Artists can find inspiration everywhere, even in thin air. For shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who grew up in Paris’s far-flung 12th Arrondissement, it was reliably found somewhere more concrete—at the Palais de la Porte Dorée, an extravaganza of an exposition hall built to house the Colonial Exhibition of 1931. With its Ionic columns, colorful frescoes, and a bas-relief façade depicting scenes of colonial life, the palais is a pastiche of stylistic influences, ranging from Art Deco to Moroccan architecture. When Louboutin was growing up in the neighborhood, it housed Paris’s Museum of African and Oceanian Arts (now located at the Musée du Quai Branly). There, the future designer spent long hours, enthralled by the wondrously diverse world cultures on display.

Where it all began: Paris’s Palais de la Porte Dorée “was fundamental” for Louboutin.

To this day, Louboutin—still elfin in his 50s—draws a straight line from those long-ago visits to what became his life’s work: creating art for the feet. So when he mentioned to Olivier Gabet, director of Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs, that he yearned to make an exhibition in his hometown, the venue was never in doubt. “The palais was fundamental for Christian,” Gabet says. “He spent all his weekends there. It’s an important part of his story.”