Laurentin Cosmos has had a corporate career in advertising and the media that many can only dream of. He used to be the Chief Marketing Officer for L’Oreal in the Nordics, and then moved on to become the Marketing Director for Flying Tiger. You would probably expect someone like him to keep climbing the corporate ladder, going from huge MNC to huge MNC, doubling and tripling his salary. Instead, he decided to jump off the corporate bandwagon to start his own brand and company, selling high heels for men! Yep, you read that right, high heels for men! Laurentin is a strong advocate for gender equality, and has a passion for beautiful, well crafted high heels. Thus, a new journey began.
Quitting a corporate career takes courage, especially when you’re well established in the field. What gave him that courage, more so that his new venture was something completely different and unexpected?
“Well, this was something I’ve wanted to do for the last ten years but I didn’t have the courage to because I was on safe ground. You have your economy, your car, your apartment, and then suddenly, it’s something totally different. Especially, this is something that’s not traditional and you don’t know how the market will take it or whether there’s a future or not in it. But then, to me this is something more than just a business. There’s a big wish to change the world. I got really, really tired, because there was something that I felt was wrong, and that I could see a lot of people were hurt by being themselves. People felt like they couldn’t really have the lives they wanted based on gender rules and gender expectations. So I thought, maybe we could make a little tribute to opening up people’s mindsets. Based on what’s going on in the world today, people are put into boxes. There are two kinds of people in the world right now – the kinds of people who want to keep things the way they are, in a very traditional sense, and on the other side, there are a lot of us who want to change things and make the world a better place. And of course, the heels, men in high heels, it’s a huge statement. It’s very different. If we want equality in the world, also for women, it’s time that we started seeing men differently.”
Now, when I see a man in heels, sometimes, I don’t even know what to think myself. I think it’s partly due to the way I was brought up. I know women wear heels because they want to feel sexy and confident. What’s a man’s motivation for wearing heels?
“It’s the same thing! I think something happens when you wear high heels. You get a different feeling in your body. Why would half the population of the world wear high heels? It actually doesn’t make sense, because you hurt your back, you don’t walk properly, and everything hurts. But women wear heels because it gives them something. And, if they’re only wearing heels for men, why would they still wear high heels when they go for parties where there are only women? Heels bring something special to yourself, it’s a feeling. A lot of traditional female clothing items make you feel special. It’s something you don’t experience when you wear a traditional men’s suit or sneakers.”
“Of course, it’s also about self-expression. When you wear heels, you feel sexy, or when you wear sneakers and feel comfortable, whatever it is, you do it for yourself and the environment that you’re in. Why shouldn’t a man want to feel the same thing? Now, what I do, it’s probably the worst thing because if I was a traditional gay, or a transgender, whatever I was, you could put me in a box. But now, it’s very difficult to put me in a box. I’m not a gay. I’m not a transgender. I’m more a cross dresser. So, people get a little afraid, because we are used to our gender and how things are connected to gender as a power tool to the other sex.”
I was curious to know how his friends and family reacted to him wearing heels.
“Friends and family have been fantastic. Of course, the first time, it was, what the fuck is this guy doing? The first question I got was, do you want to be taller? Okay, I’m 180 cm, maybe I want to be 190 cm but I don’t. People think, there has to be a functionality attached to it. And when there isn’t, then, they think, ah, you must be gay! But I’m not gay. Then, the third question is, do you want to be a woman? And then, after that, when friends and family get used to it, everything is fine. It’s a little like fashion. The first time you see it, you think what the fuck. Then you get used to it.”
“The hard part is getting a girlfriend. I’ve been married for 12 years, and I’ve had two long relationships. I’m single now, and that’s the hard part because women feel like I’m stealing from them.”
How do women feel like they’re stealing from them?
“Like I’m taking something away that belongs to their gender. Taking something that belongs to their toolbox. Men have the watches, the suits, the career. When I go out and try to find a girlfriend, at first some women kind of like it at first, because it takes a lot of balls to do what I’m doing. People pointing at me, me getting a lot of laughs. It’s actually a very masculine thing to do, and it takes courage. But then after a while, it becomes, ah, what will her friends think? If she show up with a guy in high heels, how would people perceive that? What would her dad think? And then, how can she be feminine when I wear a pair of heels higher than hers? You know, sometimes you hear of a woman who’s very successful at business, but she has a hard time finding a man. I think this is the exact same thing. Some men are scared of a strong woman. So this is a tool between the two sexes. And, after we’ve done a lot of social media, I receive mails from guys saying, fuck you. Go away.”
Why does he think this offends them so much?
“Because I’m going in between men and women. The guys need me to say I’m a man, and I do all the traditional things that men do. The women, on the other side, say, I’m feminine, I’m doing my makeup, I have my high heels. Then there’s me. This is me. Sometimes, people forget to be humans. Instead of thinking how well am I doing as a man, or woman instead of how well am I doing as a human being. They can’t figure themselves out sometimes, but they can figure out that they’re feminine or masculine. Then suddenly, they see people like me, and they’re like, what the fuck. Now he’s ruined the game.”
