In the mid-Eighties, journalist and author Kate Betts was pursuing her greatest ambition — to live in Paris and work in fashion, as an editor for Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine. In My Paris Dream (Spiegel & Grau), she chronicles the ups, downs and professional, personal and sartorial drama of being an American in Paris — or La Grosse Américaine, as she was known in her circle of friends. Betts doesn’t spare any details, dishing with equal relish on the juiciest and most humbling moments alike. Take for instance, the time she told an aspiring young shoe designer named Christian Louboutin that his idea for a shoe collection wasn’t exactly chic. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t listen to her, and Louboutin and Betts became close friends.) Here, an amusing excerpt reveals their meet-cute.
“Christian’s office was a small space at the back of a decrepit courtyard on the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The room was furnished with just two chairs and a desk covered in papers. Christian had a big smile and wore a straw boater, a pink seersucker suit, and black suspenders. He was buoyant and charming and alive with ideas, plucking the straw hat off his head as he described his shoes and the women he loved and his dream of creating something exotic with a secret twist.
“‘So what’s the secret?’ I asked, pushing him to give me more information, in the way I had been trained to always push designers for more.
“‘Alors.’ He paused for effect. ‘The shoes will be covered in fish skin.’
“‘Oui, Oui, Oui.’ He grabbed a blank piece of paper from a stack on his desk, quickly sketching out the profile of a long, narrow pump. ‘C’est unique, eh? Nobody has done this before.’
“He began drawing tiny little circles — scales, I guessed — on the shoe.
“‘This will be very different. Very special fish,’ he said. ‘Exotique.’
“It was a terrible idea and I told him so, in the gentlest way possible. He shook his head and continued sketching, determined to convince me of his brilliance. I sat there and listened to him talk about his job designing shoes for the dancers at the Folies Bergère and his love of dancing. He went dancing every night at Le Palace. It sounded like fun, dancing with Christian at Le Palace. I understood why Michelle intervened on his behalf; he was incredibly likable. I felt as if I’d known him for a long time.
“‘Let’s have lunch!’ he said suddenly. We walked up the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, stopping every few steps to greet a shop owner or poke our heads into a gallery. Christian knew everyone. At the corner bistro, we sat on a leather banquette and the waiter appeared, magically carrying two salads. Christian was a regular, ami de la maison.
“I went back to the office and told Michelle her friend was great, really nice and funny, but his ideas were terrible. What could be more disgusting than fish scales on shoes? Dégueulasse. I couldn’t remember his last name, so I looked back in my journal and there it was, written in my loopy French handwriting: ‘Louboutin.’
“He had offered to make me a pair of shoes — fish scales and all. I had politely declined. Louboutin would get a small mention in a roundup we were doing on Paris accessory designers, and that would be enough. Did the world really need another shoe designer?” — Kate Betts, excerpt from In My Paris Dream