In the land of the happiness index, can Christian Louboutin’s red sole be the zenith of utter delight? Windy Aulia reports

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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“Nothing in Bhutan is plain,” says Mr Louboutin. “From the architecture to the clothing, everything is full of detail, stylised patterns and colour.” The shoe impresario, man of the world and an all-around culture fiend has a singular vision for his latest special collection, entitled LouBhoutan. Inspired by the mystical elements of Bhutan, Louboutin works his magic on one of the season’s most holistic partnerships.

In this couture collection, details reign supreme. Different motifs are carefully carved by hand on the wooden stilts with symbolism in abundance. The collection is bursting with Bhutanese traditional iconography, whether the images and symbols are used to represent Buddhist lotuses and monsters or Himalayan flowers. Also, in direct reference to Bhutan’s reputation as the “Roof of the World”, there are stylised clouds painted in delicate gradations evoking the colours of the heavens at sunrise and sunset. The intricate carvings that adorn the chunky heels, platforms and wedges of each pair recall the traditional Bhutanese woodwork decorations in most native homes. Meanwhile, the shoes’ uppers are made in Italy and come as either exquisitely embroidered silk or laser-cut leather that follows the curvature of the carved wooden heels. This interesting juxtaposition has resulted in a collection of one-of-a-kind shoes—unique pieces likened to wearable works of art. Its beauty, though, lies not only in mixing Bhutanese tradition and the brand’s savoir-faire. For the past six years, Louboutin has been working with students from the National Institute of Zorig Chusum, also known as the Royal School of the Thirteen Royal Crafts of Bhutan, who have lent their deft hands to the making of the collection. He explains: “I met the students and the principal of the school on my second visit to the country, and we got along very well. From there, I came up with the idea of having them sketch to see what their skills could offer in terms of sculpture or embroidery on shoes. This project began in 2013 and was only completed in 2019. I went to meet the students in person several times. The first thing I did was to bring them some shoes because building a shoe is a complex thing. It’s essential to have it in front of you to understand. Why? Because a drawing is two-dimensional. When it starts to come to life and take shape, new lines appear.” Speaking of art, the reason it took six years for this collection to finish boils down to Louboutin’s utmost respect for the artists. His fascination with Bhutanese culture and craftsmanship lengthened the creative journey. “Imposing time constraints wasn’t an option. We have to be aware of that when working with artists or craftsmen,we aren’t all running on the same time or even the same season. I enjoy working with artists on projects that require a lot of time as it allows me to refocus,” he shares. In fashion’s true definition of haute couture—where many hours are put into the attention of artisanal handworks used to create each product—Christian Louboutin has managed to add another intrinsic value to the LouBhoutan collection. And this wholesomeness is truly what makes it special. (The LouBhoutan collection is only available in Paris, London, New York, Dubai and New Delhi.)

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The heels, platforms and wedges of the shoes are hand-carved and hand-painted, just like the decorations that adorn traditional Bhutanese buildings 

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In the same spirit of Christian Louboutin being the culture fiend, he creates the Elisa bag that mixes French elegance with Italian craftsmanship and inspired by Elisa Sednaoui, a French actress with Egyptian heritage 
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In his own words, Christian Louboutin tells his Bhutan tale.

When did you first want to go to Bhutan?

Bhutan is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit, like Yemen, Easter Island, the Galápagos Islands… During a trip to India when I was 15, I decided to go (to Bhutan). But in the end, I had to give it up because of visa issues. That was almost 40 years ago, the country was still very difficult for tourists to access and the visa was very expensive… I dream of my travels and I prepare them in my head. I only become aware of the quality of what I’ve experienced when the trip is over. So, my story with Bhutan is never-ending because I know I will come back to it.

What attracted you to this country?

For me, there are two real pleasures in travelling: That of going to a place you know and love, and that of going to a country you have never been to. I have always thought of Bhutan as an extraordinary country, straight out of a fairy tale. It’s also impressive because it’s a civilised country located at the heart of a very powerful landscape, the Himalayas.

When did you first go there?

For more than 25 years, the idea of going to Bhutan stayed with me. But it was only in 2012 that I went there for the first time with my friend Diane von Fürstenberg. We were both in India and wanted to discover something new—she had never been there and neither had I.

What image did you have of Bhutan before you discovered the country?

I had this image of a small, peaceful country. It’s a kingdom hidden at the heart of the Himalayas, open and inaccessible at the same time.

What is the first thing you remember about Bhutan?

My first memory of Bhutan is of hearing music whilst I was still on the plane. I remember the landing in Paro, in a very narrow valley, surrounded by mountains. It’s a beautiful place. The valley appeared suddenly and the plane had to nosedive to land. It reminded me of a roller coaster at the Foire du Trône funfair, which I’ve always loved. So my first impression was that of a thrilling landing.

What does Bhutan mean to you?

It embodies values that, at first, seem quite contradictory but are what make it so beautiful. For example, the students in Bhutan all dress in traditional costume. People often think that tradition is a little outdated, but that’s not the case there. It’s a very relaxing country in my opinion and it’s important that traditional Bhutanese values do not hinder the modernity of the country. Bhutan maintains a gentle pace, but also a way of thinking in the long term, something that is essential for me. It’s a country steeped in values that are far ahead of their time.

What emotional connection do you share with this country?

I have a very strong link with Bhutan. It’s in my nature to go back to the places I have visited or rewatch films I love. When you watch a film again, you never see it the same way. I go off the same principle when I travel. I like to revisit places to deepen my knowledge and discover what I may have missed the first time. I’d wanted to visit this country for a very long time and I became attached to it. Furthermore, I believe that when you love a country, you also love its people. The emotional bond I have with this country is also a bond of friendship with the Bhutanese and I have very dear friends there.■ 

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Christian Louboutin’s cultural musings have resulted in a 13-piece collection replete with artisanal touches