Is there a sense to feeling threatened by it?
“Yeah, totally. That’s exactly it. People are scared. The funny thing is, women want equality. They want all things that men want, but a lot of women don’t want to give it back.”
I have to agree with it. I for one, believe that if you demand equality, then you still shouldn’t expect to be treated like a princess. Pick a side. You can’t have it all.
“Exactly! That’s what we try to say on our website as well. If you draw a line, and it’s very difficult to put this on the right terms, but if one end said 100% masculine and the other said 100% feminine, women can actually move themselves from 100% feminine to 99% masculine, especially when it comes to self-expression. I know this differs a lot from country to country. Of course, when you look at statistics, men are still better paid, and there are more of them in boards of directors. There is no equality. But in daily life, women can wear a pair of jeans, sneakers, your boyfriend’s shirt, whatever. But if I were to wear a pair of high heels or a skirt, people ask me what the fuck is wrong with me.”
That’s a point that I’ve never thought of before, and I think it’s something that a lot of women take for granted. I’ve never appreciated the freedom I had in choosing my wardrobe, on a day-to-day basis.
“One of the reasons why we started this was because we all want to have the freedom that we want. We want to follow our dreams and ambitions. But when it comes to judging others, especially of a different gender, we suddenly become very narrow-minded. You’re a woman, so you should be like this. You’re a man, so behave like that. But no, I’m a person! I should be free to do whatever I want. It shouldn’t be just, oh, you’re a woman or you’re a man. Just because you are born a man or a woman, it doesn’t mean you’re a stereotype. If I wear a pair of high heels, it doesn’t mean I’m gay. People are so limited, especially when it comes to judging others. That’s part of why we do this. And, if we can make a living doing this and talking about it and being free, that’s what I want. To do what I want. You can. You can wake up in the morning, and decide whether you want to look feminine or you want to wear sneakers, or whatever. I don’t have the freedom to do that.”
It’s such a strange double-standard, that we, as women, are allowed to wear pants and not lose any of our femininity, but do not allow men the same freedom.
When was the first time he wore high heels in public?
“25 years ago. I started with short heels, and then they became higher and higher. For me, it was a sense of freedom. When I passed a shop or designer store, I would think that wow, that dress is really beautiful. People would normally think it was for my girlfriend. But I was just thinking it was nice. Why can’t I just think it’s nice? Oh, I forgot. I’m a man. And then I have to go back and follow all the gender rules. So wearing heels for the first time, there was a sense of freedom.”
“I’ve asked my male friends, have you ever thought of when you go to work every day, you wear the same suit or jeans. Your female colleagues come in, and sometimes they have on pants, or sometimes they have these shoes on, and isn’t it strange that all the guys wear the same things? Do you ever wonder how it feels like to wear a skirt? And they all say, no, no, no, are you crazy? There’s a big, big, big taboo for men to even think of borrowing something from female values. That’s the scary part. If women are allowed to wear what men are wearing, and can go do some traditional masculine things, like riding a motorcycle or do some crazy skiing, and it has become an accepted part of society, why is it that when men do female things like wear high heels it’s a big taboo? How far have women really come?”
It’s quite hypocritical.
“Yeah, if guys are borrowing something from the female tradition, it’s sick. I think, I love women. I love the way you look, the way you think, your embrace. Why is it so wrong that I kind of want to bring that to my life? Is that crazy? It’s such a big fundamental of life that men have to men, and it’s so wrong to take something from women. I think that’s the most sick part. And that’s why women will never ever get equality, until they start seeing men differently.”
Laurentin mentioned earlier that his friends and family had been supportive. What I wanted to understand, was that he might have a lot of friends who have genuine curiosity about what he was doing, but they just didn’t know how to ask or what to ask. What are the questions he embraces, and are there any questions which are off-limits?
“It’s funny. One of the first things I experienced was that people just take distance or they don’t seem to care. Men tend to go away with it. It’s women who mostly come up to me and ask me the things I’ve said before, like are you sure you’re not gay, etc. And then it becomes fun, because people are very focused on the traditional path, so the basic question is just, why? People also tend to have a smile on their lips, when they ask. Like, do you want to be a woman? And I say, yeah, why not? You’re dressing like a man, do you want to be a man? And they go, no, I’m just doing what I want for me, and I’m like, yeah, that’s it!”
Are there other men or groups online that talk about wearing heels for men?
“We found groups. In Germany, there’s a big group called High Heels For Men, which have about fifteen to twenty thousand people. So they’re out there, but they’re hiding and not being open. I’ve gotten mails, saying thank you, thank you for doing this. You know, you’re changing the world. And, it comes as a surprise, but a lot of people from Mexico, and a little from south of Europe. You know, when you go into countries that are very conservative, like in Italy or Spain, where men and men and women are women. Most of the angry men I’ve comea cross are from Italy, Spain and US, all these Trump type of people.”
