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NEW YORK — Christian Louboutin has heard the call from men for his famous red-soled shoes. And he’s answered with today’s opening of his first U.S. men’s store in the Meatpacking District here.
The 1,500-square-foot store at 808 Washington Street is the first of three men’s-only stores to open this year. Units in London and Los Angeles are both expected to debut in November, and a dual-gender store in Chicago, also slated for a fall opening, will have a floor devoted strictly to men’s shoes and accessories.
Louboutin currently operates eight women’s stores in the U.S. and opened its first men’s store on Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau in Paris, across from his original women’s store, last year.
“We sell our men’s collection in all our women’s stores, but this is the first rollout of a true men’s store with men’s branding,” said Carla Erice, U.S. retail director.
Alexis Mourot, chief operating officer, added: “The global strategy is to increase the number of dedicated men’s boutiques. At the moment, men’s makes up 5 percent of the business globally. Within the next few years, we hope to increase the business by 20 percent.”
Louboutin, a privately owned business, has sales volume of over $300 million globally.
The New York City store is located around the corner from the company’s women’s store at 59 Horatio Street and is designed to pay homage to the industrial heritage of the neighborhood. Exposed piping and utility conduits act as the ceiling and a segment of railroad track from the nearby High Line hangs above the door. The foyer features six skylights, retrofitted with mirrors salvaged from the Park Avenue Armory. A geometric rawhide border frames the company’s signature red carpet, while the rest of the store’s flooring features leather panels created especially for the store by Mexican artisans.
A centerpiece of the space is an ornate cap of an advertising column that Louboutin found at a flea market in Paris and reworked as a light fixture. It illuminates a display of shoes and bags. Mimicking the Paris store, the boutique also features a diamond-panel leather wall embroidered in various shoe patterns by Jean-Philippe Lesage’s atelier in India.
“We were inspired by Christian’s shoes and wanted the architecture to reflect a similar artistry in the crafts and multitude of ways of working with leather; so tapping various experienced artisans-artists, we set out to create a highlighted wall of leather techniques including embroidered, embossed, pleated and patterned leather,” said store designer Eric Clough of 212box.
The rear of the store features a neon sign drawing shoppers up a flight of stairs to the “Tattoo Parlor.” Here, customers seeking a personalized experience can have a digital photo taken of their own body art, or one designed by Louboutin, that can be embroidered onto their shoes by Lesage’s atelier.
“We have a tattoo parlor in Paris and will have one in L.A. as well,” said Erice. “But not in Chicago, they’re just for the men’s stores.”
Louboutin said: “Tattoo is a modern language today, like a family crest. And this really fits the city of New York.”
The selection of shoes and accessories in the New York store is the largest in the U.S. with 100 stockkeeping units. The assortment ranges from a hand-painted python iPad case for $1,595 and the silver spiked Syd Shopper tote bag for $3,695 to a leather and canvas backpack for $1,895. The shoe selection encompasses everything from the conservative Daddy flat loafer for $895 to studded Louis Strass sneakers for $2,495 — all with the company’s trademark red sole. The fall collection includes an assortment tartan and wool flannel bags and shoes.
“Sneakers are where it’s at,” said Erice, adding that men’s styles have seen a high demand in the women’s stores. “Customers come in seeking it out.”
Louboutin got into the men’s business by accident. “I always did a little for me and a few friends,” he said. He soon noticed that men were buying some of the women’s loafers for themselves. Then one day, a French woman approached him saying she wanted to buy a pair of his shoes but her feet were quite large. He asked her how big and was greeted with indignation. “You don’t ask a woman her age, and you don’t ask a woman her shoe size,” Louboutin related.
He suggested that she write the size on a piece of paper. It was a 13 1/2. Although he didn’t even have lasts that large, he made the shoes anyway. When they were finished, he presented them to her proudly. “She tried them on and thanked me. She’d never put on a shoe that was too big before,” he said. “And she walked out. I was ready to kill her.”
But a friend heard the story and bought the loafers as a present for her husband. They were a perfect fit — and Louboutin was in the men’s business. “In every cloud, there is a silver side,” he said.
He now has created separate collections for men for two-and-a-half years. He admits that he expected his men’s designs to appeal primarily to the gay community, but it turns out they are also popular with sports stars and performers, he said. The Garrett lace-up remains the most popular style, but the “superembellished” shoes are also strong sellers.