Louboutin's new sandals draw ire

(Left) A Pakistani shoemaker in Peshawar making a pair of traditional chappal, which has inspired French shoe designer Christian Louboutin's new sandals (above).
(Above) A Pakistani shoemaker in Peshawar making a pair of traditional chappal, which has inspired French shoe designer Christian Louboutin's new sandals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Left) A Pakistani shoemaker in Peshawar making a pair of traditional chappal, which has inspired French shoe designer Christian Louboutin's new sandals (above).
A Pakistani shoemaker in Peshawar making a pair of traditional chappal, which has inspired French shoe designer Christian Louboutin's new sandals (above).PHOTO: HISTORY POINT/YOUTUBE

PESHAWAR (Pakistan) • French shoe designer Christian Louboutin has walked into a controversy.

Famed for his high-end, red-soled stilettos, he has taken inspiration for a new sandal from Pakistan's tribal frontier, sparking claims of cultural appropriation.

A post on Louboutin's Instagram last month announcing the release of the shoe sparked a social media frenzy in Pakistan, with fans praising the latest homage to the country's rich artisan traditions - and critics rolling their eyes.

The Imran - a flamboyant sandal complete with metal studs and splashes of orange and silver - is inspired by the country's traditional Peshawari chappal, according to the fashion house.

The chappal has long been a staple for ethnic Pashtuns - from ordinary labourers to the political elite - in Pakistan's north-west.

The sandal is distinguished by its overlapping leather strips that cover the foot and has a small heel with a hardy rubber sole.

Louboutin's version is named after famed Pakistani contemporary artist and friend of the designer, Imran Qureshi.

While most celebrated the shoe's debut, others jeered at the thought of paying designer prices - Louboutins often retail for upwards of US$500 (S$680) - for the ubiquitous sandals, which can cost as little as US$5.50 in Pakistan.

Some social media users also suggested that the European brand was the latest perpetrator of cultural appropriation.

"Highly recommend asking your friend to rename it though, so that it doesn't become another culturally appropriated thing," wrote Instagram user Mehreenfkhan under a post by Qureshi about the shoe.

Louboutin later removed the Instagram announcement, saying the sandal was just the latest creation expressing his "love for embellishments from different cultures" and was sorry some people felt offended.

"My designs often pay tributes to artisanship, craftsmanship, traditions or various cultures," he said in a statement. "The world and its diversity has always been the core of my work."

The chappal is no stranger to controversy. In 2014, British designer Paul Smith released a sandal that looked similar to the chappal, but with no initial mention of the Pakistani shoe.

Pakistani fashion designer Kamiar Rokni praised Louboutin's latest creation, saying claims of cultural appropriation were misplaced.

"When you visit different parts of the world, you do get inspired... and that seeps into your design," he explained.

Far from the shoe boutiques of Paris, chappal makers and wearers in Peshawar, the north-western Pakistani city near the Afghan border, greeted the arrival of the "Imran" with bemusement, pride and some confused shrugs.

"I'm totally amazed," said Mr Ghazan Khan, a self-proclaimed chappal fanatic who has bought more than 20 pairs of the sandals in recent years alone.

"People are getting addicted to this kind of chappals, so it's good," he added, suggesting that local designers deserved a cut of the profits from the "Imran".

The shoe's popularity had been in decline for years, according to chappal makers in Peshawar, as the country's youth adopted more modern footwear tastes.

The trend was reversed only with the political ascent of former World Cup cricketing captain Imran Khan and his fondness for the shoe, spotlighted as he led mass protests in 2014.

He was elected prime minister last year on promises to reign in corruption and cut back on excessive spending. Chappal sales have boomed as the youth seek to imitate the country's new, stylish leader.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'Louboutin's new sandals draw ire'. Print Edition | Subscribe