Hot on the (red) heels of Christian Louboutin!
I’d like some tandoori chicken, cheese naan, and some of that cottage cheese with those small green peas and the raita – but not before 4pm. I’m done!” says Christian Louboutin, the celebrated French footwear designer as we sit down for our chat on a smoggy Delhi afternoon. Christian is on intermittent fasting these days and is a self-confessed lover of Indian food.
It’s not just Indian food. Even the cinema and the artists of the country find favour with the designer known for his signature red-soled stilettos. In fact, some of his fanciest shoes come out of Vastrakala, an embroidery firm based in Chennai, which is run by Jean-Francois Lesage and Patrick Savouret.
“I haven’t been to Chennai in the last two years but I keep working with the embroiderers there. According to my agenda and possibilities, I sometimes go few times a year and at other times skip a year,” he says.
Christian was in Delhi recently to launch his new store at a plush Vasant Kunj mall. However, he has crystal-clear memories of his first visit to India in 1979. “I landed in Mumbai and my very first impression was the smell because it was very strong, very powerful and impactful, and quite mysterious for a French person because it was a mix of burning, incense, oil, food, cucumber, spices etc. This has completely disappeared now,” he says.
He’s marked the changes in India over these past 40-odd years. “Earlier on there were very few cars. You’d see Ambassadors mostly. Now it has evolved and in a very good way!”
Reel life experiences
Christian shares about his love of Indian movies, which he watched in Paris as a teen. On his way to school, he’d pass by a theatre called Athena, where Indian and Egyptian movies were screened, and he’d happily watch them. “Then one day, when I was about 14 or 15, a journalist friend said to me; ‘I’m going to take you to the cinematheque for an Indian movie’. ”
Christian and his sister watched Satyajit Ray’s classic film, Devi, and saw Satyajit Ray in person too! “I went there thinking it was a Bollywood movie and then saw an incredible black-and white-film. That was the first time I saw a Bengali movie, the first time I saw a Satyajit Ray movie, and the first time I saw Sharmila Tagore in a movie and I was very, very impressed. And in the end, when Sharmila Tagore drowns in the Ganges, a light appeared and we had the director right before our eyes. It was like the cherry on the cake. Because I hadn’t been to India at the time, the tall figure of Satyajit Ray dressed in beige with a shawl became the epitome of India to me; he symbolised Indian classical elegance.”
As for Hindi movies, the first Bollywood film he saw was the Dilip Kumar-starrer Aan, a ’50s movie. “I was a teenager still and the movie was titled, Mangala, Fille Des Indes (Mangala, The Daughter Of India),” he recalls, and happily breaks into its title track.
Best of India
Although Christian has traversed the country, he is yet to visit Odisha. “Another city I haven’t been to is Ahmedabad. I want to see the fabulous collection of textiles there, so it’s definitely on my early wish list!”
He loves Bijapur but lists Lucknow as his absolute favourite because of the architecture, the “extremely nice” people and the fantastic food. “But I have a soft spot of a certain India that I first experienced.”
In fact, he relishes Kolkata rolls and it was over food that he first bonded with the Kolkata-based designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee with whom he’s been working and collaborating for years now. So when I ask him to name his favourite designer, he doesn’t ponder much. “The first person who comes to mind is definitely Sabyasachi since we’ve been working together, though there are a lot of great designers like Rohit Bal. I love Abu-Sandeep and Sanjay Garg and Hanut Singh too has been doing beautiful things.”
How did the two great minds coalesce? “ I was staying at the Taj in Colaba and decided to walk to my store at Horniman Circle. I saw Sabyasachi’s store on the way. I knew of his work but had never been in his shop. So I went inside and I actually bumped into Sabyasachi. He introduced himself and we started to talk about restaurants and food. He gave me his phone number and said: ‘If you come to Calcutta, I will take you to great restaurants.’ So actually the relationship started by talking about food and the fact that when you’re from Calcutta, you can have endless conversations about food and in Paris it’s the same!” says Christian.
Now when he visits the City of Joy, he always asks Sabyasachi to go to the same restaurant. “Nizam’s is my favourite, it has the best rolls! I start with mutton and end with the chicken,” he reveals.
Christian’s work has been very well-received in India, so much so that he feels that he hasn’t done enough. His current Summer 2020 collection is inspired by Egypt for which he’s been looking up archives, and he has designed a bag called Eliza drawing inspiration from a god daughter who is half Italian and half Egyptian. “It was done in Italy and it has a cartouche, which in Egypt is like a seal with the name of the pharaoh,” he says.
India too inspires his designs. “It always has and always will, whether it’s textiles, the Mughals, jewellery or cinema. I draw from everything!”
From HT Brunch, January 26, 2020
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