Worldwise: Famed French Fashion Designer Christian Louboutin’s Favourite Things | Kanebridge News
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Worldwise: Famed French Fashion Designer Christian Louboutin’s Favourite Things

Thu, Mar 30, 2023 9:07amGrey Clock 3 min

As the founder of an eponymous fashion brand that counts legions of women and celebrities as ardent fans, Christian Louboutin has amassed a following that has garnered him fame in his own right. Most known for his stilettos with their unmistakable red-lacquered soles—the accessory that gave him his start—the Paris-born designer has since expanded beyond footwear with handbags, fragrances, makeup, and shoes for men.

Now comes a new venture all together: this April, Louboutin, 60, will open Vermelho Melides, a 13-room hotel in Melides, a small town in Portugal’s Alentejo region. It’s a rural, unspoiled destination of pine forests, rice lagoons, and beaches where he owns a restored former fisherman’s shack and visits every chance he gets.

Named after the Portuguese word for red, Vermelho Melides is meant to evoke the feeling of a friend’s home more than a hotel and features a litany of colors, materials, and styles from various eras. Art plays into the design, too, while dining and imbibing will unfold at XTian, a restaurant offering upscale Portuguese cuisine.

Louboutin, who was expelled from school three times and began designing shoes when he was a teenager, spoke to Penta about his favorite things from Rio de Janeiro, where he was attending Carnival and also has a home.

I first discovered Portugal… as a teenager on a backpacking trip. I traveled to Lisbon and Porto and instantly loved both. I went again eight years later—this time to Comporta, a small town about an hour south of Lisbon. It was idyllic and had the most beautiful stretch of beach. I didn’t visit again until almost a decade later. I had already started my company, and my friend, the designer Jacques Grange, invited me to stay with him at his home there. I ended up visiting for the next two summers and eventually bought a home in Comporta and then Melides.

My ideal day in Melides… begins by waking up at 7 a.m., going for a jog and jumping into the ocean for a swim. Then it’s breakfast with my friends and family. The rest of the day is very relaxed. I have a beautiful garden and might spend a few hours tending to my flowers and vegetables. Or it’s reading, sketching my next round of shoe designs, and visiting local markets. But really, being in Melides is about not doing much. In the evening, it’s a long dinner with friends at home or at a local restaurant.

A favourite souvenir from Melides is… a ceramic piece from the store Vida Dura in town. Everything is handmade in Portugal, and the owner has a fantastic eye for great finds. The dinnerware, jugs, glasses, and more are colourful and will remind you of your trip.

My most memorable hotel stay… was at Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India, in the Maharani suite. It’s a sprawling palace and gorgeous with Art Deco decor. My bed was huge, and so was the bathroom. More recently, it’s the Le Grand Controle on the grounds of Versailles. I went for Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend, and the property transported us to the world of French royalty. Alain Ducasse is behind the cuisine, and we had the most decadent multi-course with lots of French wine.

The destination on my bucket list is… the Azores Islands in Portugal. The architecture looks stunning, and it’s very much about appreciating nature like Melides. I want to visit Tasmania for the same reason.

My go-to vacation destination is… Bhutan. I visit every year. It’s a very spiritual place and again, nature dominates. I also love hiking, and the country has incredibly scenic hikes.

The shoes I wear for sightseeing are… loafers or flip-flops. I find them to be comfortable and easy to take on and off. Never sneakers, which I wear only when I’m running.

My travel essentials are… a great book and auction catalogs from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams—they’re my secret vice.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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