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London - My fingers are covered in bright red paint, bits of glue are dotted up my arms, and I’ve got so many metallic studs littering the table and the floor, it looks like the aftermath of an unfortunate incident between a gang of Hell’s Angels and a very powerful magnet.
But I don’t care, because sitting in front of me is a beautiful pair of shoes that are a dead ringer for this season’s most sought-after Christian Louboutin heels. And, best of all, they’ve cost me a fraction of the real deal.
Louboutins and their iconic red soles have become the red carpet shoe of choice for A-listers including Victoria Beckham, Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker. As a result, they also rank highly on the wish list of many style-savvy women.
But with prices starting at £375 (about R4500) for the basic Pigalle court shoe, they’re beyond the reach of most of us.
When times are tough, however, we Brits can be incredibly resourceful. During World War II, when women couldn’t get their hands on stockings, they bathed their legs in tea and used eyeliner to draw seams down the backs of their legs.
Flash forward 70 years, and if we can’t afford designer label shoes, we’re faking them ourselves. At least that’s what Homebase reckon. The DIY chain says that sales of tester pots of red paint had soared 40 percent in the past year as cash-strapped fashion fans have decided to transform their High Street buys into designer lookalikes, employing the simple trick of painting the soles scarlet.
Louboutin’s red soles were first showcased in 1992 when, backstage at a show, Christian saw an assistant painting her fingernails a bright red and decided to use it to varnish the soles of his stilettos.
“It happened by accident as I felt that the shoes lacked energy,” he recalled. “So I applied red nail polish to the sole of a shoe. This was such a success that it became a permanent fixture.”
Success is something of an understatement. The company’s annual revenue is in excess of £160 million, and an estimated 340,000 pairs are sold each year. Every pair comes with soles in a shade known to those in the trade as Pantone-18 Chinese Red.
And Louboutin goes to great lengths to protect these unique soles. In 2008, he sued High Street chain Zara for selling a pair of red-soled slingbacks which, he claimed, were too similar to his.
But last month a French court ruled that there was no way the shoes could be confused and dismissed the case. Last year, another case was brought against Yves Saint Laurent, which is still ongoing.
But don’t worry DIY-ers, nobody’s going to sue you for slapping a bit of scarlet paint on the bottom of your Primark shoes. One intellectual property lawyer I quizzed on the subject pointed out that Louboutin has not yet managed to trademark the red sole, and as long as you’re not selling them, it doesn’t matter anyway.
So, with no legal reason not to, and given that a tester pot of red paint costs just £1.59, you can see exactly why this DIY designer fad is taking off.
But it takes more than a bright red sole to create a desirable piece of footwear. What really marks a designer shoe out is attention to detail. So, inspired by the legions of women painting their soles red, I decided to go one better by trying to recreate one of Louboutin’s more ambitious models.
Embellishments have been hugely on trend this season, and Monsieur Louboutin has been no slouch on this front, creating a collection of spiked shoes.
One of the hottest is the black leather Pigalle court shoe with an elegant 10cm heel - encrusted all over with metal spikes. It’s both edgy and beautiful.
But even if my budget had been able to stretch to the £695 price tag, I couldn’t get a pair - because everywhere they’ve sold out. Which made them the perfect choice for my “DIY Louboutin” project.
First step was to buy a basic court that I could pimp up. At Aldo I spied a pair at £49.98 (down from £70), so infinitely more reasonable than Christian’s high-end heels. According to Homebase, the shades that have caused a scramble in the paint aisle are Show Stopper and Flame. I plumped for Show Stopper and, as a seasoned decorator, also invested in a roll of masking tape so I could protect the rest of the shoe while I painted the sole.
The studs were trickier to find. Most of the ones that I found in haberdashery shops came with long metal spikes sticking out of the base, the idea being that they work rather like old-fashioned brass paper fasteners: you pierce the fabric, then splay the spikes to hold the stud in place.
However, I didn’t really fancy stabbing hundreds of holes in my new shoes, and even if I had, the spikes on the inside would have laddered my tights within seconds, and would be torture to wear.
In the end, I tracked down some studs online that came with a screw in the bottom. Removing the screw gave me exactly what I wanted: a stud with a flat base that could be affixed to the shoe’s upper.
Having stuck my fingers together with superglue in the past, I looked for a less messy alternative - and found Bostik Glu Dots - double-sided clear dots of glue that were almost the perfect size for the studs I had. They were also easy to reposition if I got my spikes in the wrong place at the first attempt. First, I used masking tape to protect the bits of the shoe that I didn’t want red, then I carefully painted the sole, including the strip behind the heel. So far, so good, and within a couple of hours it was dry.
It didn’t look like it needed a second coat, so I started to put the spikes on, painstakingly attaching one glue dot at a time to the shoe and then pressing the spike on top.
This was the time-consuming bit. In a bid to ensure that they looked relatively uniform, I started from the seam at the back and worked my way around, and while it got a bit tricky near the toes, the final result wasn’t half bad.
OK, I’ll be honest, they’re obviously not Louboutins, and I’m not sure that they’d fool anyone up close. The spikes are longer than the ones Christian used on his, which means they’re a little less wearable - I’d be terrified of hitting passers-by with the footwear equivalent of a medieval knight’s mace. And while the glue spots made life very easy, I don’t think they’ve got much sticking power.
If I were doing it again, I’d try to find slightly smaller spikes, use a white eyeliner pencil to mark the positions of the spikes, and then use superglue to hold them in place.
As for the red soles, if you caught a glimpse of them across a crowded room, you might well mistake them for the real thing. But Show Stopper is a few shades off the colour that you’d find on a real Louboutin, and the finish is matt.
To really get it right, I think you’d need to look for a red gloss paint, then go over it with a coat of clear varnish, or use a spray paint.
But, for a first attempt, I’m very proud of my shoe-making prowess - although Christian will be glad to know that he probably doesn’t need to fear for his job just yet. -- Daily Mail