the soles."
It was then that his signature red sole was born. Today, he sells more than 650,000 pairs a year. For some, money is no object. Louboutin said one customer commissioned him to make a shoe for his wife with rubies all over the sole.
"I said, 'well, but, you know, once you have the weight of the person, you realize that it's going to pop off,' the designer explained. "'He said, there won't be any weight, and it will not be worn, I tell you, it will not be worn in that, um, kind of, it will only be worn in a horizontal way.'"
Sex, Louboutin admits, is a major influence in his designs. He said his red soles attract men, the way a bull is attracted to a red cape. But those famous sole have also attracted copycats. The designer was embroiled with a lawsuit, suing design company Yves Saint Laurent America S.A. for trademark infringement for using a fire engine red sole on their most recent line of pumps.
"Well, you know, it's, to be copied can be sort of taken as a compliment, but when it's to be really attacked, in a way... then I do not see it as a compliment," Louboutin said.
YSL's lawyers have argued that using the red sole for their shoes isn't trademark infringement because "no designer should monopolize a color," an assertion Louboutin rejects.
"I do not monopolize a color, I have put a color at a place where nobody has put it, and became, becoming iconic, as a trademark," he said. "I do not monopolize more colors, and Hermes is monopolizing the orange of their bag, or Tiffany has a blue. It's just the way it is. At one point, it makes part of your identity. It is my trademark."
Much more inclined to watch women try on his shoes than talk about lawsuits, Louboutin said wearing shoes is a study in psychology. For women who may not feel comfortable with their bodies, in his shoes, he said, they will at least like their feet.
"It's a part of the body with his sweet, also skinny, round and puffy," he said. "It still is nice."