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 non-white (or non-“fair blush”) according to the Census Bureau — can own a shoe that becomes “a fluid extension of her legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette,” as the designer puts it, in a news release.
The release of the Louboutin collection comes amid 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 this month 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.”
At a time when makeup commercials highlight a product’s color-matching abilities, and even Crayola crayons come in a variety of skin-mimicking hues, fashion designers have seemed to largely ignore the fact that “nude,” a synonym for skin, comes in many colors.
It’s not that it has been impossible to get a tan or chestnut four-inch heel. For higher-end shoe fans, Jimmy Choo offers a limited selection of tan and brown pumps. Steve Madden offers three more-affordable styles of tan pumps. Many women wear these to fashion a close-enough-match to the nude shoe trend. But Louboutin is the first major designer to place pumps in these colors under the “nude” label. His collection, which starts at $625, puts an important brand behind the idea that women with a variety of skin tones are worth catering to in the luxury shoe market.
“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 Web site, 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.”