His travel schedule is enviable: In late May, Christian Louboutin trekked from his Paris studio to New York for a personal appearance, then to Miami for a boutique opening in the city’s Design District, and finished up in the South of France so he could catch the tail end of the Cannes Film Festival. But that’s all in a month’s work for the French-born designer of those coveted sky-high heels with iconic red soles. “I’ve been [on] many adventures [to] many countries,” he says. “I love discovering other cultures—it’s like discovering life itself.”
One of those adventures inspired his latest project. No matter where Louboutin travels, he’s always on the lookout for authentic handwork, those products that best represent the craft and traditions of a particular region. During a trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, he was captivated by the area’s brilliant colors and the handcraft of local artisans. “Mexico is an amazing country for artisanship,” he notes. “From the food to the treatment of metal, stones and textiles, I found so many fantastic objects. I really wanted to celebrate those skills.”
The result has emerged as perhaps the hottest bag of Summer 2017: Louboutin’s Mexicaba, an oversized tote crafted of a mélange of Yucatán handcraft, from its mix of brightly toned woven fabrics to its lush floral embroidery and the accent of turquoise stones and wood beading anchoring the leather handles. And there’s another advantage in this era of ubiquitous logo handbags: No two Mexicaba totes are exactly alike. “I like little differences, and doesn’t an artisan get bored doing the same thing over and over?” Louboutin asks.
To create the bags, he partnered with Mexico’s Taller Maya foundation, which both highlights locally produced handwork and trains women in villages throughout the Yucatán to provide them with marketable skills. Louboutin worked with women in several villages to produce the components of the totes, which were then assembled in Italy. One of his happiest moments, he says, was when he brought a few of the finished totes back to those same villages.
“The bag was also featured in the window at [New York’s] Bergdorf Goodman, and that was another moment of great joy for these women, to see the photographs of that and how their work had taken on a life of its own,” he says. “I love projects like this—you’re engaging with other cultures and creating a dialogue.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Louboutin has explored his passion for a specific region of the world. His Fall/Winter 2017 collection finds its roots partly in India, with the bold mix of colors and textures meant to evoke the whimsy of Bollywood films. “Everything is so joyful in a Bollywood film, and I love my shoes to feel joyful, as well.”
Last year Louboutin celebrated the 25th anniversary of his label, and while his designs have extended beyond shoes, there’s a common thread easily found throughout his choices, he says.
“My father was a cabinetmaker, and when I was very young, he showed me a piece of wood and said, ‘If you want to do a beautiful carving, go in the direction of the grain; if you go against it, you’ll get splinters.’ I’ve expanded that a little: Don’t narrow yourself, and go where life takes you. If you go in the direction of life, you can do beautiful things.”