The Art of Shaping The Market (And Don’t Get Pissed At Me When You Buy This!)

Remember last year, when I wrote that epic article about how the beauty market erupted with dire predictions of failure when Christian Louboutin launched his $50 nail polish? 

“Who will pay $50 for nail polish?” They said.

Me! That’s who. And many more fancy ladies. The first run sold out!

Almost one year later, business is brisk.

(Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman both reporting that the Louboutin lacquers are among the most popular sellers in the beauty department.)

And I’m bringing this up now, because?

For one, every entrepreneur needs to remember what Christian Louboutin said:


‘There is no reason to add an ordinary product to the marketplace.’ – Christian Louboutin


The world is filled with ordinary stuff. And the thing about ordinary stuff?


Think about this … when you go to Walmart, the shelves are filled with the ordinary. It’s what Walmart does. It offers you all the ordinary stuff you have to get, in one convenient location, so you can get it all out of the way in a single blow.

But you’re not an entrepreneur because you want to be Walmart.

You’re an entrepreneur because you want to create something unique & special.

And Louboutin is a great example, of not just of doing something special, but pushing the boundaries of an industry.

He made people – lots and lots of people – want $50 luxury nail polish.

So scrawl it in lipstick on your mirror: Nobody Craves The Ordinary.

Oh, and while you’re at it? Scrawl it in Louboutin Red Lipstick.

That’s right. After making a splash with his $50 nail polish, Louboutin is back with a $90 lipstick – that you can turn into a necklace. With a single beautifully crafted jump ring, Louboutin changed a product into an objet d’art.

And that isn’t just good design –  that’s genius marketing.

I could go on and on about how beautiful the lipsticks are, and how amazing the shades look, and how much I wish they were being produced in silver because I don’t wear gold – not even for CL.

What I really want to talk about is how the launch of his line is being received.

Because less than 1 year after putting out his $50 nail lacquer, the reception of his lipstick is completely different. Completely.

BAZAAR.COM: “Get ready to make room on your vanity.” and “At $90 they don’t come cheap, but the best things rarely do.” 

REFINERY29.COM: “Listen, we’ll try to find a way to justify this purchase by any means necessary, okay?” 

ESSENCE.COM:. . . it looks like we’ll be pinching pennies the rest of August in preparation for the collection. Are you with us?” 

This adulation is a pretty far cry from the tone of the press last year when the managing director of Liberty of London said in a New York Times article, “There is really something comical about paying that much for nail polish.”

Do you know what this all means?

Christian Louboutin actually changed the beauty marketplace.

The press may be jumping on the Louboutin bandwagon, because everyone loves success. But the real story is that Louboutin made people want to spend money on his products. His objets.

He made something so unique, beautiful, individual – so completely Louboutinesque – that he made a $50 nail polish irresistible.

He didn’t look at what’s going on in the marketplace – and figure out how to fit in.

Which is what most mediocre companies do – cuz it’s a lot more work to stand out!

: He made what he wanted to make,

: Priced it how he wanted to price it,

: And let buyers decide if they wanted it.

And they did. Because we crave beauty. We crave individuality. We crave unique experience.

Louboutin never pretended he was creating anything but a luxury object. The same with his shoes.

Even when he was only selling 200 pairs a year and in danger of going bankrupt.

He was all about exclusivity – right from the very beginning. And he remains that way.

Louboutin doesn’t do hundreds of licensing deals.  

There isn’t a flood of Louboutin accessories, soaps, perfumes, tableware, greeting cards, and car deodorizers.

Louboutin collaborations can be counted on one hand.

: A trolley bag for Louis Vuitton.

: Shoes for Indian couture designer Sabyasachi.

: And a limited edition capsule lingerie collection of just 7 pieces with Dita Von Teese.

Just like his shoes, the lingerie collection is beautifully designed, exclusive, and expensive – with a $105 lacy brief at the low end and topping out with a $1000 negligee kimono.

Everything CL does gives the impression of being exquisitely small and jewel-like – even though he’s a global brand with a personal net worth of $85 million dollars.

Louboutin shapes the market according to what he wants to see in the world.

Don’t you want to do that too? Think about it: People lining up to buy THE WORLD ACCORDING TO YOU!

Let’s take a look at why his collaboration with Dita Von Teese makes so much sense.

If you aren’t familiar with Dita, she’s worth getting to know.

A Michigan girl who loved Golden Era movies and dance, she trained in ballet until she was 15 – when she realized that she wouldn’t be good enough to become a professional ballerina.

Rather than give up her dream of dancing, she paired it with her fascination with costumes and glamour, and made it her mission to bring back the classic pin-up girl.

Dita was every bit as focussed and single-minded in her vision of beauty as Christian Louboutin – in her own way. Plus, she was every bit as smart as Louboutin when it came to monetizing her image.

She played up her spooky glamour to become a fetish model, and from there, decided to blend it with her passion for dance by bringing burlesque back into fashion. Which she’s turned into a $5 million dollar business. Without becoming a porn star.

In 1996, Dita bought her first pair of Louboutins.

Louboutin was still struggling to find his market.

Dita was still struggling to bring her vision to the public, but she instinctively knew his shoes were part of the vision. No one else was making stilettos that high or that uniquely beautiful.

Dita was also Louboutin’s first commission client, and their businesses have grown together over 20 years. TWENTY!

So when they decided to collaborate, it was because they knew their individual visions would come together to create …

Something new.

Something specific.

Something niche.

Something exclusive.

And something unapologetically expensive.

And you know what’s cool?

Last year Christian Louboutin had a retrospective at the Design Museum in London which featured a hologram of Dita Von Teese morphing into a stiletto.

It was the most popular show the Design Museum ever had, breaking records with over 900 visitors a day.

This, for the guy who almost went broke because he wouldn’t give up his outrageous vision. For the guy who they said couldn’t sell a $1000 stiletto or a $50 nail polish.

So what’s the moral of the story? It’s a big one.

You know how I’m always telling you to be your own guru?

Well, maybe you’re wondering what that means. What does being your own guru look like?

It looks like Christian Louboutin. It looks like Dita Von Teese. It looks like …

: Believing in your own outrageous vision.

: Putting in the work to create masterpieces you’d want to buy.

: Not believing what the ‘industry experts’ tell you – if it goes against what you believe is possible for you!

Remember, nobody craves the ordinary.

But everybody craves the unapologetically unique. And that could be you.


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P.S. I once had an ‘industry expert’ tell me I couldn’t be successful doing what I’m doing. I ran into him last year – and you know what he said? “Erika! You’re the best marketer I’ve ever met. Everyone knows who you are.” So again I say, believe in your outrageous vision – no matter what.



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