Barneys’ Creative Director Dennis Freedman on Christian Louboutin Windows, Lady Gaga and More

christian louboutin windows at barneys new york

Photos: Julia Chesky

A new kind of shoe box: Details from the Christian Louboutin windows at Barneys New York

Say what you will about the ever-changing nature of It accessories, but Christian Louboutin has a very particular grasp on the hearts (and feet!) of women and men the world over, and Barneys New York has taken notice.

In honor of Louboutin's 20th anniversary this year (and forthcoming coffee table book), the luxury retailer has created an over-the-top tribute, on display now in its iconic Madison Avenue flagship's windows.

Disembodied shoes walking, stilettos precariously balanced on a pointed toe, and one showstopping vignette that's a nod to Louboutin's now-famed spiked shoes are just a few of the spectacular scenes starring those red soles, all overseen by Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman.

FashionEtc caught up with Freedman to talk about the mind-blowing windows and the upcoming Lady Gaga holiday spectacular.

Tell me about these windows!

Basically, what we tried to do was to take a lot of the sensibilities of Christian, to try to get at the heart and creative vision of Christian and tap into his thinking and create our own interpretation that melds with the creative vision of Barneys. These images are created by us, but inspired by him.

I met with him in Paris, I saw his studio, and I watched how he works. What we’re trying to do is create images that are very much collaborative but show how we’re thinking.

There’s a lot of movement. It’s kinetic, sculptural. I like the idea of engaging the person walking by the window—there’s surrealism, humor, a little danger—all of which are part of Christian’s aesthetic. We wanted there to be surprise.

Why Louboutin? I know it’s his 20th anniversary and he has a book coming out, but what is it that makes him so special?

Christian has an extraordinary imagination. You see that in his work, but also when you’re with him. He’s a very rare person; it goes well beyond the design of his shoes. The idea of working with someone like that is very exciting. We wanted not just to display the shoes, but reinterpret the shoes—to create a sculpture. That intensified and magnified the design of the shoe. So everything begins with his shoe and creative vision and ends with making it ours. It’s been an incredibly exciting experience.

christian louboutin windows at barneys new york

Photo: Julia Chesky

Good point: A detail from the Christian Louboutin windows at Barneys New York

The windows are incredibly elaborate …

It’s done by a very large team of people—there’s engineering involved in these windows! There are moving parts, there’s circuitry. They are very, very well-crafted; the attention to detail has to be exacting. All these things have to be built outside the window in our studios, and then to be installed in the window, everything has to go through a door no more than 30 inches wide. We’ve been working day and night, with hair stylists, sculptors, models, leg casters—there are no mannequins in that window, so we had to find the model with the right leg, whose foot had to fit in the right shoe perfectly. In a way, it’s theater and entertainment, but it’s very challenging. We really wanted to tap into the surreal side of Christian.

So how hard is it knowing that they’re going to be replaced in a few weeks?

I have to say, it’s really bittersweet! There’s a huge amount of work that goes into it and then, of course, it has a four-week lifespan. That’s the nature of windows and part of the beauty. It doesn’t last forever, but it allows people to engage. When we were installing the windows, it was really extraordinary to watch people going by. Their mouths just dropped—all ages, young and old.

Do you have any other exciting projects like this in the works for the store?

What’s exciting is that everything we’re working on now in planning involves a lot of outside talent from many different fields. Musicians, artists, hairstylists, sculptors.... For everybody it’s a new thing.

You’ve been working with Barneys for almost a year now. How does retail suit you? Do you miss print at all?

My training was in art school, and when I started at W I really wanted to bring in art. I started the art issue; that’s where I came from. So the idea now that we have this physical space, something that’s three dimensional—it’s so exciting! From an eight and a half by 11-inch piece of paper, now we have a window, and music, and things that can move. It’s a dream. It opens up so many possibilities.

Of course, I’m still working on our print campaigns, so I’m working with Mario Sorrenti and Juergen Teller and people I worked with at W, but it’s been a really exciting opportunity to expand. It’s very challenging, that I will admit! I was a little bit intimidated, but I really have a team of extraordinary talent. They get full credit for doing these things. It’s a new direction and a new way of working. 

christian louboutin windows at barneys new york

Photo: Julia Chesky

On the move: A detail from the Christian Louboutin windows at Barneys New York

How’s the holiday project with Gaga coming along?

I will say that it is ambitious—I will tell you that! I think I won’t be exaggerating to say that’s it’s an incredibly ambitious project on all levels. It will be a big gift to New York City, one that I really believe will be fun and exciting and bring all of her spirit and energy to the store. But it is an ambitious project, even by our standards—the elves are working around the clock, and it will be worth the wait!

To see more behind the scenes action of Barneys New York's Christian Louboutin windows, check out the rather engrossing video.

Christian Louboutin: Celebrating 20 Years and the Launch of the Book from BARNEY'S NY/ Michelle Chu on Vimeo.

Barneys New York's Christian Louboutin windows will be on display at the Madison Avenue flagship through November 14.