‘You pick the girls. No bones.’—Christian Louboutin explains how Lynch photographed stilettos so extreme only dancers could wear them.
“I can’t walk in these shoes.”
The comment is one that the French shoe designer Christian Louboutin has heard more than once. His shoes may be beautiful, but they’re not always the most comfortable, so in 2007 he took this idea to the extreme by creating a collection of shoes not meant for walking at all.
“Shoes have different possible meanings, not only walking,” explained the designer, who wanted to capture footwear in a dark, moody way that called to mind David Lynch, the auteur behind Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. “Lynch is a great aesthete. So if you say ‘Lynch,’ you immediately have sets of colors, you have some mood,” said the designer, who then realized, “It’s a bit stupid to do it in a Lynch way when you know David.”
“I’ve been thinking of doing shoes—fetishy shoes. I was wondering if you would photograph them?” Louboutin recalled asking Lynch.
“What do you mean by that?” Lynch asked Louboutin. “Where are the shoes?”
“I have them in my head,” the designer remembered telling him.
“Well, if you do them, yeah, let’s do it,” answered Lynch. “The only thing I’m asking you is that you pick the girls. No bones.”
The results of both the 2007 collection of unwearable shoes and the Lynch photo shoot that same year are currently on display in the Fetish room of the Louboutin retrospective L’Exhibition[iste], on view at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris until July 26. The room offers viewers another way to see the shoes Louboutin created for the Lynch collaboration; as a storytelling device and a source of art, bringing together the idea of fetishism and fantasy, reinterpreted as sculptures that induce a sense of torture. Veiled soles are meant to never touch the ground; leather straps wrap around the foot and ankles with heels so high that one can only wear them while sitting. The dark photos, which cast narrow flashes of light over the subjects, offer an appropriate Lynchian perspective on the collection.
When Louboutin finally completed the shoe sketches he showed them to the director and photographer.
“It cannot be photographed on a skinny girl because then it’s going to look really like torture, and fetish has nothing to do with bondage,” Louboutin recalled Lynch saying. “This is not what I see in your drawing… you don’t want to express bondage. It’s really objects of desire with stronger meaning.”
The shoes ended up being produced, and Lynch picked a Paris studio for the two-day shoot. He invited Louboutin to join and asked him to cast the women with two directions: they should not be skinny and they should be dancers. “Dancers have a great way of expression with the body,” Lynch explained to Louboutin. “Don’t take a model, because they just don’t know how to move the bodies.”
Louboutin joined Lynch in the studio. “He has a big light, and he’s brushing the light, but really like if he had a huge brush. He’s brushing off the night, he’s brushing the body, and then the moment is brushing, he does a picture. It’s very precise. The light stays for, like, a nanosecond, the second that he’s photographing, that’s why there is this intensity of light, just on the human form, and not the rest.”
In one of the photos, a dancer holds a hand as she teeters on the pair of shoes appropriately titled “Siamese” because the backs of the heels are stuck together. Louboutin didn’t realize that he placed them so close together, that it was nearly impossible for anyone to balance in them. “She first couldn’t stand properly, even being a really good dancer,” recalled Louboutin. “So with the balance and the postures, she was shaking. That’s why there is a hand like that. But it looks so Lynch at the same time. It’s very funny because it was sort of an accident; in the last picture you didn’t see the hand but he favored that one where I’m holding the hand.”
For another pair of shoes, the Ultima, where the foot is positioned like a ballerina en pointe, with a slender, stiletto heel, Louboutin remembered that the dancer could not stand on her own. “She was suspended in a harness and she was not touching the floor. You just see the lower part of the body because basically she was hanging out like on the trapeze. She didn’t put any weight on the foot. So the posture of the leg was very easy because they are dancers, but they really could not hold [a pose] on any of the shoes.”