TRUE HUE: Better ‘nude’ shoe matches for the well-heeled

The Washington PostNovember 9, 2013 

Shoe and bag designer Christian Louboutin released a “Nudes” collection of shoes featuring five of the brand’s styles in five shades. From lower left, clockwise: Lea, Nat, Maya, Sakfi and Ada.

THE WASHINGTON POST

They go with any outfit. Fashion experts advise every woman to invest in a pair, because of their ability to disappear on the foot. The Duchess of Cambridge loves them — and has been wearing them since she was simply known as Kate — using them to elongate her legs in photo ops around the world.

Nude shoes, a new staple in women’s footwear. But whose nude?

For the most part, in the fashion industry it has meant beige, pale peach or creamy blush.

Enter French footwear designer Christian Louboutin and his famous red-bottomed soles. This fall, Louboutin released a “nudes” collection, which features five of the brand’s styles in five shades covering the spectrum “from fair blush to rich chestnut.”

Now, women who are more on the chestnut side of the scale — and more than 22 percent of U.S. women identify as nonwhite (or non-“fair blush”) according to the Census Bureau — can own a shoe that becomes “a fluid extension of her leg, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette,” as the designer puts it, in a news release.

The release of the Louboutin collection comes in the midst of a broader discussion of race and the fashion industry. Before New York Fashion Week last month, former modeling agent Bethann Hardison teamed with former model and makeup executive Iman and supermodel Naomi Campbell for the Fashion Diversity Coalition to release names of designers whose runways lacked diverse models. Even Kanye West joined the conversation earlier during his much-publicized “rap feud” with late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel. The rapper talked about his troubles with high fashion and stated that there’s “no black guy at the end of the runway in Paris.”

Louboutin’s collection, which starts at $625, puts an important brand behind the idea that women with a variety of skin tones are worth catering to.

“Christian Louboutin is making a statement that this is for you,” says Claire Sulmers, 32, the New York-based African American blogger behind FashionBombDaily.com, a multicultural fashion website, and former freelance writer for French Vogue and Italian Vogue.

“When a brand is like, ’you are a person, and we actually want you to wear our clothes,’ we get excited,” she says. “I think a lot of brands think if they cater to a woman of color, they’ll lose their core market. Some people are calling it a marketing ploy, but it’s a very smart one.”

Louboutin is not subtle about what “Les Nudes” means to him.

“It is a new collection, and the inspiration behind this capsule collection was to offer women the possibility of owning a pair of shoes that would closely match the color of their skin,” says Alicia Whitiak, associate public relations manager for Christian Louboutin.

Like all fashion trends, it’s only a matter of time before the nude spectrum makes it way out of the splurge category and down to the fast-fashion world, said Janice Ellinwood, department chair of Marymount University’s fashion design and merchandising program.

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