If you were an artistically inclined kid like me, chances are you grew up coveting crayons, colored pencils and art markers by the dozen. (Who am I kidding? I still have a vast collection of art supplies at the ready.)
But if you were that kid in the 1980s or prior, you also likely remember the pinky-beige color most often labeled “flesh”—as if there were only one universally accepted flesh tone (wait a minute ... ). In fact, Crayola was purportedly the first major manufacturer to rename the tone the less insensitive “peach” in 1962, and the first to release a “multicultural” color line during the first wave of political correctness in 1992 (well, color me badd).
But in 2013, luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin changed the high-end fashion game when he introduced a capsule collection featuring five of his most iconic styles in a five-shade range of “nudes.” In the years since, he’s continued to release new limited editions in the shade range, including this season’s ultraglamorous Degrastrass Pvc ($1,095), which is featured in a new video for British Vogue.
Speaking with British Vogue’s digital editor, Alice Casely-Hayford, the iconic shoe designer explained how he was inspired to make his line more inclusive after dealing with a (presumably predominantly white) clientele who regularly called his predictably pinky-beige nude shoe collections “flesh” toned:
“It’s not ‘flesh,’ it’s ‘nude,’ and ‘nude’ has to fit with different complexions,” he said. “A shoe should sometimes be able to completely disappear in favor of the woman.”
Mr. “Bloody Shoes” himself then went on to say: “It’s difficult for me to shrink the ideal or an ideal in one person. … Already, one person is so complex, to try to shrink millions of women into one woman is complicated.”
Very true, but ironically, the distinction between “flesh” and “nude” seems to simply be a matter of semantics, since Louboutin seems to have discontinued a lot of his much-lauded classic capsule collection by mid-2014. Currently, a search for “nude” on the Louboutin site results in—you guessed it—a sea of predominantly one shade: pinky-beige (renamed Nude 01 by Louboutin).
In fact, Louboutin’s expanded shade range now seems to be limited to the aforementioned Degrastrass Pvc, Solasofia Flat ($595) and the Cherrysandal platform sandal (which only comes in two shades of deep brown for $895), all of which are lovely shoes, but not nearly as appealing as the range of skin-toned Pigalle Follies 100s now available in a range of fabrics, textures and sorbetlike colors, but only one shade of “nude.” [Editor’s note: As of press time, Louboutin’s team had yet to comment on the demise or future status of the original Nudes capsule collection.]
While this was very possibly an issue of supply and demand, it’s an unfortunate development for a man who makes shoes appealing to glamorous women of all colors—but it has opened the door for far-lower-priced up-and-comers. Case in point? Black-female-owned brand House No: 3028, launched in 2016 by founder-creative designer Thressa Valinteen.
With a line of pumps available in a six-shade range of vegan leather, and heel heights ranging from 2 to 5 inches, the company’s website actually references Louboutin as part of the label’s origin story:
The inspiration for House No: 3028 came from the frustration that Thressa faced when she went searching for nude shoes. Unless she wanted to pay over $600 for a Christian Louboutin nude, she was unable to find a shoe to match her complexion. Thressa decided to design and sell her own shoes. House No: 3028 pumps allow brown girls to perfectly match, complement or contrast their skin tone.
Shade, indeed. To the likes of a powerhouse like Louboutin, a startup like House No: 3028 may not seem like competition, but for the legions of shoe lovers who crave the endless-leg look of a sleek, skin-tone-matching shoe—at a very reasonable price point—the company’s a welcome addition to the marketplace.
But you know what would be even better? Having as many options as anyone of the pinky-beige variety. After all, what’s a woman of color to do when she wants to go nude?