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La Maison Rose: An Interview with Christian Louboutin and Valérie Schlumberger

For our latest bag launch, Christian Louboutin joined forces with longtime friend Valérie Schlumberger and the women of La Maison Rose to create the unique and vibrant Africaba day bag. A charity which focuses its work on assisting the most vulnerable women and children of Senegal, La Maison Rose offers a practical and reactive route to restoration whilst highlighting inherent talents of artisanal craftsmanship found within the region. Below Christian and Valérie discuss their friendship, the charity and the inception of Africaba.

Part I. Christian on Valérie

How did you become acquainted with Valérie, did you always know of her interest in the artists and artisans of the region?

I have known Valérie for a very long time, we first met when I was still a teenager. I was always very aware of her interest in the artisans of West Africa generally.  She was always coming back from her house in Senegal with things she had bought, fascinated by the smart ways the people were able to make beautiful things out of very poor elements - an approach she was keen to endorse  and share with others, a passionate  advocate. 

What particularly interested you in Valérie’s work?

The selling of the products to raise money is fantastic, but with Valérie it was not really just a matter of trying to raise money for charity by the selling of the art or artisans’ wares, but to give a biggercontribution by giving wider exposure to Africa and their tradition of artisanal craftsmanship. Her interest is very much with the fate of these artists, appreciating and nurturing their unique talent.

What do you think drives this motivation?

Valérie comes from a large family, and so has a deep understanding of the importance of community and how this support can ensure that people are able to then help themselves, to help them find their own independence. Her work does just this, gives independence through support.

What do you think of the work produced by the artists and artisans?

I have admired the colour and graphic expression in African arts and crafts for a long time, we have had furniture from Valérie’s Paris CSAO shop in Christian Louboutin boutiques for many years.  I see that artisanship and art is quite linked in Africa, the artist is surrounded by discarded things and, with a child-like instinct, they see how you could use it to create something new, a natural sense of ecology, of reuse and repurpose. 

How did working on this project differ from your normal design process?

It’s definitely not like a normal process with Christian Louboutin products where we have a sample made and then replicate perfectly. Instead, we had an idea of the design, but made it very clear that it had to be the artisan’s interpretation which dictated the final creation. It’s not about perfection; the charm is in the idiosyncrasies and slight differences which emerge when you are working with people who make things by hand.

Part II. Valérie on Christian

Can you explain how you first met Christian?

I met Christian more than thirty years ago. This was a real thunderbolt. Christian attracted me both by his intelligence, his boundless creativity and the exceptional sympathy it generates. We quickly got on very well together.

Can you explain your relationship with Senegal and why you are so familiar with the region?

The first time I came to Senegal was at the age of sixteen. The same day, Dakar was expecting a visit from the Queen of England. At the airport, the crowd had donned its finery. It was an extraordinary sight, I was immediately fascinated by this country. When I created CSAO* (Company of Senegal and West Africa), twenty years ago, it was intended to open up the European market to its many craftsmen. Indeed, at the time, it was very difficult to find their products, which hardly came out of their local markets.

Can you tell us about the typical features or techniques of Senegalese craftsmanship?

These products, for the most part, are made by hand. The artisans are skilled, passionate, and spend hours, or days sometimes, on each object. They love work well done. These products are unique because they are at the same time joyous, inventive, and well made.                                            

Can you explain about the purpose of La Maison Rose and how it helps people?

La Maison Rose helps young women and girls in acute difficulty. They have, for the most part, been driven from their homes, and were found in the street with one or more young children, or pregnant. La Maison Rose offers them a welcoming home, listening and care for them and for their children. Mona Chasserio created La Maison Rose in a particularly difficult neighborhood. We worked together for several years, and it seemed clear to me that it must also offer these young women suitable vocational training.

Apart from providing employment for the ladies of Maison Rose, is it also important that they have a creative outlet to express themselves?

The women of La Maison Rose have the freedom to choose, assemble and manufacture these products. The creativity they demonstrate is an integral part of their rehabilitation. The women of La Maison Rose are proud of their work, and hope, for them, is reborn. Finally, they can look to the future.

What would you like to achieve for La Maison Rose through this collaboration project?

First, a beautiful bag; each panel is different, every detail is wonderful, each bag is unique. However, this collaboration will also allow us to strengthen our professional training structure. We will open a much larger workshop, which will train more women and ensure them a trade and employment thereafter.

Meet Africaba here