Christian Louboutin on Cardi B and His ‘Red Bottoms’

Christian Louboutin on Cardi B and His ‘Red Bottoms’

PARIS — The name Christian Louboutin, the flash of a shoe’s red sole — these things have become shorthand for luxury, fabulosity and sex appeal, a kind of synecdoche of success.

“There is a type of joke that’s often said in Paris,” Mr. Louboutin said, sitting behind his desk at his offices in the First Arrondissement, not far from Les Halles, “that my name almost became like Frigidaire.” That is to say, a brand name turned byword.

Mr. Louboutin and his trademark red soles (he has defended them against imitators in court) have been a tenacious presence in pop culture for years, turning up often on television and film (he is one of several accessories designers to get a “Sex and the City” boost), in song and story.

Their latest and most chart-topping shout-out came recently via the Bronx-born rapper Cardi B, whose breakout single “Bodak Yellow” catapulted her to No. 1 on the Billboard 100 last week, a spot she retains this week — the first solo female rapper to attain the position since Lauryn Hill with “(Doo Wop) That Thing” in 1998. (In Ms. Hill’s song, the only shoes mentioned are Timberland, as status symbols for men.)

“Bodak Yellow” is a by-the-bootstraps bildungsroman in verse, sketching Cardi (nee Belcalis Almanzar) on a journey from stripping through reality-TV fame to hip-hop success. It opens with an unassailable declaration and demonstration of arrival. “These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes,” she raps. “Hit the store, I can get ’em both, I don’t wanna choose.”

Ms. Almanzar has made Loubouphilia a hallmark of her image. After receiving her first pair from an admirer in her strip club days, she now makes a point of keeping herself supplied. When she was preparing to perform at MoMA PS1 in New York in August, she brought along a suitcase with several pairs. When she hit No. 1 on the chart last Monday, her label celebrated with a cake shaped like a Louboutin box.

Much of America knows Cardi. Does Mr. Louboutin?

He does, slightly. “She has the hair like that?” he said, waving his hands around chin level. “She’s a rapper? This ‘Yellow’ song?”

A friend had played it for him recently, showing him the lyrics; he has seen the video. “I don’t know much more than that, to be honest,” he said.

 

In any case, it would be hard to keep up with every instance of Mr. Louboutin being lyricized. Jennifer Lopez put out a single called “Louboutins” in 2009 (in it, Louboutins are shoes-as-saviors, empowering the singer to walk away from a do-wrong man); and “red bottoms” and Louboutins still turn up frequently in rap, among men and women. A partial bibliography would include Kanye West, Drake, Future, Migos, Soulja Boy, Rae Sremmurd, Ty Dolla Sign, Iggy Azalea and the complete works of Rick Ross.

Mr. Louboutin said he neither dreamed nor intended to court fame. “My job is creating beautiful shoes,” he said. “The rest has became what it became.”

That put him in a speculative mood. Movies and musicals are what first set him dreaming about a life beyond his own, and film, television, theater and art still influence his work. His new collection, on view at his showroom next door, had been divided into film vignettes, from 18th-century Marie Antoinette to futuristic Tokyo.

If Cardi B is only the latest musical diva to thrill to his designs, “in a way, it comes back to some of my origins,” he said, harking back to his early days at the Folies Bergère, where he worked as an intern. “The first shoes I ever designed were for showgirls, people on stage. Showgirls have a kind of attitude — they’re driving forces.”

Would he meet Cardi if she came to town?

“Why not?” he said, though he admitted that while he listens to many types of music — Prince, classical, Latin music, the Colombian singer and songwriter Maluma — he is “not a big rap person.”

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