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Walking like an inebriated goose

Christian Louboutin loves high heels – the higher the better. “I hate the whole concept of comfort!” he told the New Yorker last year. “‘Comfy’ – that’s one of the worst words! I just picture a woman feeling bad, with a big bottle of alcohol, really puffy. It’s really depressing but she likes her life because she has comfortable clogs.” (The interview ends with him urinating under a palm tree in sight of the journalist, however, so he clearly is a fan of comfort when it comes to his bladder.)

More than any other contemporary designer, the 49-year-old is responsible for the flocks of teetering women strapped into or dangling out of ever-higher shoes everywhere from glossy fashion magazines to the Daily Mail website.

His signature – as much as the red sole he jealously guards as a trademark – is the towering, pinpoint stiletto. The new exhibition devoted to him at the Design Museum in London has dozens of them. One of his most recognisable styles, the £450 Very Prive, has 120mm heels (4.72in) with a 20mm platform at the front. Several other styles top 160mm (6.3in) and there is even a pair of fetish ballet pumps, with heels as long as the shoes, forcing the wearer to stand on permanent tiptoe. While these last are purely for photo shoots, the others are regularly seen in the wild: a pregnant Victoria Beckham wore a pair of 6.5in Daffodils to Westminster Abbey for last year’s royal wedding.

Brought to heel

Me, I’ve never got on with heels, though clearly some women do. My best friend can run down a cobbled street in a pair of 5in platforms. And having bought – and quickly resold – older, lower-heeled Louboutins on eBay, I agree with the poet Wendy Cope, who once said of stilettos: “In the 1970s, I thought the liberated women of the future would wear comfortable clothes that they could be active in. It’s depressing. It makes me think of Chinese foot-binding.”

But it turns out that it’s not just heel refuseniks who have a problem with Louboutin’s designs. Rosamund Urwin, who writes about fashion for
the London Evening Standard, tells me: “The skill of a great cordwainer is to make shoes that may look uncomfortable but that actually don’t cut off the blood supply to your toes or give you the gait of an inebriated goose.

“That is the only possible justification for such mad price tags. But Louboutin doesn’t care about comfort – he has said that his designs are largely about pleasing men, not women.”

Aha! So it’s not just me. The conclusion must be that Louboutin’s designs are the prime example of what are known as “limousine shoes” – made for lurching out of a chauffeur-driven car, not catching the bus.

They’re best left to women such as Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian president, who emailed a friend in February to ask what she thought of a pair of crystal-encrusted Louboutins costing £3,795. Her friend wisely replied: “They’re really cool . . . But I don’t think they’re not going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Halal: Britain’s most feared food