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'Nude' shoe matches for the well-heeled

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
The Washington Post
Shoe and bag designer Christian Louboutin has released a 'Nudes' collection of shoes featuring five of the brand's styles in five shades.

They go with any outfit. Fashion experts advise every woman to invest in a pair, because of their ability to disappear on the foot. The Duchess of Cambridge loves them ­— and has been wearing them since she was simply known as Kate — using them to elongate her legs in photo ops around the world.

Nude shoes, a new staple in women's footwear. But whose nude?

For the most part, in the fashion industry, it has meant beige, pale peach or creamy blush.

Enter French footwear designer Christian Louboutin and his famous red-bottomed soles. This fall, Louboutin released a “nudes” collection, which features five of the brand's styles in five shades covering the spectrum “from fair blush to rich chestnut.”

Now women who are more on the chestnut side of the scale — and more than 22 percent of U.S. women identify as non-white (or non-“fair blush”) according to the Census Bureau — can own a shoe that becomes “a fluid extension of her legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette,” as the designer puts it, in a news release.

The release of the Louboutin collection comes in the midst of a broader discussion of race and the fashion industry. Before New York Fashion Week last month, former modeling agent Bethann Hardison teamed with former model and makeup executive Iman and supermodel Naomi Campbell for the Fashion Diversity Coalition to release names of designers whose runways lacked diverse models. Even Kanye West joined the conversation earlier this month during his much-publicized “rap feud” with late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel. The rapper talked about his troubles with high fashion and stated that there's “no black guy at the end of the runway in Paris.”

At a time when makeup commercials highlight a product's color-matching abilities, fashion designers have seemed to largely ignore the fact that “nude,” a synonym for skin, comes in many colors.

It's not that it has been impossible to get a tan or chestnut 4-inch heel. For higher-end shoe fans, Jimmy Choo offers a limited selection of tan and brown pumps. Steve Madden offers three more-affordable styles of tan pumps. But Louboutin is the first to place pumps in these colors under the “nude” label. His collection, which starts at $625, puts an important brand behind the idea that women with a variety of skin tones are worth catering to in the luxury shoe market.

“Christian Louboutin is making a statement that this is for you,” says Claire Sulmers, 32, the New York-based blogger behind FashionBombDaily.com, a multicultural fashion website.

“When a brand is like, ‘You are a person, and we actually want you to wear our clothes,' we get excited,” she says.

Veronica Toney is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

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