Couture Council to honor Louboutin and his red-soled shoes

NEW YORK (AP) — From a tiny bottle of nail polish, a luxury fashion empire was born.

Designer Christian Louboutin says he was experimenting in a factory one day when he suddenly seized his assistant's bottle of red nail polish to blot out the usual black soles and try some bright color.

The experiment stuck, obviously. And now Louboutin's red-soled stilettos, featuring sky-high heels and fetching sky-high prices, are "utterly iconic as a symbol of erotic femininity," says Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology — explaining why Louboutin has been chosen as this year's honoree of the museum's Couture Council.

The prestigious honor, awarded each year at the beginning of New York Fashion Week in September, usually goes to a clothes designer. But, Louboutin told the Associated Press this week, fashion lovers have a special relationship with shoes — more than with clothes, or at least different.

"The woman carries the clothes. But the shoes? They carry the woman," the Paris-based designer said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "So it's a very different interaction." The shoe, he said, "is a pedestal. But this little thing on your feet is also making you a different person, in a lot of ways. It's affecting the entire silhouette and the way you're going to walk and move."

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Christian Louboutin out and about
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Christian Louboutin out and about
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Blake Lively poses with designer Christian Louboutin during the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/MG18/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 19: (L-R) President & CEO of Gibson, James "JC" Curleigh, designer, Christian Louboutin and CMO of Gibson, Cesar Gueikian attend an intimate evening hosted by Nordstrom and Karen Fairchild with Christian Louboutin at Private Residence on March 19, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Nordstrom, Inc.)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: Shoes designer Christian Louboutin attends the Louis Vuitton show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2019 on October 2, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
French fashion designer Christian Louboutin poses during a photocall upon arriving to attend the "Diner de la Mode" (Fashion Dinner) fundraiser dinner to benefit French anti-AIDS association Sidaction, on January 24, 2019, at the Pavillon d'Armenonville in Paris. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Fashion designer Christian Louboutin (R) and guest are seen arriving to Marc Jacobs SS19 fashion show during New York Fashion Week at Park Avenue Armory on September 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 04: Singer Mika and Designer Christian Louboutin attend Cocktail of Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2018/19 at Le Petit Palais on July 4, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images for FHCM)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Blake Lively (2nd L), Gigi Hadid (2nd R) and designer Christian Louboutin attend the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/MG18/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09: Burlesque artist Dita Von Teese (L) and fashion designer Christian Louboutin attend the premiere of Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - JUNE 23: Designer Christian Louboutin and Rafaella White during the Christian Louboutin Store Opening on June 23, 2017 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Isa Foltin/Getty Images for Christian Louboutin)
MUNICH, GERMANY - JUNE 23: Louis Macari, designer Lucky de Luca and Sheila Macari during the Christian Louboutin Store Opening on June 23, 2017 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Isa Foltin/Getty Images for Christian Louboutin)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Fashion designer Christian Louboutin (L) and Fern Mallis attend the 92Y Fashion Icons conversation at 92nd Street Y on May 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Actress Deepika Padukone and designer Christian Louboutin attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 17: Fashion designer Christian Louboutin poses for a photo during a personal appearance at Nordstrom Downton Seattle on October 17, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Nordstrom)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 06: (L-R) Writer Yaqi Yang, French luxury footwear and fashion designer Christian Louboutin, Italian fashion designer Giambattista Valli, fashion entrepreneur Carmen Busquets, fashion and technology investor Wendy Yu attend the \"The Art of Giving\" Love Ball Naked Heart Foundation Photo Call as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016-2017 on July 6, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Zhang Jie/VCG)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Fashion designer Christian Louboutin arrives at the official 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards after party hosted by Samsung 837 in NYC on June 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Samsung)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 26: Designer Christian Louboutin arrives to attend the 'Cesars Film Awards 2016' ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet on February 26, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)
PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 27: Shoe designer Christian Louboutin on day 4 of Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016, on January 27, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images)
French luxury footwear and fashion designer Christian Louboutin poses on the red carpet as he attends the 61st London Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2015 in London on November 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 10: Designer Christian Louboutin spends time with customers at his personal appearance and shoe signing at Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills on November 10, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Saks Fifth Avenue)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Designer Christian Louboutin (L) and NJ Goldston attend Tracy Margolies, Saks Fifth Avenue and Rosetta Getty host Christian Louboutin at Chateau Marmont on November 9, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Christian Louboutin)
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There's another advantage, he adds, to footwear: The wearer can see it. "If you have a dress, you can't see it unless you have a mirror," he says. "But if you have a pair of shoes, you can still look at your feet. All the time."

Steele, at FIT, says shoes have always been an important part of the museum's voluminous collection, which includes some 4,000 pairs "and counting."

"People really obsess over their shoes," she says.

Louboutin also designs men's shoes, but it's the red-soled women's heels he is famous for. They range from hundreds of dollars per pair well into the thousands, depending on the adornment. They're loved by celebrities; "I'm throwing on my Louboutins," goes the chorus of a 2009 Jennifer Lopez song.

Louboutin, 55, says his career began with a childhood hobby of sketching shoes.

"When adults asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said I wanted to draw shoes," he said. "But I didn't think it was a real job."

