Christian Louboutin and Eva Ionesco, courtesy of the Archive of Christian Louboutin

Chris­t­ian Louboutin’s big nights at Le Palace

The Parisian haunt – famous for outrageous outfits and punk rock on the dance floor – was a major source of inspiration for the French designer.

Courtesy of the Archive of Christian Louboutin

Long before he became syn­ony­mous with stilet­tos and scar­let soles, Chris­t­ian Louboutin was already turn­ing heads as part of the so-called bande de ban­deaux” (“the head­band gang”)a group of mag­nif­i­cent­ly dressed under-18s who fre­quent­ed the leg­endary Parisian night­club, Le Palace. I was 14 when it opened (in 1978), and I was there for the open­ing – Grace Jones was play­ing,” the design­er says over the phone from his Paris apart­ment. Even though we were the youngest peo­ple there, our gang was pro­tect­ed by the own­er (famed night­club impre­sario, Fab­rice Emaer). He loved us because we were all super dressed up. Our name bande de ban­deaux’ came from the fact that at one point we all wore ten­nis bands on our fore­heads; we were part of the folk­lore of the place.”

For those unac­quaint­ed with the now-myth­i­cal dance spot, Le Palace was Paris’ answer to Stu­dio 54, and played host to many of the same clien­tele over the years from Andy Warhol and Mick and Bian­ca Jag­ger, to French icons like Palo­ma Picas­so, Jean Paul Gaulti­er, Loulou de la Falaise and Roland Barthes. It was housed in a for­mer the­atre, locat­ed at 8 rue du Faubourg-Mont­martre in the city’s 9th arrondisse­ment, and Louboutin and his friends were there pret­ty much every night” from 1979 until 1981 – the club’s ear­ly heyday.

Courtesy of the Archive of Christian Louboutin

Some 40 years on, Louboutin has returned to this heady era to draw inspi­ra­tion for his lat­est col­lec­tion, Palace Nights, an eye-pop­ping offer­ing span­ning metal­lic sock boots, fuschia stilet­tos and glit­ter-adorned band­stand boots for women, and sparkling slip­pers, stud­ded-soled Oxfords and striped, cuban-heeled ankle boots for men. One of my old­est friends from that peri­od, Eva Ionesco, was mak­ing a movie about her youth, which was very much spent at Le Palace,” says Louboutin of his deci­sion to revis­it his club­bing days. She asked me so many ques­tions while she was prepar­ing for and mak­ing the film titled Gold­en Youth, and the idea for the col­lec­tion stemmed nat­u­ral­ly from our con­ver­sa­tions. That said, Le Palace is a mood that’s nev­er far from me, because it was so ingrained into my own adolescence.”

And what exact­ly is that mood? Fab­u­lous!” laughs Louboutin. It was very dif­fer­ent to any­where else, because it was the biggest club in Paris – there had nev­er been one that big before. The real dif­fer­ence, though, was the huge mix of peo­ple – it was prob­a­bly the very first time you saw such a diver­si­ty of age, gen­der, race and wealth in one place. But espe­cial­ly age: Barthes was in his 60s.” Accord­ing to Louboutin, the key to enter­ing through Le Palace’s hal­lowed doors was sim­ply to look good, and like you want­ed to spend your entire night going crazy. They were the only cri­te­ria of Mar­i­lyn and Edwige, the two drag­ons at the door, who were actu­al­ly very sweet.”

Giv­en the assort­ed nature of Le Palace’s par­ty-goers, which ranged from the Paris fash­ion elite (“team Ken­zo, team Saint Lau­rent, team Claude Mon­tana”) to actors, writ­ers and your every­day rev­ellers, it’s unsur­pris­ing to learn that the way peo­ple dressed for Le Palace var­ied con­sid­er­ably, too. It was the begin­ning of real­ly impor­tant ready-to-wear,” says Louboutin. You’d see Thier­ry Mugler’s amaz­ing gang of real­ly weird look­ing mod­els and Jean Paul Gaultier’s too, all wear­ing the most icon­ic, out­ra­geous ready-to-wear. But next to that you had peo­ple cre­at­ing their own out­fits – there were places where you could buy fab­ric, and peo­ple made head­pieces and wore tons of make-up. Real­ly the impor­tant thing was to look spec­tac­u­lar. It need­ed to be shiny, crazy and deca­dent, with a lot of nudi­ty involved. It was like a very ele­gant car­ni­val – it wasn’t about being chic, as I said, you real­ly had to be fab­u­lous.”

