Worn by some of the most beautiful women on the planet, Christian Louboutin's red-soled shoes have become a byword for international glamour. And once Hollywood went head over heels for the Parisian designer's footwear, the rest of the world followed suit.
Born in 1963, shoe star Christian Louboutin has dedicated his life to creating the beautiful, sculpted and sexy heels worn by everyone from Princess Caroline of Monaco to Cameron Diaz. His obsession with shoes began as a child when, during a visit to a local museum, he saw a sign with a high heel in profile and a red cross through it to indicate that wearing stilettos on the mosaic floors was not permitted.
That idea of shoes incorporating something illicit or forbidden is something which has remained in his work. To him a peep-toe shoe is ultra provocative, for revealing what he describes as the "second décolleté". "A good shoe is one that doesn't dress you but undresses you," he explains.
He found his influences at the tender age of 14, during the Seventies, in Paris' Music Hall revues. Intoxicated by the glitz and glamour of the Moulin Rouge he soon stopped going to school altogether and set his heart on designing shoes for showgirls.
At 16 he'd show up at the Folies Bergere with drawings of shoes for all the dancers. "For a showgirl, shoes are very important," he says. "They provide them with a stability. They need to be beautiful and sexy but not steal the limelight." Fast forward to the Noughties and he is still entranced by showgirl glamour, custom-making footwear for burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese.
The master cobbler also cites his upbringing among a household of women as a major influence in his work.. "I was born and raised in a really feminine environment," says Christian, who has four sisters. He formalised his training with Charles Jourdan in 1981 and worked freelance at Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Roger Vivier before launching his own label and boutique in 1991.
Christian has never marketed his brand. It hasn't been necessary - thanks to the red-lacquered soles which have made them instantly recognisable the world over. Stocked by shops in centres as far flung as London and New York, Tokyo and Moscow, his heels have become a global phenomenon thanks to word of mouth and extensive coverage on the pages of glossy magazines.
Although he has collaborated with catwalk greats such as Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier and YSL on their runway shows, Christian says he doesn't follow fashion when it comes to designing his new collections. "I always leave my eyes drifting - people, fabric, furniture. Anything but fashion. I don't look at 'trends'." His passion for the Orient has, in particular, translated into bejewelled creations which conjur up the treasures of Jordan and Egypt - where he spends his summers on a boat.
The fashion maestro's second passion is gardening and he briefly ventured into landscape design in the late 1980s, but shoes are his life and he admits to having little free time to indulge in hobbies. Close friend designer Diane von Furstenberg deftly sums up the reason for her pal"s success. "Christian is a magician, obsessed with beauty, legs and feet," she says. "He understands women and makes them feel like Cinderellas."