Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of two globally recognisable icons – the Hermès bag and the Louboutin shoe. What a pleasure to spend the day learning about the creativity, craft and history of two of the most coveted and esteemed accessories brands in the world.
Hermès celebrates 175 years of producing fine luxury, leather product with the chic Leather Forever, at 6 Burlington Gardens. Then across London, from Mayfair to the Southbank’s Design Museum, is Christian Louboutin’s world – an exhibition marking Louboutin’s 20 years of contribution to the shoe industry, a celebration of how one man changed the face, or rather feet, of fashion.
The Hermès exhibition has been exquisitely curated, an insightful and interactive journey through, not only the brands transgenerational history, but through the craft of the bag, from concept and design to the finished product. It begins in the Library of Skins in which you are hit with the intense smell of leather, immediately evoking the sense of luxury, travel and privilege.
After being privy to an extensive range of colourful leathers, we enter the Artisan’s Studio in which the instantly identifiable orange boxes are stacked around a video installation of the creation and construction of the bags. Two craftsmen demonstrate stages of production, meticulously and delicately handling the leather and demonstrating procedures that can take 15 or more hours. What struck me, when watching these live demonstrations, in a time of mass production and fast fashion, was the emphasis and consideration of quality and permanence.
Few brands can boast a heritage and history like Hermès. Founded in 1837 as a saddle studio, the House expanded into luggage, diaries, footwear and became a pioneer of the ‘It bag’. Yet though these bags may be the hottest armcandy, such as The Kelly (c. 1930) and The Birkin (c. 1983), they have stood the test of time and remain favourites and certainly will for the foreseeable future.
Compared to Hermès’s six generations of skill and expertise, Louboutin is still in its relative infancy, celebrating just two decades. Although, the same level of artistry, considered craft and permanence can be said for the famous red-soled shoes.
The popularity of the red sole shoe transcends trend and the exhibition heralds Louboutin’s desire to create shoes that universally empower and enhance women. Whilst Hermès and the exhibition evoke discreet luxury and quiet sophistication, Louboutin evokes exuberance and sensual glamour that verges on brash.
The exhibition is heavily themed and focuses on Louboutin’s idea that ‘every woman wants to be a showgirl’. Whether this is the case or not, we enter through an arched entrance, emblazoned with a neon Entrée sign, into a world that is swathed in red velvet, adorned with bulbs and mirrors with a cabaret atmosphere where the female and her sexuality is ready to take centre stage. An extensive display of Louboutin’s diverse designs stretches around the room from studded slippers, trainers, brogues and boots to the classic stiletto. He has been heavily influenced by his travels and this is manifested in the wild variety and creativity of his shoes. An extremely lifelike hologram of Dita von Teese performs a burlesque dance and finally transforms into a diamond encrusted stiletto.
In a dark side room there is a screening of three short movies, one an animation of Louboutin’s life, the second a Charlie’s Angel’s spoof entitled ‘Loubi’s Angels’ which emphasises the power of his shoes, and the last, a silent film in which the designer himself performs a comical dance routine.
Whilst the Hermès exhibition is perhaps more reverent, understated and elegant, the Louboutin experience is certainly somewhat more light-hearted and embodies the designer’s love of theatricality. Regardless of the polar tones of the exhibitions, both successfully convey the signature of the Houses and how they have phenomenally expanded yet maintained integrity, quality and ingenuity. Hotfoot it (in your finest footwear) over to both exhibitions as soon as you can.
Leather Forever runs from 8 – 27 May at 6 Burlington Gardens, W1
The Christian Louboutin exhibition runs from 1 May – 9 July at the Design Museum