I would nev­er give up hav­ing a good dance to a great Diana Ross hit for a kiss – that was always secondary.”

Louboutin would spend days in advance think­ing about what his next Le Palace out­fit should be. If you’re French, you’re hav­ing lunch and you’re think­ing about what you’re going to eat for din­ner. But instead of think­ing, What’s next to eat?’ we were think­ing, What’s next for Le Palace?’ And if you saw some­one wear­ing some­thing you’d been plan­ning to wear the next day, it was back to the draw­ing board!” Oth­er impor­tant rules for keep­ing up appear­ances among the bande de ban­deaux” includ­ed nev­er arriv­ing at the night­club before 2am. We thought it was so tacky, so provin­cial,” says Louboutin. Fari­da (Khelfa) – my sort of fourth sis­ter, who I actu­al­ly met at Le Palace – and I would sit around play­ing puz­zles at my par­ents’ house and then we’d take the last metro and hang around wait­ing for 2am. We want­ed to get there at the peak time, before peo­ple start­ed to leave around 3:30am, and we always walked straight in.”

"When Farida and I lived with my parents, we’d have dinner, spend four hours getting ready, then do puzzles on the dining room table until it was time to catch the last subway train. I think our group’s motto was something like “no future.” We were just into having fun. We never thought about tomorrow or the future — except when it came to vacation plans."

"At Le Palace, there were spectators, in other words curiosity seekers, who came to watch and there were actors. We were actors. Fabrice, the owner, protected us. He adopted us right off the bat. Here with Zandra Rhodes, Vincent Darré a friend."

Once inside, Louboutin’s great­est plea­sure was mov­ing to Le Palace’s famous mix of dis­co and punk rock on the club’s vast dance­floor, for­mer­ly occu­pied by rows of vel­vet-cov­ered the­atre seats. There were peo­ple who were more into flirt­ing, peo­ple doing drugs on the the­atre bal­conies, peo­ple hav­ing sex. I would nev­er give up hav­ing a good dance to a great Diana Ross hit for a kiss – that was always sec­ondary. The club’s ener­gy real­ly came from the dance­floor. It was the ear­ly days of pyrotech­nics, so there were all these lasers, and I loved the fact that nobody faced the DJs when they were danc­ing. The DJs were great, but we faced each oth­er.” For Louboutin, it was this sense of com­mu­ni­ty, and of com­mu­nal aban­don­ment, that made Le Palace so spe­cial. It was before AIDS and every­one was hav­ing fun, sex was not a prob­lem – it was a very lib­er­at­ed moment. But it didn’t last – it was the arrival of AIDS that end­ed the big era of Le Palace real­ly: the own­er died from it in 1983.” 

In the decades that have fol­lowed, Louboutin has rarely encoun­tered the sin­gu­lar vital­i­ty he expe­ri­enced in Le Palace. I’m not nos­tal­gic because I’ve been doing oth­er things and I’m very hap­py with my life. But the inten­si­ty of the Palace has passed through very few peo­ple and places.” Then again, he does occa­sion­al­ly sees glimpses of Le Palace here and there in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. The mod­el Anna Cleve­land rep­re­sents that mood. She could be in a restau­rant or at the shit­ti­est par­ty and she’ll jump in the pool com­plete­ly dressed – no mat­ter where you are you can have a fab­u­lous evening,” he chuck­les. I also went to a pre-car­ni­val par­ty host­ed by Vogue Brazil in Sao Paulo a few years ago and it was exact­ly like Le Palace! Peo­ple were wear­ing black tie but they were naked under­neath – it was extreme­ly dressy and com­plete­ly undressed at the same time. I bare­ly knew any­one but the ambi­ence – the peo­ple danc­ing, super drunk but always smil­ing – was real­ly fan­tas­tic. It’s prob­a­bly one of the only times I’ve felt sen­ti­men­tal because it was exact­ly that energy.”

Christian and his mother, photograph courtesy of the Archive of Christian Louboutin

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