“But there are also three different types of groups of men wearing heels. You have men like me, and I see myself more as a fashion guy. I don’t want to be a woman, I don’t want to wear a wig, I just like the heels and sometimes I wear a leather skirt. I don’t see myself as a guy who wants to cross dress all the way. I have a friend in Italy who helps us a lot, and he’s a real cross dresser. He doesn’t wear a wig or bra, but he’s always in a dress, very feminine. Then, you have the transgenders, who really want to be women. At first, we thought to make the first move on the cross dressers and the transgenders. Then, we thought, because we are making big sizes, and our shoes are handmade in Italy with the best quality where everything is really good, there might be a big gap in the market for women with big feet. Especially here in the Nordics, 13% of women have feet larger than a size 41.”
“A few weeks ago, in Italy, we had a huge PR where we got into the biggest newspapers. And a lot of women came back to us. I thought, wow, maybe there are people out there who are thinking, yes, we are tired of this stereotype. We are tired of the suit and tie and very narrow-minded thinking of what is a man and what is a woman. On social media, there are men who wear heels, and they take a lot of pictures, some quite sexy, but just showing the legs. They’re not coming out. They’re not showing their face.That’s a big problem.”
What would he like to say to them?
“Get out. Get out in the world. Let people see you. If you’re not really living your life, as I did for many years, you’re not living your passion. You can’t live if your life if you’re living behind closed doors.”
What about in a situation like someone being in Japan, for example. A guy might want to wear high heels, not to work or anything, just out on the street, but he’s afraid that someone might see him, or it might get back to work. How would Laurentin approach that?
“I would say I understand the issue, because I’ve had the same thoughts to begin with. How would my work respond if they heard about this? And I’d say, find people you trust. Find people whom you love, and who love you, and start there. That’s what I did. Then you’ll get a little more comfortable. There will also be people out there who really hate what you’re doing, but most of the worries are worries that happen in your head. Sometimes, people don’t actually give a shit. You walk down a street, and you feel, oh is someone looking, but what will happen? But what you have to think about is, oh, if this person is smiling or laughing at you, this person has probably forgotten about it two seconds later. Maybe this person had a bad day, or is just tired of his or herself. Sometimes, you can put too much energy just being in your own head.”
“Denmark is a really good country for diversity. Many people don’t support it, but they won’t kill you for it. My friend, the one who really cross dresses, he walks around in Milan, in Naples, in Rome, and you can see him from a mile away in his dress. He does it, he’s so tough. And even though he does it in Italy where men have very traditional roles, he’s never experienced violence. Of course, you get laughed at. But nobody has come up to him and tried to kill him. So actually, most of the fear is something you create in your head.”
Have there been any real life situations he’s experienced where people called him names, or were rude to him?
“I’ve experienced twice, people coming up to me and saying, oh you should die. They were very aggressive. But what I said was, hit me. It won’t change anything. Hit me. Come on. And guys, when they’re doing something like this, they just want to see you being afraid. And I’m like, yeah, I’m afraid. Hit me. But I’ll do it again tomorrow. At the end of the day, they lose. I think the scary part to get used to is when you go into a restaurant. You have to get used to the first 15-20 seconds where people will look. When my ex-girlfriend and I would go into a restaurant, we’d be sitting there and there would be another couple next to us. Normally, the guys don’t spot us, it’s the women. And they would spot the shoes! Then, they’d pretend to kiss the boyfriend on the cheek, but they’re actually whispering to look at the shoes. This always happens. They always have a smile on their face, like this guy is crazy, but then they’ll start talking about their relationship or whatever, and they have forgotten all about you.”
“I have a little saying that people are like sheep. When one sheep does something different, the other sheep are like, okay you’re out. The terrible thing is, all the sheep actually have the same feeling. They want to do what’s right for themselves, but they don’t do it. When someone dares to do it, then they’re judged. It’s sick. People want to be themselves, but when they are, you kill them for it. Sometimes I wonder if humans are really that stupid. But we’re afraid, I think. We’re afraid because when we judge each other, it’s judged on everything being on the same rules. But, who’s actually making these rules? Everyone wants to be an individual, but we judge each other as a group. Who’s making the rules? I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Laurentin’s working a lot on making a contribution to be able to change the world and having people accepted for who they are. In his mind, what’s an ideal world?
“An ideal world for me, is instead of pointing your finger at people who are not like you, for you to go up to them and say that I don’t understand this, but I think it’s great you’re doing this. An ideal world is for people to not be afraid of what they see. A woman wrote to me last week, saying that I needed to understand that women wore high heels and men had hair on their chest, and that’s just it. But no. Maybe you want a man with hair on his chest, but that’s just a matter of taste. I’m fine if you think I look like an idiot or if you don’t find me handsome. But don’t call me a fucking idiot. Don’t call me a freak. I love women, but I also have taste. I know what I like, and what I don’t like, that’s just what it is. But this is about equality, and freedom. There are probably going to be only 1 out of 100 women who find me attractive doing this thing, but maybe then that’s the one woman I should really be with. 99% of them would say they don’t like me, and that I’m not to their taste, and that’s totally fine. But don’t hurt my job, don’t point fingers at me. Welcome me instead, and say, you’re you. And that, I think, is the ideal world.”
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