When Christian Louboutin discovered bike polo, he was immediately won over by its natty participants, resembling musicians more than athletes; its balletic stop-and-start choreography, and its values of fun, tenacity and community.
This story first appeared in the June 13, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The thing I love about sports is that it brings out the passion in people,” he enthused.
Invented in Seattle in 1999 by a band of bike messengers and exported to Europe around 2006, bike polo also brings out some very cool streetwear, and sepia-toned, gentlemanly clothes in the vein of what cyclists and tennis players might have worn in the Twenties and Thirties.
Louboutin plans to showcase the stylish, urban sport with an all-day tournament during the Pitti Uomo trade fair in Florence, where he will be a special guest. Each of the 24 players — there are eight teams consisting of three players — will be shod in Louboutin’s new low-top Aurelien sneakers, a cornerstone of his fall 2017 collection. (His spring 2018 collection will be showcased elsewhere in Florence at Dimore Studio.)
The French footwear guru witnessed his first bike polo match a few months ago on the vast lawns stretching in front of Invalides in Paris. His friend Henri Tai, a former professional handball player, had introduced him to the pursuit, whose chief rule is very cogent to a footwear maven: A player’s feet must never touch the ground.
“I thought it was super nice and fun,” Louboutin said over the line from his factory in Italy. “The players often look like musicians on bikes, which is better than athletes playing music.”
The designer also appreciates the camaraderie around these pick-up games.
“It’s all super friendly and they’re really great team players. You learn a lot as a human being. It’s a very fair-play thing,” he said. “It has a good sense of community, which I’m very sensitive to lately. It brings peace in a way.”
Louboutin has referenced such sports as boxing, basketball and hiking in his collections — and last year, he teamed with Tai to dress athletes for Cuba’s Olympic delegation.
The ebullient designer is also something of a fitness buff. He practiced trapeze for several years and is deeply into swimming. “I’m starting butterfly, so I’m very proud of myself,” he said.
He most appreciates sports that don’t require much specialized equipment — running being the epitome of that. While bike polo requires strength, concentration and exceptional balance, only a bicycle, mallet and ball are required. “It’s rough but it’s not aggressive. That’s what I love in sport. It’s really playful,” he said.
Louboutin has yet to try his hand at the sport he’s importing to Pitti.
“I’m waiting to try with some goofy friends who are as bad as myself,” he said with a yelp of laughter. “I can’t wait to try.”
He has no qualms about revealing who he’s cheering for — French teams Raclette Party and Call Me Daddy, the latter the reigning world champion.
“I’m French, we have a great president and so it feels even nicer to be French. I’m all about my French teams,” he said.
Rounding out the tournament are The Mohawks from Germany, Japan’s Ninja Five, Hong Kong’s Crouching Tigers, Sky High from England, Treee of Italy and the Gnarcats from the U.S.
Famous for his sexy women’s shoes with red soles, Louboutin first introduced men’s styles in 2011, initially focused on fancy evening shoes and sneakers. Their demonstrative nature attracted an immediate following from actors, musicians and athletes. The latter include Kobe Bryant, David Beckham and Teddy Riner.
He’s not surprised these men have bold tastes. “Great sportsmen are great performers,” he mused.
Men’s shoes account for about 20 percent of the entire Louboutin business, with sneakers representing about 60 percent of the assortment.
He described the Aurelian as a cross between an urban sneaker and a performance one, reminiscent of Nineties basketball shoes, describing them as versatile enough to play bike polo but also to wear with shorts, leggings or even pants. “They’re sporty, but you can definitely dress up with it.”
Each player in the Florence tournament received a pair of Aurelian’s customized to their personality. “They’re all different, but they have the same sole and the same soul, as in s-o-u-l,” Louboutin teased.