FEATURE: French designer Louboutin takes Pakistan sandal global


Wed, Apr 24, 2019 - Page 6

Famed for luxury red-soled stilettos, French shoe designer Christian Louboutin has taken inspiration for a new sandal from Pakistan’s tribal frontier, sparking claims of cultural appropriation, along with grins from grizzled Pakistani cobblers.

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 along with splashes of orange and silver — was inspired by the country’s traditional Peshawari chappal, the fashion house said.

The chappal has long been a staple for ethnic Pashtuns — from ordinary workers to the country’s political elite — in Pakistan’s northwest. 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 was named after famed Pakistani contemporary artist Imran Qureshi, a friend of the designer.

While most celebrated the shoe’s debut, others jeered at the thought of paying designer prices — Louboutins often retail for upward of US$500 — 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 that the sandal was just the latest creation expressing his “love for embellishments from different cultures” and that he was sorry some people felt “offended.”

The chappal is no stranger to controversy.

In 2014, British designer Paul Smith released a sandal that looked strikingly similar to the chappal with no initial mention of the Pakistani shoe, sparking fiery protests online and in the media in Pakistan.

Pakistani fashion designer Kamiar Rokni praised Louboutin’s latest creation, saying that claims of cultural appropriation were misplaced in this instance.

“When you visit different parts of the world, you do get inspired ... and that seeps into your design,” Rokni said.

“There’s nothing wrong with somebody being inspired by the Peshawari chappal,” he added.

Far from the boutiques of Paris, chappal makers and wearers in Peshawar, the northwestern city near the Afghan border, greeted the arrival of the “Imran” with bemusement, pride and some confusion.

“I’m totally amazed,” said Ghazan Khan, a self-proclaimed chappal fanatic who has bought more than 20 pairs of the sandals in the past few years alone.

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

The chappal “is long-lasting and comfortable,” resident Abdul Rehman said, adding that the sandal’s ventilation helped keep the foot cool in the area’s stifling heat.

“I have been wearing chappals for all of my life and never used any other shoe,” he added.

The shoe’s popularity had been in decline for years, Peshawari chappal makers said, as the country’s youth adopted more modern footwear tastes.

The trend was only reversed with the political ascent of former Cricket World Cup captain Imran Khan, now Pakistan’s prime minister, and his fondness for the shoe, spotlighted as he led mass protests in 2014.

While the chappal’s popularity continues to thrive in Peshawar and throughout the country’s northwest, fans of the traditional sandal are less convinced by Louboutin’s new take.

“I will not wear this shoe, because it’s a ladies shoe,” Riaz-u-Din said after looking at a picture of the “Imran” on a smartphone as he shopped for a pair of chappals.

“No one will wear it here in Peshawar,” he added.