What do Christian Louboutin and Solomon Northrup have in common? On the surface, it would seem very little. Louboutin is the designer of high-priced women’s footwear with a trademarked red sole. Northrup is the author of a harrowing 1852 memoir—now a movie—which tells of his kidnapping, brutal enslavement and eventual escape to freedom in “12 Years a Slave.”
What links them is color, but not in the way you’d expect. (Hint: red is the MacGuffin here.) In a thought-provoking commentary written shortly after the film opened, WaPo critic Ann Hornaday considered the “aesthetic politics of filming black skin.” Her point is that recent technological advances in cinematography have enabled directors, DPs and editors to capture and manipulate “subtle differences in…complexion” that older films could not (or were not inclined to do). And that these new means of production “bring new forms of lyricism, stylization and depth to filmed images of African Americans.”
If nothing else, the “black new wave” of filmmakers empower their characters to “claim aesthetic space that they’ve long been denied.” And, with it, the respect and human dignity they deserve.
In the same spirit, Louboutin has introduced “Les Nudes,” a line of pumps that range from the palest beige to rich walnut brown. What was the thinking behind nude-as-color-spectrum? “The inspiration… was to offer women the possibility of owning a pair of shoes that would closely match the color of their skin,” explained Alicia Whitiak, associate public relations manager for Christian Louboutin. Which, as dancers, skaters and fashionistas the world over can tell you, attractively lengthens the leg and extends the line.
It’s smart marketing, to be sure, (the shoes are selling out) but beyond that, recognition that there is beauty to be found, portrayed and honored in diversity and difference.