He had been designing for several years when he discovered the red-sole idea in the early '90s. A few weeks after the nail polish experiment, he says, he was in his Paris shop, watching a couple consider a pair of shoes with typical black soles.

His female co-worker felt the man was "very handsome," Louboutin says, and watched as he turned over a pair of shoes, to find nothing interesting on the soles. When the couple left, not having bought anything, the co-worker remarked that she should have put her phone number on the soles.

Louboutin took that as a sign, he said, "that the sole should have its own identity."

He considered changing the color every season, but then realized that red — the color of blood, he points out — was unique. "I had many customers who would only wear black, but they wore red on their lips or on their nails," he said.

Louboutin's shoes are worn by fashionistas around the world — first lady Melania Trump seems to be a fan, often photographed in Louboutins like a towering yellow pair she wore recently in Japan.

Louboutin says only that he enjoys seeing who wears the shoes, and how. "My job is designing shoes and producing an object of desire for women," he says. "After that it's no longer in my hands, and I'm no one to judge who is wearing them or how you should wear them."

He adds that although celebrities are obviously good for business, his preference is to discover someone he doesn't know, looking good, in his shoes.

"I'm walking in the street, and I look at the shoes and they look good and I'm almost jealous," he says. "And then I look and it's a red sole, and I go woo-hoo!"

The Couture Council luncheon on Sept. 4 coincides with a new exhibit at the FIT museum on Paris as the capital of fashion.

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Melania Trump's fabulous shoes
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Melania Trump's fabulous shoes
YOKOSUKA, JAPAN - MAY 28 : Arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania Trump (R), flanked Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Abe's wife Akie Abe onboard the Japan's navy ship Kaga on May 28, 2019 in Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo by AFP / Charly Triballeau / Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - MAY 28: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., after a trip to Japan on Tuesday May 28, 2019. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 02: Melania Trump attends the Limited Edition Marchesa/NFL Collaboration Launch at National Football League on October 2, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Donald Trump and Melania Trump attend the "Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 22: U.S. first lady Melania Trump reads a story book to children during the 141st Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House April 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. About 30,000 people are expected to attend the annual tradition of rolling colored eggs down the South Lawn of the White House that dates back to the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration in 1878. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Detail of the shoes of US First Lady Melania Trump, as she arrives with her husband US President Donald Trump (R) to attend a gala at the Colon Theater in Buenos Aires, on November 30, 2018 in the sidelines of the G20 Leader's Summit. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
French President's wife Brigitte Macron welcome US First Lady at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 10, 2018, on the sidelines of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
French President's wife Brigitte Macron welcome US First Lady at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 10, 2018, on the sidelines of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 30: Detail of the shoes of U.S. First Lady Melania Trump during a visit to Villa Ocampo as part of the Argentina G20 Leaders' Summit 2018 Partners Programme on November 30, 2018 in Beccar,Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: The shoes of First lady Melania Trump, on the South Lawn of the White House, on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump is heading to Brussels for the NATO Summit. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - JULY 13: First Lady, Melania Trump and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Andrew Ford walk from the Quadrangle after the inspection of the honour guard at Windsor Castle on July 13, 2018 in Windsor, England. Her Majesty welcomed the President and Mrs Trump at the dais in the Quadrangle of the Castle. A Guard of Honour, formed of the Coldstream Guards, gave a Royal Salute and the US National Anthem was played. The Queen and the President inspected the Guard of Honour before watching the military march past. The President and First Lady then joined Her Majesty for tea at the Castle. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 5: (AFP OUT) A detail of the shoes of First Lady Melania Trump as she attends a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. The prime minister is on an official visit to the US until the end of the week. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 13: United States First Lady Melania Trump leaves the dock after a boat ride on the Seine river on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. The United States of America President Donald Trump and his wife are on a 2 day visit to Paris. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, DC, on August 29, 2017 for Texas to view the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows the shoes of US First Lady Melania Trump as she visits the Queen Fabiola children's hospital, on the sidelines of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, on May 25, 2017, in Brussels. US President Donald Trump meets NATO and EU leaders for the first time with the US president set to press nervous allies to do more on terrorism after the Manchester bombing. / AFP PHOTO / Aurore Belot (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows the shoes of First Lady Melania Trump as she visits the American International School in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump walks past the West Wing of the White House April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Melania Trump's shoes as she honors International Women of Courage during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC, March 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Melania Trump attends the Time 100 Gala celebrating the Time 100 issue of the Most Influential People at The World at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 26, 2016 in New York. / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Melania Trump attends the 2015 New York Spring Spectacular Opening Night at Radio City Music Hall on March 26, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Model Melania Trump attends "The Celebrity Apprentice" season finale at Trump Tower on February 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
PALM BEACH, FL - JANUARY 05: Melania Trump attends the 2014 Trump Invitational Grand Prix at The Mar-a-Lago Club on January 5, 2014 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images for 2014 Trump Invitational Grand Prix)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Model Melania Trump attends the "Celebrity Apprentice All-Star" event at Trump Tower on April 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Close-up of shoes, worn by Melania Trump, at the 2012 European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards>> at Cipriani 42nd Street on December 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jude Domski/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 23: Melania Trump attends the "Men In Black 3" New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theatre on May 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Donald Trump and Melania Trump attend the "Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Melania Trump (shoe detail) at the NBC's Upfront Presentation at 51st Street on May 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)
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