Louboutin reinvents the nude shoe

VERONICA TONEY
Last updated 15:40 28/10/2013
Christian Louboutin

NEW NUDES: Famous French cobbler Christian Louboutin has created five new shades of nude.

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They go with any outfit. Fashion experts advise every woman to invest in a pair, because of their ability to disappear on the foot. The Duchess of Cambridge loves them - and has been wearing them since she was simply known as Kate - using them to elongate her legs in photo ops around the world.

Nude shoes, a new staple in women's footwear. But whose nude?

For the most part, in the fashion industry it has meant beige, pale peach or creamy blush.

Enter French footwear designer Christian Louboutin and his famous red-bottomed soles. This fall, Louboutin released a "nudes" collection, which features five of the brand's styles in five shades covering the spectrum "from fair blush to rich chestnut."

Now women who are more on the chestnut side of the scale can own a shoe that becomes "a fluid extension of her legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette," as the designer puts it, in a news release.

The release of the Louboutin collection comes in the midst of a broader discussion of race and the fashion industry. Before New York Fashion Week last month, former modeling agent Bethann Hardison teamed with former model and makeup executive Iman and supermodel Naomi Campbell for the Fashion Diversity Coalition to release names of designers whose runways lacked diverse models. Even Kanye West joined the conversation earlier this month during his much-publicized "rap feud" with late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel. The rapper talked about his troubles with high fashion and stated that there's "no black guy at the end of the runway in Paris."

At a time when makeup commercials highlight a product's color-matching abilities, and even Crayola crayons come in a variety of skin-mimicking hues, fashion designers have seemed to largely ignore the fact that "nude," a synonym for skin, comes in many colors.

It's not that it has been impossible to get a tan or chestnut four-inch heel. For higher-end shoe fans, Jimmy Choo offers a limited selection of tan and brown pumps. Steve Madden offers three more-affordable styles of tan pumps. Many women wear these to fashion a close-enough-match to the nude shoe trend. But Louboutin is the first to place pumps in these colors under the "nude" label. His collection, which starts at $625, puts an important brand behind the idea that women with a variety of skin tones are worth catering to in the luxury shoe market.

"Christian Louboutin is making a statement that this is for you," says Claire Sulmers, 32, the New York-based African American blogger behind FashionBombDaily.com, a multicultural fashion website, and former freelance writer for French Vogue and Italian Vogue.

"When a brand is like, 'you are a person, and we actually want you to wear our clothes,' we get excited," she says. "I think a lot of brands think if they cater to a woman of color, they'll lose their core market. Some people are calling it a marketing ploy, but it's a very smart one."

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Louboutin is not subtle about what "Les Nudes" means to him. To introduce the line, New York storefronts feature the shoes hoisted in the air by mannequin arms in five skin tones. A color wheel of legs introduces the collection on the website. Not sure which shade to pick? Use the "Louboutin Shades" app available in the iTunes store. It matches a shoe color to a photo of the user's foot, in a move that seems to combine practical user service and savvy marketing.

"It is a new collection, and the inspiration behind this capsule collection was to offer women the possibility of owning a pair of shoes that would closely match the color of their skin," says Alicia Whitiak, associate public relations manager for Christian Louboutin.

So far, the collection seems to be a hit: Bright red "sold out" bars appear under each color and style on the Louboutin site. On Sulmers's blog, the comments read "#excited" and "I'm still pondering as to why this is JUST now happening, though?"

Good question.

The answer has to do with the business of fashion, according to Janice Ellinwood, department chair of Marymount University's fashion design and merchandising program. Designers are encouraged to produce what will appeal to their perceived median consumer, and once an item proves itself by becoming a trend, then it's re-created for the missing demographics. High-end designers have the luxury (money, resources, fan base) to reach this phase of the process earlier.

"Christian Louboutin is coming out with this concept while the trend is in progress," Ellinwood says. "I think it's very smart to take the opportunity, to make it more diversified to meet everyone's needs."

Like all fashion trends, it's only a matter of time before the nude spectrum makes it way out of the splurge category and down to the fast-fashion world, Ellinwood explains.

That's good news for bridesmaids of the future. It's too late for me, though. Thanks to wedding season 2012, I own a pair of once-worn peachy-hued shoes. The bride looked at us across the table during one of our many bridesmaid-planning sessions and informed us that we would all be wearing nude pumps - matching dresses, matching shoes, one aesthetically pleasing line. Well, it would be for everyone except me - in Louboutin's terms I'm a "rich chestnut." I got a blank stare in response to a simple question: "My nude or your nude?"

Now, thanks to Louboutin, maybe other brides will have a better answer.

- The Washington Post

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