Share your gifts, share you stories
"Stories are a communal currency of humanity."
Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights
I am bad at telling stories.
That’s what I used to tell myself. This very thought crippled me on many social occasions.
As a young woman, I used to enthusiastically share stories of my life, or others, recounting every little detail. I happen to have a rich memory bank. While trying to paint a picture, however, I regularly saw a glazed look come across the eyes of my audience. Often, I’d get interrupted, talked over, ignored even.
For a self-identified enthusiastic introvert, that non-verbal feedback was like a lethal injection to my teenage confidence.
I started to shy away from telling any kind of story in a group setting. I felt ashamed. I’d shrug, thinking:
I’m bad at telling stories.
In a twist of fate, I ended up using that very skill, storytelling, at work. And building a career out of it.
I had the privilege of working for the creative and fantastical French designer Christian Louboutin.
His mission in life is to make women's legs look longer by designing stunning shoes featuring a lacquered red sole.
I started out as a Saturday girl in the London boutique while I was pursuing a music career. Christian called the boutique one day. My bosses being absent, I picked up the phone, and we had a chat. Both native French speakers, we slipped into the kind of intimacy language can offer and dropped the formalities, saying ‘tu’ to each other immediately. That day, I told him about my clients, who they were, and what they liked.
He called again, asking for me this time. We chatted some more.
A year and a half later, Christian and I finally met in person at a party in Notting Hill. I remember teetering down the street towards the house party, wearing light blue denim jeans, a nude suede peplum top and peach round-toe stilettos, his own of course, that I could barely walk in. You see, the universe has a sense of humour: I was given lax ankles and a 17-year career working for a shoe designer famous for his towering creations.
Christian and I sat on a corner bench and, tucked away, we chewed each other’s ears off. His partner laughed and noted: well, you two have chemistry, giving us a wink.
I asked: why the red sole?
So he told me his story, how he’d designed Mary Jane pumps in brightly coloured crepe de chine, inspired by Andy Warhol’s poppies, but that when the first prototype came out of the factory, something wasn’t right.
Unlike his drawing, the shoes were weighed down by their black leather sole.
On a whim, he stole his assistant’s nail polish and started painting the soles right then and there, turning them a vibrant shade of red.
The rest is history.
As I started to get to know him, I regaled clients with stories of Christian, like that time when I almost tripped over him as I walked into the showroom. He was lying down on his stomach, and he was busy cutting across the vamp, or décolleté, of a pair of shoes while they were on the foot of our colleague and foot model, Laetitia. Like I said, he was trying to make her legs look longer.
Christian’s business partner, Bruno, decided to offer me a position that would put me in charge of wholesale as well as PR for the UK. Pitching to a journalist isn’t unlike selling a collection to a department store or selling a pair of shoes to a lady in a boutique; it’s all a form of sale but with a different transaction at the end. I took on the challenge.
Without realising it, straddling the two roles broke the silos that exist in larger companies. I leaned on my natural enthusiasm to communicate to Vogue what Harrods and Harvey Nichols were buying from me.
I told those guys about Christian’s inspirations and what editors and stylists chose for their cover shoots.
The information flowed from one side to the other and back again, and it was all a natural process.
Between our natural storytelling approach — Christian himself is quite the storyteller — the recognisable nature of his red soles, and our designer’s boundless creativity, it was only a matter of time before we reached global success.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Are the women who can afford Christian’s shoes just buying a pair of shoes?
Or is it the mystique of the red sole that appeals to them?
Or the fact they are made by hand in Italy?
Or perhaps a desire for longer legs?
I can only assume it’s all of the above, whether it’s conscious or unconscious.
Stories are how we learn without explanation.
They are like a window we can look through and discover someone’s world, their values, their quirks.
The funny thing is that I brought people close in, by leaning on that skill I thought I lacked.
Turns out my natural enthusiasm and this memory bank full of details were just the tool I needed.
And some great shoes, of course.
One thing led to another. My career spanned from Saturday girl to shop manager, wholesale and PR executive, and general manager before I became the brand’s first global head of communications.
I helped spread the word to all four corners of the globe.
I built my career on telling stories.
Never my own, though.
After I left Louboutin, I felt compelled to learn more about storytelling, unaware of where that could lead me. And I did course upon course upon course. And I started writing. Today, I write stories and share my own. I even draw out other people’s stories via my podcast, Out of the Clouds.
Eventually, this brought me to uncover my own purpose.
Today, I help brands uncover authentic stories that resonate with their audience, and I coach individuals who, like me when I was younger, need a little help with their communication or storytelling skills.
My mission is to empower others to tell a better story. Whether they need help reclaiming or reframing their narrative.
If you’re thinking: Anne, why does this matter?
I recently heard Adam Grant, professor at Wharton and NYT best-selling author, say this:
“Telling a story in the service of explaining an idea or revealing a lesson is like a gift from one life to another.”
Please remember this: we learn from each other. And stories are how we learn, WITHOUT explanation.
So what are you waiting for?