When minds driven by the passion for craftsmanship meet, sparks fly and a brilliant idea takes its place. This year, Christian Louboutin collaborates with his long time friend, Valérie Schlumberger and La Maison Rose, a charity that supports vulnerable women and children of Senegal. An intitative set up to highlight West Africa's artisanal craftmanship as well as raise awareness of the social issues that women and children there face on a daily basis.
Taking the talents, skills and craftmanship of the women and fusing it with Louboutin's distinct creative flair, the Africaba was created — a bold graphic hand-made panelled tote bag. Embellished with traditional beadings and Louboutin's iconic spike detailing, the bag incorporates reycled elements, such as plastic electrical wires, to create the bag's embroidered crest and logo panel.
In an interview with Christian Louboutin and Valérie Schlumberger, we find out how just one beautifully crafted bag brings joy and hope to a West African community.
Christian, how did you become acquainted with Valérie? Did you always know of her interest in the artists and artisans of West Africa?
Christian Louboutin: I have known Valérie for a very long time. We first met when I was still a teenager. I was always very aware of her interest in the artisans of West Africa generally. She was always coming back from her house in Senegal with things she had bought. She's always been fascinated by the smart ways the people were able to make beautiful things out of very poor elements — an approach she was keen to endorse and share with others. She's a passionate advocate.
Valérie, can you explain your relationship with Senegal and how it is you are so familiar with the region?
Valérie Schlumberger: The first time I came to Senegal was at the age of 16. The same day, Dakar was expecting a visit from the Queen of England. At the airport, the crowd had donned its finery. It was an extraordinary sight. I was immediately fascinated by this country. When I created Company of Senegal and West Africa (CSAO) twenty years ago, it was intended to open up the European market to its many craftsmen. Indeed, at the time, it was very difficult to find their products, which hardly came out of their local markets.
Can you tell us about the typical features or techniques of Senegalese craftsmanship?
VS: These products, for the most part, are made by hand. The artisans are skilled, passionate, and spend hours, or days sometimes on each object. They love work well done.
What particularly interested you in Valérie's work?
CL: The selling of the products to raise money is fantastic, but with Valérie it was not really just a matter of trying to raise money for charity by the selling of the art or artisans' wares, but to give a bigger contribution by giving wider exposure to Africa and their tradition of artisanal craftsmanship. Her interest is very much with the fate of these artists, appreciating and nurturing their unique talent.
Can you explain the purpose of La Maison Rose and how it helps people?
VS: La Maison Rose helps young women and girls in acute difficulty. They have, for the most part, been driven from their homes and were found in the street with one or more young children, or pregnant. La Maison Rose offers them a welcoming home that cares for them and their children. Mona Chasserio created La Maison Rose in a particularly difficult neighbourhood. We worked together for several years, and it seemed clear to me that it must also offer these young women suitable vocational training.
Apart from providing employment for the ladies of Maison Rose, is it also important that they have a creative outlet to express themselves?
VS: The women of La Maison Rose have the freedom to choose, assemble and manufacture these products. The creativity they demonstrate is an integral part of their rehabilitation. They are proud of their work, and at the same time hope for them is reborn — which naturally leads to them looking to the future.
What do you think of the work produced by the artists and artisans?
CL: I have admired the colour and graphic expression in African arts and crafts for a long time. We have had furniture from Valérie's Paris CSAO shop in Christian Louboutin boutiques for many years.
I see that artisanship and art is quite linked in Africa. The artist is surrounded by discarded things and, with a child-like instinct, they see how you could use it to create something new, a natural sense of ecology, of reuse and repurpose.
How did working on this project differ from your normal design process?
CL: It's definitely not like a normal process with Christian Louboutin products where we have a sample made and then replicate perfectly. Instead, we had an idea of the design, but made it very clear that it had to be the artisan's interpretation which dictated the final creation. It's not about perfection. The charm is in the idiosyncrasies and slight differences, which emerge when you are working with people who make things by hand.
What would you like to achieve for La Maison Rose through this collaboration project?
VS: First, a beautiful bag. Each panel is different, every detail is wonderful, and each bag is unique. However, this collaboration will also allow us to strengthen our professional training structure. We will open a much larger workshop, which will train more women and ensure them a trade and employment thereafter.
The Africaba retails at $1,900 and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to benefit the La Maison Rose initiatives. Available online or at the Christian Louboutin boutique located at Ngee Ann City.