Sex on Heels
Christian Louboutin seduces Miami with a red-hot boutique by 212box
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 4/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Hordes of Miami women who used to get their shoe fix at the ultra-luxe Bal Harbour Shops are now flocking to a part of town better known for Philippe Starck lamps and Paola Lenti chaise longues. At the Design District's Christian Louboutin boutique, short boots are positively flying out the door. Salespeople can't keep the silver python Titi peep-toe pump in stock. The glittery Lady Lynch stiletto is proving to be a popular finishing touch for brides and bridal parties.
Louboutin says that opening his first freestanding Miami boutique was an easy decision, thanks to sales data from nearby department stores and personal experience with voracious local consumers: "You don't get this with Europeans—but Americans actually come into my office in Paris to meet me, and a lot of those people are from Miami." He adds that the Design District was a particularly good fit because of the mix of businesses and the small urban scale. DACRA president and CEO Craig Robins, who developed the neighborhood, remembers having "an instant connection" with Louboutin, too.
The same can be said for Louboutin's longtime collaboration with the architecture firm 212box. When he met principal Eric Clough in 2003, he'd completed few retail spaces. Lack of experience notwithstanding, Louboutin was reassured by the referral of his friend Diane von Furstenberg, another 212box client, and he signed a contract almost immediately. Within a year, 212box completed a boutique in New York, with 17 more to follow. Dallas, Chicago, and Hong Kong are currently in the works.
Prior to the involvement of 212box, Louboutin designed his own boutiques in Paris and New York and had already developed two identifiable decorative features: Walls are lined with arched niches, the shoes perching like birds inside, and the carpet matches the shoes' famous lipstick-red soles. Because the second New York shop is on a corner, 212box reconceived the niche wall in laser-cut clear acrylic so that it could be installed right inside the shop windows. The team also mirrored the interior walls and allowed passersby a glimpse of the stockroom's back-of-house choreography through rectilinear apertures.
Many of these signatures reappear in the Miami endeavor, yet 212box adapted them just as Louboutin curates his merchandise for different geographies. For example, the Miami boutique carries the most colorful, strappy, and precarious Louboutin styles, given the subtropical climate and the fact, he says, that "people barely walk in the street." Other elements were conceived with this 2,400-square-foot space particularly in mind.
The boutique's exterior expresses its site-specificity most strongly. Above a steel awning shaped like a Louboutin shoe in profile, with a red underside to boot, pink orchids sprout from the coral-stone facade. "Miami is surrounded by beautiful, lush landscapes, but there are few trees in the city itself," Louboutin says. "I like the idea of adding 'organized nature.'" He, Clough, and Robins even took a road trip to an orchid farm to pick out the species.
Still more orchids project from a wall in the entry gallery. The concrete floor here is empty, but an art installation created from ripped stockings currently stretches across the ceiling. This L-shape space wraps two sides of a rectangular volume clad almost entirely in one-way mirror: a box that contains the merchandise for sale while allowing people who've just come in the front door to "witness other people falling in love with the shoes," Clough says. His fellow principal, Eun Sun Chun, adds, "When you see a woman look at herself in the mirror, she's not looking at the shoe first. She's looking at herself first. You get the full effect of how the shoe makes the woman feel."
Aesthetic and commercial concerns aside, a fondness for literature runs through the oeuvre of 212box. Take the apartment renovation for which Chun and Clough wrote a children's book combining fantasy stories with mind-bending puzzles. The two have applied that same passion to Louboutin in Miami, hiding the words of a contemporary poem in plain sight, in the inverted braille that's etched into the wooden tiles lining the gallery wall behind the orchids.
"This is the way I/Want to go in and/Out of heaven. . ./Windows full at 5pm/My skull a place/Except that I think of space as the more exciting," the lines read. A reference to the pleasures of architecture, this stealth literature certainly embodies the 212box goal to "expand the notion of luxury shopping," as Clough explains it. Perhaps one day he'll put that thought into verse.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
212BOX PRODUCTS: CUSTOM WALL TILE (SALES FLOOR).
NU-ART SIGNS: CUSTOM SIGNAGE.
LOUIS POULSEN: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES (GALLERY).
BUILDER OF SCALE: CUSTOM WALL TILE.
MISHA CARPET CORPORATION: CARPET (SALES FLOOR).
OLDE GOOD THINGS: FRAMES, DESK PANELS, CEILING PANELS.
LITON LIGHTING: RECESSED STRIP FIXTURES.
R.F. ORCHIDS: PLANT SUPPLIER.
USA ILLUMINATION: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES.
BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT.