Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sex and the Syria

Imelda Marcos, first lady of the Philippines and legendary shoe addict, owned 2700 pairs of shoes. None of them had red soles. Christian Louboutin, the French designer of shoes with trademark red soles, is in business since 1991. Five years before, in 1986, Imelda Marcos, together with her tyrant husband Ferdinand, was chased away from her shoe cabinet in Manila, forced to flee to Hawaii.

Louboutin shoes are high, very high heel shoes that spell one word: SEX. Louboutin customers can be found worldwide, among the rich and famous in Hollywood, among the company of French economist and ladies lover Dominique Strauss–Kahn. One of the better known Louboutin clients in the spring of 2012 is Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. She is the reason why these days women's magazines write about politics and The Economist writes about women's footwear.

What is the history behind high heels and red soles? I went to the archives of, a fashion blog, to find out more about it. High heels can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where on murals dating from 3500 BC men and women of the upper classes are depicted wearing heels. Later in Ancient Greece we see high heels for very practical reasons: to avoid the mud and the rubbish in the streets of Athens. It was around 1533 that the closest style of high heels as we know them today was created. They were introduced into the French Court by Catherine Medici, who later would become Queen. The high heel shoes were an instant success and the use of the high heel spread throughout Europe. The exact date of when the first red heel was seen is unclear, however it was the ever stylish king Louis XIV who was painted wearing them; he also issued an edict in 1673 declaring that only nobility could wear the much coveted color.

ready to crush the enemies at his feet: Louis XIV

Red is a code! Red is a program! Red means passion, power, blood. Red is the color of war. Red meant that the French nobility were always ready to crush the enemies of the State at their feet. Red soled stilettos from Loboutin are the perfect shoes for Syria.

A few months ago I thought Bashar al-Assad would soon be history, riding into the horizon of 40 years of the Assad regime, father and son. But he is still here, fighting for the survival of Syria, as he claims, fighting for the sole survival of his clan, as his opponents claim. The international community has not found an answer to stop the bloodshed in Syria, to stop Assad and his enemies killing each other. Noble man Kofi Annan is the last card the world outside Syria is playing. His plan for peace is good, but will fail. While the „Friends of Syria“ want Bashar to step down from power - and Asma from her high heels - the Assads have no intention to do so. Quite to the contrary: since the Annan plan was announced, the killing goes on at an ever increasing speed. The April 10 deadline for a ceasefire has set the laws of economy in motion. A new law prohibiting to cut trees starting from July 1 leads to many trees being cut in the month of June, to secure your always unobstructed view to mountains and sea. This is the situation in Syria today.

you are a showgirl: Christian Louboutin

Can you judge the political luck and endurance of a dictator by looking at the wardrobe of his wife? When Imelda Marcos was forced to make the trip to Hawaii, she had to leave 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1000 handbags and more than a 1000 pairs of shoes behind, according to an account in Time magazine. Asma al-Assad is now banned to buy more Louboutins, victim to santions the European community imposed on her husband's entourage. Queen Rania of Jordan is a fashion icon in her own right. And how elegant did Sheikha Mozah look when Qatar was awarded the FIFA World Cup 2022? I picture these royalties going to bed with their Louboutin shoes on, to not lose a minute as long as they are allowed and able to wear them.

Christian Louboutin is well connected to Syria. He owns a house in Aleppo. He likes to sit in a street café, closing his eyes, listening to the sound of the shoes walking by. „I can often tell the personality of these women, just by listening to the sound of their shoes“, tells Louboutin in an interview „and sometimes I can even guess the mood of the person.“ Were he able to hear the sound of the shoes when sitting in a café in Homs, Hama, Deraa or Aleppo in April of 2012? Probably not, the ambient sound would be too loud. The sound of tanks rolling up and shells being fired. The hissing of sniper shots. The soles in Homs may be red, but the shoes are not Louboutins.

Asma al-Assad was much criticised in the press for heavily shopping for luxury goods while Syria is on fire. I don't blame her. We all know: the influence women have on Middle Eastern politics is very limited. What shall a woman do then when her country is in the middle of a civil war? Going to bed at ten, reading poetry until she falls asleep, later dreaming about more peaceful times to come? A Lebanese doctor I recently spoke to told me that business, entertainment and the night life in Lebanon was never better than during the civil war. When times are rough, when you don't know if this day will be your last, people need distraction, need to forget, need to dance.

Dancing is difficult in Louboutin high heels. These shoes are made for taxis and the walk to the restaurant entry. Asma al-Assad won't even do this today. The sound of her Louboutins echos through the hallways of her golden, fortified palace in Damascus only; it is only for Bashar her husband to gauge her spirit.

red soles, killer heels, spikes: Louboutin Syria Edition 2012

Watching showgirls as a child in a nearby Paris revue theater: little Christian Loboutin got marked for life by peeping at womens' feet. „Every woman is a showgirl at least once in her life“, he says today. Asma was a showgirl for more than a decade, giving a pretty face to a ruthless regime. „With a wife as modern as his, he can't be completely bad“, replied Nicolas Sarkozy when asked about Bashar al-Assad. The show seems to be over now, and the girl will need to grow up to a new reality.

There are two categories of shoes, explains Christian Louboutin, the shoe designer: shoes that dress a woman and shoes that undress her. There are two types of Louboutin customers, says my friend Imane, the self-proclaimed shoe freak: stars and high class prostitutes. Asma al-Assad has the ability to be both – in a way. Just how far will the Louboutins – the red soles, the killer heels – carry her? And which way will Syria take?


  1. Lebanese women wear Louboutin imitations. What do we call them?

  2. 1) wanna be "stars" 2) wanna be "high class prostitutes" 3) Dressed2Dress 4) Dressed2Undress ??? -> your choice, Mario.

  3. So that's why my boss asked whether my shoes were Louboutins!!

    Another moving and thoughtful piece!

  4. We saw Saddam, Gaddafi, and now Assad, I wonder what we will explore in the wardrobes of Saudi royal families!!!

    Thanks for the insights!